Domaine de Catarelli - camping in a vineyard
We found ourselves camping in a vineyard on our last night on the island of Corsica. We'd an 8am ferry to catch and required a campsite or an aire within a short drive of the port.
Saint-Florent, on the northern side of Corsica, is just half an hour away from Bastia from where we were due to board the ferry to Nice and it's where we began our search. Traffic on the approach to Saint-Florent was slow moving and the town was drowning in tourists. I'm not sure I'd have wanted to spend even a night in one of its campsites even if there'd been space.
With our limited grasp of French we weren't even confident of being able to establish if we would be able to leave a site at 6am and, rather than take the risk, we simply discounted any campsite that had an entry and exit barrier. It was sure to be closed until a more reasonable hour, leaving us locked in and the ferry leaving without us.
Turning our noses up at all of the town's campsites, because they looked horrible and had barriers, we decided that an aire was the only answer and began heading to the first of two on the west side of Corsica's northern peninsula.
Just after taking the fork in the road leading north along the coast, rather than east over the mountains to Bastia, we passed a sign that said 'Camping la Ferme', farm camping.
We'd read about, but never tried, farm camping which is usually a small site attached to a farm or vineyard. Many offer free overnight parking in return for purchasing produce. This looked promising and so we decided one more look at a campsite was worth it, given this wouldn't be a fully-organised campsite.
As we pulled in to the car park I could see a barrier, and so our first instincts were to give this site a wide berth too, but a man had seen us drive in and it seemed rude just to leave again. We parked, locked the van and went over to the vineyard shop that served as the campsite reception.
The owner spoke reasonable English and I was fairly certain he'd understood our requirement for one night's camping with early departure. He suggested we go and look at the site and return if we wanted to stay.
We set off on foot down a slope beside the reception building. First of all, to the right there was a spacious dirt field in the shade of hundreds of small trees. Continuing on there were a few free pitches next to each side of the track that led to the beach. While normally we'd have opted for a sunny pitch near to the beach we felt one in the shady field would make for a cooler final night.
As we walked back to reception my only doubt surrounded the potential closure of the exit barrier. I needed to be sure the owner had understood we had a ferry to catch and could only stay if we could leave the site at 6am. Using Google Translate on my phone I typed 'Will the gate be open at 6am? We have to be at the ferry port for 7am.' I showed what Google supplied as the French translation to the man at reception.
'Oui,' nodded the owner, explaining that it was often the case people needed to leave early and so he left the barrier half closed, which seemed to put off anyone coming in but allowed enough room for vehicles exiting.
Satisfied with this we agreed to stay in return for €21, the price without electricity.
'The wine, you want to try?' asked the man.
We didn't really want to buy wine at €10.50 per bottle when we had 10 litre boxes of supermarket merlot in the van, but were too polite to decline. He poured two small glasses of ice-cold white wine which was agreeable.
'Rose?' he asked.
'No thank you, we'll take the white though, please,' I said trying to draw a line under the tasting and shopping session.
A chilled but unwanted bottle of white wine was taken back to Cleopatra and we went off to secure a pitch under the trees.
We hung our hammocks between trees nearby and whiled away the afternoon in the relative cool of their shade.
I remembered that I'd forgotten (can you remember you've forgotten?) to get a spare gas canister from the back of the boot before we loaded the bikes on the rack, and so dinner needed not to take much cooking; it was unknown how much gas was left in the canister we had been using. Since it was so hot in the sun I left a chopped onion in our saucepan in direct sunlight. Within a minute the pan was too hot to touch and so dinner began cooking without fuel.
After a swim in the sea and outdoor shower we were walking back to Cleopatra when we noticed a baby was one of the campers in the VW van we'd parked beside. There'd been nothing to give away the young offspring of its occupants when we pulled up earlier. I'm pleased to say that apart from one little outburst of crying, I only knew it was there because I saw it running around wearing nothing but a crash helmet.
We continued dinner preparations. I chopped the second half of a lemon that still needed using up while Tony fetched a tin of sardines and some herbs from the camping larder. I gave the mixture a couple of minutes of heat from the gas stove before we added macaroni and enough water so the pasta would just cook and create its own sauce without needing draining. It came to the boil quickly and I turned off the gas, letting the pasta slowly cook for five minutes before giving another minute's heat, leaving to rest, stirring and serving. It was simple and delicious - fishy and zesty while feeling light and healthy - and using hardly any of the gas I'd worried might run out.
We sipped our supermarket merlot as dusk fell, watching while a few more campers arrived for the night. We packed away the hammocks, chairs, table and anything else we'd used before it grew properly dark, hopping into the pop-top roof to sleep.
At 6am we woke to both our phone alarms beginning in unison. Fifteen minutes later we slipped quietly through the half-open gate for the half-hour drive to the ferry.
We've got five nights in mainland France next before visiting the three more French islands that will complete our six-week island-hopping adventure.