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Corsica Trip Report - Bonifacio, Bastia and Cap Corse plus one day in Paris

Corsica Trip Report - Bonifacio, Bastia and Cap Corse plus one day in Paris

May 4th, 2018, 07:45 AM
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Posts: 741
Corsica Trip Report - Bonifacio, Bastia and Cap Corse plus one day in Paris

After a great week in Brittany and Normandy, it was time for me to head to Corsica. My great, great grandfather came from a small mountain village on the Cap Corse and it has always been a desire to go visit one of my homelands.

I had booked my ticket to Corsica separately from my transatlantic flight. Price was $176 USD roundtrip from Paris Orly to Bastia on Air France.

I had arrived in Paris from Rennes on Saturday, April 21, the same day a co-worker friend flew into Paris. We flew out of Orly the morning of April 22. We took a cab for 35 Euro. Donít let the hotel call a cab for you. It cost 7 euro for that privilege, which was calculated into the cab fare. Very annoying.

Orly is a very disorganized airport, but our flight was on time and easy. Bastia airport is tiny and I went to the car rental desk while my friend got our suitcases.My last name is a prominent name in Corsica and the desk agent made quite the fuss over it. This was to be a recurring theme. I felt like quite the celebrity.

I had been very concerned about getting my automatic transmission car here, since there arenít a lot of American tourists visiting the island and wanting them. Happily, they had one ready for me, a Peugeot. It was practically a mini van and huge compared to what I had been expecting. I was kind of wondering how it would go on some of the narrow roads, but it was fine.

As was the case in Brittany, only more so here, I paid a small fortune for the car. 450 euro for five days, not counting insurance. Yikes! But, oh well! Must have automatic, no matter the cost!

Our first two nights were to be in Bonifacio, so we loaded up and headed south. We found a nice restaurant about ten minutes south of the airport and got lunch there. The people at this popular restaurant work very hard and had the most hustle of any place Iíve ever seen in France. On the way out, I bought a slice of a Nutella log roll cake to be consumed later. It was so fresh and delicious!

There are some lovely pocket beaches along the way to Bonifacio, so we stopped in one and waded in with our pants rolled up. The water is so clear and beautiful in Corsica! It is even better than photographs! The water was very chilly though. I guess it gets more comfortable in June and onward. I donít think I could have gone swimming. I am a wimp when it comes to cold water. Others did immerse themselves.

Bonifacio is a stunning, dramatically situated city built on cliffs, with a wonderful citadel. It was great fun to make the drive up to the upper village, where we would be staying at the Hotel Santateresa. This place is right off the cliffs, next to an old cemetery, in an old military building. Incredible views are to be had of the water and the village.The front desk clerk, when hearing my name at check in, exclaimed over my Corsican name. It was like I was the long lost daughter returning home.

My friend and I had separate rooms on the 7
level. She had a balcony which was really cool.The room and bathroom felt palatial after my three previous hotels. There was a generous supply of towels, including bath sheets that actually went to my knees when wrapped around me. I was a happy woman!

Iíd say the only negatives of this place were the hard beds and the WIFI. It was spotty and they also blocked some data. I could not send pictures by text message through the WIFI, nor could I download videos. There was a concert while we were there and I was trying to listen to samples of the performer from youtube and other sites, but they wouldnít download. Not a big deal.

After settling in, we set off on foot to the historic quarter. Itís a short walk down a small incline to the area. We enjoyed wandering around, going into churches and shops. We also did the King Aragon staircase, which is a stairway carved into the side of the cliffs, going down to the sea.I had read online that there are 187 steps to the bottom and I scoffed, thinking that was nothing after doing things like the stairs at Skellig Michael in Ireland, stairs at Tintagel in Cornwall, etc. Well, these stairs are giant stairs, probably two feet tall, some of them, and it was a work out. I would say itís more like 400 steps, effort-wise. There wasnít a single person who wasnít laboring coming up.

