20 August 2010

The Festival at Canari, Part 3: Getting There

One of the great charms of the Festival International du Chant Lyrique de Canari is the improbability of its location. Not only is it on an island, it’s in a remote part of Corsica, the Cap Corse at the northernmost tip of the island, accessible only by narrow, winding roads. The old method of getting around — a donkey — has a great deal to recommend itself, but nowadays, most people prefer to drive cars. And most Corsicans prefer to drive fast.

However, you’re not advised to drive to Corsica — at the least, you will want to find some vehicle other than a car in order to cross the Mediterranean. On previous visits, I took an airplane, but last year, I took the ferry back and forth. These represented the longest trips I’ve taken by boat, and while the accommodations on Corsica Ferries are more like those of the Love Boat than those of Caesar’s galleys, I was nevertheless consumed with the romance of that ancient sea.

Preferred transport of Jacques Martin’s Alix

For one thing, the Mediterranean really is that shade of blue that bears its name. One can see the color from the coast, of course, but it’s really striking when you’re surrounded by miles of it. Then, as you approach the craggy shores of Corsica, their rainbow rocks warmed by the touch of the rosy-fingered dawn, you sense what centuries of seafarers, conquerors and pirates must have felt: wonder.

This will, inevitably, put you in the mood to hear good music. So it is just as well that you were planning to attend the Festival.

Canari, with only a few hundred year-round residents, boasts no Club Med, Hôtel Ibis, or other conventional commercial tourist lodgings; rooms can be rented in gîtes (rural bed-and-breakfast accommodations), at the Auberge du Pêcheur, and in the Convent of Saint François itself, but most of these are reserved for participants in the Festival. When you go, you’ll need to scout out inns and B&B — or even bona fide hotels. (The Corsican tourist office can be found here; one specialist in area rentals can be found here.) These lodgings may require a bit of driving when you’re ready to attend Festival events, but on the other hand, this makes it easier to explore the beautifully unspoiled coast.

Sunset in Canari, with a view of the Clocher.
(Photo by WVM)

Dining options in the village are somewhat similarly limited, and the restaurant closest to the Convent, Au Bon Clocher, is packed at lunch and suppertime. Attached to the Auberge du Pêcheur, with a spectacular view of the eponymous bell-tower and the Mediterranean beyond, the Bon Clocher specializes in fresh seafood (diners pick out their fish from a platter piled with the day’s catch) and typical Corsican cuisine, or cuisine with a Corsican accent (such as the Canneloni au brocciu, a local sheep’s milk cheese). The owners, Henriette and Francis, and the chef, Ange, earnestly attempt to adapt their hours to the Festival’s schedule, whereas other local restaurants don’t necessarily make the effort: I have yet to eat anywhere else in town, because most places are closed by the time I emerge from the Festival. In some ways, Canari is still adjusting to the notion that a seasonal international tourist attraction has taken up residence there.

(Photo by WVM)

If you’re traveling by plane, Air France provides frequent service between Paris and Bastia, where you can rent a car. There’s also service from other cities in France.

Corsica Ferries sail from Nice, Toulon, and Marseille, docking at Bastia and Ajaccio — where you can rent a car if you didn’t bring your own.

Be advised that, when traveling either by air or by boat, you’re subjecting yourself to the vagaries of labor unrest both French (demands for earlier retirement, bigger pensions, shorter hours, higher pay, fluffier pillows) and Corsican (absolutely inscrutable to anyone who isn’t Corsican).

If you prefer not to rent a car, your options are few. Like much of Corsica, this area is frequented by hikers (mostly English) and bikers (mostly insane), but for the rest of us, the exertions required aren’t worth the candle.

And now you’re ready for the Festival!

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