Frenchie and the Balagne Seafood
Summer checklist: Eat local food - check! / Sleep - check! / Hike - check! / Picnic on top of a mountain - check! / Make jams - check! / Rest and sun in the mountains - check! / Drive with the windows down - check! / Walk barefoot in the grass - check!
Go to the beach… <gasp!> How did I forget about the coast? Busy beaches, fine white sand, seafood and blue waters… how?
Car loaded and packed for a beach day. The call of the sunny, beautiful and famous northwestern Corsican region of the Balagne already enchants and hypnotizes us like the song of a mermaid as we drive down the mountains, pass the undulating plains until the small hamlets full of artisans and olive orchards become visible with panoramic views of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop.
I could write 10 pages and tell you about my favorite secret beach – where the river mouth meets the sea and creates a shimmering beach rich in beauty, shapes and sceneries. But I covet it too much to let you know anything else… other than the beach of the <cough!> Ostriconi is superb. So much for the secret!
I could also tell you about the Artisans’ Road - Strada di l’Artigiani – going through Pigna, Aregno or Sant’Antonino among other villages perched on hilltops and recapturing the medieval character of a time long lost with narrow back alleys, stone archways and writhing old corridors – reminders of old Italian, French and possibly Greek villages.
I could probably tell you about Île Rousse and its beach promenade in the shade of palm trees, or the beauty of the coast as you drive along the narrow winding roads much like the Pacific Coast Highway. But instead I will tell you about seafood on the coast – fish and seafood freshly brought to town by the fishermen as they unload their boats followed by flocks of seagulls.
When walking through Calvi, the capital of the Balagne region and the fifth largest city in Corsica, the 15th century citadel dominating the harbor is what strikes most people. For me, the harbor promenade, the lively street atmosphere, the 3 mile long beach embracing the coast line and beautifully outlining the red tiled rooftops of the houses overlooking the sea is what’s most striking.
Well… actually, the food smells and various visions of plated seafood is not only also striking but it makes me hover over other people’s plates as I walk the tiny streets where sausages, hams and other charcuterie items hang above your head as you enter stores. Anchovy scents in the breeze remind me of summer – served as a snack on toasted bread for a delicious anchiùvata made with Cayenne pepper and cappers.
For some reason, most of the narrow alleys in Calvi smell like an aziminu is simmering somewhere. A lot of the restaurants serve this bouillabaisse-type stew made with sea bream, cuttlefish, John Dory, weeverfish, rockfish, gurnard, conger, crab and sometimes scampis. The lingering essences of leeks, tomatoes, bay leaves, white wine, saffron and hints of Pastis trailing from the kitchens invade my nose and the surrounding streets with such force that it ends up escalating my growing hunger pains – oh wait, it’s only 10:20am!
Browsing menus as we casually stroll, I get panic-stricken about the abundance of seafood choices. How can I somehow try it all? Totani pieni a u vinu biancu (stuffed squids in white wine), insàlata di musculi a l’acètu di mele (mussel salad with honey vinegar) or fritelle di baccàla (cod fritters)… there’s just something about trying all sorts of seafood dishes overlooking the sea and the marina in the shade of a colorful umbrella.
Oh and if Calvi wasn’t intriguing enough – it claims to be the real birthplace of Christopher Columbus instead of Genoa. A legend that’s never been proven right or wrong.
Text and pictures by Frenchie and the Yankee. © Frenchie and the Yankee