Dinner was at a random place we found. It seemed like we were disturbing a private club, just a few men hanging out at the bar, but we were seated and had an unremarkable meal. Iím not a foodie, as anyone who has read my old reports may remember. My pasta dish was overpriced and tasted like something I would be qualified to make at home (Iím not a cook).

After dinner, we walked around the cemetery next door to our hotel and down some old stairs that offered beautiful views of the sun setting over a lighthouse (La Madonetta).

Burials are interesting in Corsica. I guess because the ground is so hard, all I saw were above ground burials in mausoleums, some in cemeteries, others along the roadside. The gates to the Marin Cemetery were open and we wandered around. Most of the little buildings have iron gates or glass doors, so you can see the insides. Some were literally just the vaults and others had memorials set up, with pictures, flowers, dťcor, etc. It was interesting.

We eventually called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

April 23
When I got up, I hopped in the car and drove down to the harbor to check out the boat trip options. The parking lot in front of the harbor is very expensive. It was 2.10 euro for 30 minutes, paid by machine.I checked out the boat trip options and then walked along the waterfront. There are lots of shops and restaurants along here. I picked up a coke, baguette and a tub of butter to bring back for breakfast. I kept the tub of butter for the duration of my stay in Corsica and was always supplied for my baguettes. I practically live on baguettes in France! I like to buy one each day to serve as breakfast, lunch or snack.

I headed back up to meet up with my friend and found the housekeeper in the hallway, wondering about servicing my room. I had the do not disturb sign on my door.I usually keep these signs on my doors whenever Iím in a hotel, but since she was on my floor, I thought I could just ask for fresh towels and say no other service was needed.My attempts at communication failed, so I used google translate and it was a great success.The housekeeper was very cheerful and seemed happy that all I wanted were new towels.

My friend and I then proceeded to go back down to the harbor, this time parking in the free satellite lot about 5 minutes away. The boat folks like to say they provide free parking for customers, but the lots are free for anyone. I imagine they fill up quickly during peak season or later in the day, but there was no trouble around 10:30 am.We wandered around the port area until time for our cruise at 11:30. We chose the 1 hour, 20 minutes cruise which took us around to see the coast, the grottos and the lighthouse. It is a very beautiful sightseeing cruise and I recommend it, even though you have to dodge aggressive tourists. The only tourists we encountered in Corsica were French and German and they were very pushy, literally and figuratively. Itís every man and woman for themselves!

I did not hear anyone speaking English the whole time I was in Corsica.

We wandered around after the cruise, doing a little shopping (Tshirt for my brother) and then had a rest in the hotel.

In the late afternoon, we headed to Porto Vecchio. We tried to go visit the Santa Guilia beach, but it was completely mobbed, so we continued on to Porto Vecchio. Porto Vecchio was jampacked with people and cars, so we moved on to the port which is quiet and quaint. We admired the boats and then grabbed dinner at a waterfront restaurant. I enjoyed my meal and the waiter was very nice.

April 24
Time to say goodbye to Bonifacio and head to Bastia. Inbound traffic to Bonifacio was crazy! We had not experienced that when we had arrived two days prior.

Along the way, we were able to visit and walk around the Santa Guilia beach. It is gorgeous and I could easily see why it is so popular with families. The water is crystal clear, like we had already seen, and the water seems to stay shallow for quite a good distance. Lovely place.

I noticed that kids are not particularly well supervised in France, both on the mainland and Corsica. On the beach, a toddler went out into the sea by himself, while mom tended to another baby far on the beach.While I was there, I kept watch and was ready to run in if needed.Yikes!

We knew we werenít in Kansas anymore once we approached Bastia. The traffic was substantial. We did find our place, the Best Western without any trouble. This is a standard Best Western hotel, about 15 minutes up a hill from the center of Bastia. While itís called the Best Western Bastia Centre, itís not the centre of the historic area. There was nothing of interest in the immediate vicinity, including restaurants.

Once again, the hotel clerk remarked on my Corsican last name. It was pretty fun. While in Corsica, for the first time in my life, I never had to say my name twice, nor spell it. They just knew it. Such a delight for someone like me whose name has always given me grief in the USA. It was back to reality yesterday, while making a business call at work, I had to say my name twice and spell it three times.Sigh.

My friend and I were each given handicapped rooms on the ground level. It felt a little strange at first and I was hoping there wasnít someone in need being put outThe place was clean and the bed was comfortable. The WIFI was reliable.

Anyways, after parking the car (5 euro a night extra), and unloading our stuff, we hiked down to the historic area. We started at the St. Nicholas Plaza and walked down the Charles de Gaulle Blvd, looking in shops, etc. As I love churches, I walked into the first one I saw, St. Roch. I noticed some people seated towards the front and I figured either mass was just finishing or would be starting soon, so I just hung back and looked around the church from the back. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed a casket up in the front near the altar! Ooops!! I think it was a viewing. I got out of there as quietly and quickly as I could. I noticed some other tourist wander in after me. They should have a person or a big sign blocking people from entry. I did notice on the way a small sheet of paper that I figured indicated the name of the deceased and the date of the funeral (two days away). It was an awkward experience and I was sorry I intruded.

Very close by, there is a near twin church, the church of the Immaculate Conception, so I gingerly walked in, and was relieved to find there was no special activity occurring. Both of these churches are ornate, particularly compared with what I saw in Bonifacio. They have a lot of red and gold. They actually didnít feel very church-like. The churches in Bonifacio were very, very simple.We also visited the Saint Jean Baptiste Church and then moved on to hike up to the Citadelle area.

Many of the buildings in Bastia are very crumbly. While it has a unique charm, they literally look like they could fall into a pile of rubble easily.
We visited two churches up there, the Sainte Marie and the Eglise Sainte Croix and did more wandering around.

Corsica is not about blockbuster museums or attractions, but more about ambiance, in my opinion. There doesnít have to be a lot of planning. Wandering works very nicely here. Iím usually very structured on trips, but here I was good with whatever, enjoying the scenes and the fantastic blue skies.
We hiked back up to the hotel (yes, the hill warranted the term hike) and couldnít find anywhere to eat in the immediate area, so we just ate at the hotel, which was terrible.The restaurant only had one wait person and she was swamped with the crowd. The menu is extremely limited. I asked for a pizza and they were out. I ordered a Croque Monsieur and it was not good. I saw later that some folks had baskets of bread with butter and I wish I had thought to have asked for that the one night we dined there.

April 25

Cap Corse day!

This was my day! I was eagerly anticipating the Cap Corse drive. It appears on a website dedicated to ďThe Worldís Most Dangerous DrivesĒ, so I had some nervous anticipation. Well, as a driver well versed in narrow roads and cliffs in Ireland and the U.K., it was nothing. Iím not saying there arenít some sections that could give some concern, but I was very comfortable driving the whole loop. I do admit that I drove it clockwise so that I would be on the inside for the coastal components of the drive. There are rocks, however, routinely breaking away and falling on the edges of the roadway.

This is a very lovely drive, with attractive villages along the way. A highlight was Nonza, with a small tower that can be entered and the pretty St. Julie pink church. The unusual altar features a painting of Saint Julie crucified. Thereís also some neat art depicting ships. I liked one of a ship in a storm with the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus watching over and keeping the ship safe.

The entrance to St. Julieís is via a steep, wide set of stairs. The only people around in the church were myself and a motorcyclist. As I was starting to descend the steep stairs, this rude man plowed into me as he was walking by, banging me with his helmet and nearly knocking me down the stairs. So, so rude and dangerous! There was so much space, he shouldnít have been anywhere near me, much less on top of me to mow me down. This is what I meant by my reference earlier to pushy people. Theyíll knock you down and not look back. Never any ďexcuse meĒ, ďpardon meĒ, anything like that.

Another word about motorcyclists in France, particularly in Corsica. These guys are suicidal. The way they take blind curves is insane. And the way they cut through traffic is something else. I guess they are at peace with themselves and are ready to die at any time!

We deviated from the coastal road for a short venture into the hillsides to visit the commune of Barrettali, where my family is from. The drive to Conchigliu is a small, one lane route, with no way of passing any oncoming traffic and no pull offs. I was very grateful that this area is off the beaten path and we didnít run into anyone.

We visited the Church of the Annunciation in this town, just from the outside since it was locked. It was classic Corsican scenery.

Somewhere along the drive, before Centuri, we took a corner and there were a whole bunch of goats coming down the road and popping up from behind the wall. It was hilarious. They wore bells and were quite the entertaining spectacle. It happened in a spot where I could pull over, get out and take numerous photos. I love animals, so this was a trip highlight, sort of like the traffic jams Iíve experienced in Ireland with sheep in the road.

Lunch was to be in Centuri port. There are quite a few restaurants in this small little waterfront area, but not much else.

Also on the drive, we hiked up to see the Moulin Mattei. The arms of the windmill have been removed, but this was a fun stop, with fabulous views. We could see evidence that a lot of goats pass through this site, but we didnít see any here.

Two other nice stops on the Cap are the towns of Baracaggio and Erbalunga.

Once back to the Bastia area, there was a big traffic jam due to roadworks. Yuck. I felt right at home. My home city is nothing but roadworks.

We freshened up at the hotel and then headed down to Place St. Nicolas for dinner. We each had a pizza and enjoyed watching all the activity in the plaza and seeing trucks load up on the big ferry boat.

April 26

Final morning in Bastia. We drove up to the hill town of St. Lucie to visit the Sainte Felicite church. A nice man turned on all the lights for me. We took a scenic drive for a while and then made our way towards the airport. We went back to our first Corsican restaurant for a light lunch and then proceeded to the airport to catch our Air Corsica flight back to Paris Orly.

I was relieved to return the car in perfect condition. I had read online that Corsican drivers are aggressive and reckless, but with the exception of the motorcyclists, I found driving in Corsica to be just fine.Texas drivers are much more dangerous and aggressive than the average Corsican driver.

The flight to Paris was punctual and uneventful. Arrival in Orly was not good though because it took forever for our bags to show up and then there was a lengthy wait for a taxi. And then, there was monster rush hour Paris traffic to get to our hotel.

We stayed at the Hotel Andrea for two nights. My new room was not properly cleaned and this has made me vow to find a new hotel next time I am in Paris. WIFI was terrible too.

Dinner was at an Italian restaurant one block away. We had a nice walk after eating and then called it a night.

April 27

Full day in Paris.As someone who has been to Paris three prior times, I wanted to do something new, so we took the Metro to the Chateau de Vincennes. It could not have been easier to get there since there is a Metro stop one block from my hotel and then no change is required to get to the Chateau. You are literally deposited right in front of the castle.

A word about Metro tickets: I had purchased a carnet five years ago and had four tickets left over. I brought them and tried to use them, but they didnít work. I went to a ticket window and the agent kindly gave me new tickets. Nice! It was no trouble at all, no lengthy explanation needed.

The chateau costs 9 euro and was fun to explore. The building wasnít furnished, but it was fun to climb around and the Sainte Chappelle is very pretty. Vincennes is a really nice area, from what I could see, very calm, clean and livable.

The Parc Floral was disappointing. Maybe it was the timing of our visit, but there werenít many flowers. I admit that we didnít explore the whole park, so maybe we missed something. Itís definitely a nice place to walk a dog or have some tranquility.

When we returned to central Paris, my friend and I split up so we could do our own things for a while. I wanted my traditional snack of frites from a stand near Notre Dame. I got my nice tray of frites, 3 euro, and proceeded to the park behind the cathedral to enjoy my snack on a bench. I was just finishing up when a band of young women descended on the park, breaking off in pairs with precision to approach the park visitors. They did the ďSpeak English?Ē drill and I just gave them a harsh look that said bug off. I wish the city would crack down on these schemes. Paris is a city where you always have to be on guard and that takes away from the experience of an otherwise beautiful city.

Next stop for me, Marks and Spencer. Yes, Iím in France and I must have my M&S. I went to the one on St. Michel and stocked up on chocolatey bites and biscuits to bring back for myself and my family.

Then, I visited St. Sulpice. I may have gone inside the first time I was in Paris long ago, but I couldnít remember it, so I had to go. Itís big and there are wonderful features to the church. Then, I headed to St. Germain des Pres Church. I had missed this one on previous trips. Itís gorgeous inside, with wonderfully painted ceilings.

I had to hustle back to the hotel to dump my big M&S bag and meet my friend. We took the Metro and visited the St. Alexandre Nevsky Russian church near the Arc Dí Triomphe. It is open for a short number of hours each week and I lucked out that it would be open the one day I had in Paris. It is very beautiful inside and didnít seem to have any tourists. Itís the first time Iíve visited a Russian church.

After getting back to Hotel de Ville, we split up again, with me going to visit the inside of Notre Dame. I will always visit, no matter how many times I go to Paris. I was fortunate to find them getting ready for Vespers, so I sat down for that service and it was serene and a perfect way to finish off two wonderful weeks in France.The church itself was the busiest I had ever seen, so packed with tourists outside the ropes of the service area. I guess I have been lucky in the past to have quiet, easy visits.

The ďgift shopĒ is set up in the most unfortunate manner, making it very hard to look at the merchandise. I gave up and was glad I had found a pretty cross for my mom at Bayeux Cathedral during the previous week.

Dinner was pizza at the same restaurant as the night before. They didnít open until 7, so we just got a beverage at the grocery and sat in the park surrounding Tour St. Jacques until it opened. According to my fitbit, I had logged more than 14 miles of walking that day and didnít want to walk anymore in pursuit of an earlier opening restaurant. The pizza was really good and worth waiting til opening.

April 28

Time to fly home. We took a cab and traffic was terrible close to the airport. As a matter of fact, my plane was late in leaving because the flight crew didnít allot sufficient time to get there considering the traffic. Then, air traffic control delayed our departure even more. Ugh! Who wants to be on a plane one minute longer than necessary, especially when one has such a long flight to endure.

I had a seatmate who thought the plane was a flying restaurant. When the crew announced the meal selection, she rang her bell and asked if she could have vegetarian.The attendant asked if she had ordered such a meal and when she said no, he told her she would have to just pick from the two regular choices.She proceeded to ask all kinds of questions about the dairy content of the meal.

She also asked for some fruit and was denied. Then, she also asked for a different kind of salad dressing on the side.The flight attendant, while maintaining his composure, was getting exasperated and said ďMadam, this is not Emirates.This is not Qatar Airlines.ĒYou get to choose between two meals and there are no other options or changes.

This woman was about the right age to be my mother and I was concerned the attendant might think I was with her!

Anyways, other than the initial delay, the flights home were fine.

I loved Corsica and found it to be visually stunning. Pictures will never do it justice and itís already gorgeous in pictures, so you are in for a treat once you are there. Iím pretty sure Iíll be back in a year or two. Next time Iíll fly into Ajaccio, explore the west coast between there and Saint Florent and then do the Cap Corse again.Thanks for following along with me!
aggiegirl is offline  
May 4th, 2018, 08:38 AM
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I really appreciated your descriptions of Corsica. I have only been there once and only to Ajaccio and Corte. I know I need to go and rent a car. Now I'll have to wait until after tourist season, September at the earliest.

For a "new" Russian church on your next visit to Paris, you should take a look at the Russian cathedral at the Pont de l'Alma. It was entirely paid for by Russia, and Vladimir Putin was supposed to inaugurate it in 2016, but we had a few diplomatic problems so it opened without him. He finally came to see it in 2017. Oddly enough, last November I visited the Russian cathedral in Havana, and it was practically identical to the one in Paris.
kerouac is offline  
May 4th, 2018, 06:43 PM
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Church of the Annunciation

Beautiful random beach on east coast of Corsica

Aragon staircase
aggiegirl is offline  
May 4th, 2018, 06:51 PM
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Road monitor on the Cap Corse


Traffic, Cap Corse style



aggiegirl is offline  
May 8th, 2018, 04:21 PM
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This was a great report! I was interested to hear about Corsica having spent many vacations on Elba. Also the cheese shop we frequent is big on honey and other products from Corsica. Your photos were gorgeous! But it sounds like the restaurant experiences were hit or miss. Is it difficult to find decent places?
I also liked hearing about the experience with your name. My daughter, who lives in the USA, has a French name (we're awful parents) and she was so excited when she went to Montreal and she didn't have to give a fake name at Starbucks.
Fun hearing about Paris again too and your experience on the flight. Thanks for sharing.
palatino82 is offline  
May 8th, 2018, 08:06 PM
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Thanks, Palatino. Your daughter using a fake name for Starbucks made me laugh. When I'm asked for my last name for a restaurant reservation or wait list, I alternate between Smith and Jones.

As for restaurants, I wouldn't say it's hard to find decent places for the average person. It's just that my friend and I have very different tastes, she being a vegetarian. I am picky in my own way just liking very simple food and budget friendly menus. Food just isn't cheap in Corsica..

Kerouac, I had read about the new Russian church, just did t have time this time, so perhaps next time!
aggiegirl is offline  
May 9th, 2018, 01:22 PM
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Thank [email protected]@!!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 06:44 PM
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I'm considering a trip next summer to Corsica. Wondering about whether to try to visit Cap Corse on this, my second trip over there.

For me, seeing the Calanches in the Piana or Porto area again is a must.

From Piana/Porto, I can either head north towards Cap Corse or down south towards Ajaccio and then Bonifacio, which I've also seen in my previous trip. It would be far more driving to head to St. Florent say, then to go South, Then there is the drive on Cap Corse itself, which isn't that long but a lot of stops are recommended.

I understand flying into Bastia for Cap Corse but just curious how Bonifacio, which is probably the furthest point on the island from Cap Corse, was chosen by the OP. Beautiful place but I guess the north-south highway is faster than some of the coastal routes in some other parts of the island.
scrb11 is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 08:00 AM
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The drive from Bastia to Bonifacio was easy on the main coastal route.

I do highly recommend taking the time to go north and complete the Cap Corse circuit. Itís quite beautiful!
aggiegirl is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 08:03 AM
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While the point of my trip to Corsica was to visit my fanilyís territory in the north, Bonifacio was too compelling to pass up.
aggiegirl is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 10:30 AM
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That makes sense.

I really liked the calanches in the Golfo de Porto but the coastal roads there are slow going.
scrb11 is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 11:52 AM
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Let's just hope that the huge forest fires are brought under control and that there will still be some greenery next year.
kerouac is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 03:26 PM
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That's sad to hear.

I did visit Corte and drove through the center of the island. Certainly it's hard to compare with the rocky coastline around Porto and Bonifacio.
scrb11 is offline  
Aug 18th, 2019, 06:49 AM
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How late or early is it warm

How late in the fall or early in the spring can you go to Corsica and expect good weather? Doesnít have to be swimmable!
pthomas156 is offline  
Aug 18th, 2019, 07:50 AM
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I visited the north of Corsica mid June and the water was very cold (to me) but lots of people were out swimming in it. Once you were under, the water felt fine though. Some of the beaches were stunning, the sand, the clear water. The air temps were hot pretty, 90F, coolish at night and definitely cool in the moutains. Did not have a single meal that was not great. A daytrip to the Scandola was impressive, the water crystal clear and lunch at the village of Girolata was memorable. Wanted to visit the village of CargŤse for it's Greek history but it was a bit far from Calvi. Saint Florent was charming, the area of Cap Corse mountainous and beautiful but it does take time to get from A to B due to the mountainous roads although they are in very good condition. Lots of pretty perched villages to explore. I would expect mid to end September that the sea temps would be warmer than when I went. Our main reason for going was to dive the B17 wreck in Calvi.
Odin is offline  
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