Fragrance in Travel Literature-Corsica

Olmi-Cappella (Corsica) - Sur la route du village

A lady's tour in Corsica (1880) Vol 1
Forde, Gertrude

Beyond this, almost from beneath our
feet, stretched far away the| wide sweep of
Mediterranean, sparkling with countless
flashes, and bearing on its laughing bosom
the islands of Capraya, Elba, and Monte
Christo. Monte Christ o was but a blue
cone above the waters ; and Capraya,
though larger, was cloudy and mysterious ;
but Elba lay before us majestically grand
in the dappled sunlight, precipitous walls
of barren rock and smiling hillside standing
out in a fine contrast.
On the other side of the road, and rising
steeply up, were rocky hills, well clothed
with the sweet-smelling macchie ; whilst,
between every rocky rift, showed glimpses
of wilder mountains, the inland chain of
Corsica, raising their grey heads from misty
veils of morning.
Macchie, in Corsica, is a word that means
much. It is, literally, scrub or under-
growth ; but it is, practically, one of the
most perfect garments ever woven by
nature. It may be thick or thin, but is
generally composed of a dense mass of
shrubs, from two to four feet high, massed
over and carpeted under by the richest and
most luxuriant flowers.
The pink and the white cistus, the
common weed of Corsica, which covers
miles of country with its red or snow-white
bushes on their sturdy growth, is the usual
foundation of the macchie ; but mingled
with it are a score of other low growing
plants, of various and often aromatic scents.

Very beautiful was this first view of the
Corsican rocks, and of the wide sea pano-
rama of historic islands, each telling in
silent grandeur its own history of ad-
venture, heroism, or the stern freaks of
fortune. The very name of Monte Christo
seemed to launch one into dim dreams of
wild peril and desperate attempt ; whilst
the dark cliffs of Elba frowned in a stern
harmony to their tale of the despotic
emperor, whose heart for a time beat in
impotent resistance against its prison walls.
What a satire it seemed, to place that
proud, all-conquering Corsican on an island
from whose heights he could plainly see the
rugged mountains of his native land — almost
smell the sweet odor's of the macchie-
covered hills, wafted across his childhood's
sea, from her to him !

From Serraggio to Yivario, passing by
Ponte Yecchio, the route is perfectly lovely.
It winds through the gorge of the Vecchio,
the river foaming at the bottom, and wildest
rocky hills, varied by snow mountains, rising
up on either side. The peaks that stood
over us were of the most eccentric shapes,
2)pointing like grey and brown battlements
up into the unclouded sky, and flowers of
every description blossomed beside our path.
The Mediterranean heath, especially, with
its delicate little bell shaped flowers and
strong, sweet scent, grew luxuriantly by the
roadside, generally in height from six to
ten feet.

The reception-room windows opened out
upon a paved and enclosed terrace, sur-
rounded by flowers. Here Napoleon and
his foiu- brothers used often to play, peeping
through the balustrade upon the sunny
street below; and here the old concierge
picked us each a spray or two of scented
geranium that was said to have been
growing there ever since his time.

Soon after passing the punitencier, the
carriage, with a final jolt, stopped at the
foot of the green slope, and we got out to
pursue the narrow winding track, passing
among macchie- covered sand-hills, and
mounting steeply towards the rocks beyond.
It was hot work, for there was no shade,
and the sand burnt beneath our feet, and
the rocks glowed before us ; but the cystus
gave out a refreshing scent, and at every
turn the grey walls grew taller and more
rugged and imposing, as the green mounds
in front cleared away.

As we left Cauro and continued our steep
ascent, the mountains grew grander, and >
the trees increased. Maquis of the most
delicious sort followed the roadside, and
the air was laden with the strong scent of
the tall Mediterranean heath, which fought
with arbutus and cistus for the foremost
place, whilst cyclamen, golden broom, and
hellebore clustered at their feet.

A lady's tour in Corsica (1880)-Vol 2
Forde, Gertrude

After an affectionate farewell to Hotel
Germania, its comforts and its cleanliness,
bearing each of us a sweet-smelling bou-
quet of rosebuds, geraniums, and heliotrope^
presented by the young waiter to his last
customers with a mournful air, we left
sunny little Ajaccio for the last time,
accompanied by our old friend Antonio, for
whom we had been careful to bargain.

The summit of this precipitous wall was
draped in snow, and it looked as close as
if a stone from us could have reached its
hoary sides ; but the long lines of diminutive
fir-trees, which ran up every available ledge
on its frowning flank, showed its real
distance. This great snow-covered pinnacle
was Monte Cinto, over 9000 feet high.
For miles we wandered on in this
enchanted forest, down a rutty road, worn
away by heavy waggon wheels, and im-
passable for a carriage, but soft with fir
tendrils, and sweet with the delicious scent
of pines.

At 6 a.m. we were in our carriage, brought
round by the ever-punctual Antonio, and
driving up the steep ascent in the long
shadow's of early day, sunlight on the
mountain tops, larks singing their carol,
and heavy dew lying on the sweet-scented
grass and macchie round us.
Every yard of the way was lovely, aud
every turn brought out new beauties ;
grandest mountains rising from purple mists
of morning, with jagged peak and archi-
tectural column, wide deep gorges, and
villages nestling everywhere with campanile
in their centre, among steep green hills.

The descent from here into the valley of
Christianiccia is singularly wild and beauti-
ful. Our gallop down, accomplished, as it
could have been, at such a pace, only by
Corsican horses and a Corsican driver, was-
all too short to drink in the beauty of vary-
ing views, of grandest perpendicular rocks,,
and of graceful ilex woods interspersed with
castellated boulders, overhanging the road-
side. Such a gallop, however, is delightful
and inspiriting over a soft, park-like road,
with snow cones peeping out of a blue
curtain, with aromatic odours flying by,
and with beasts that never lose their foot-
ing. It is a dream of cool enjoyment that
one w^ould willingly lengthen.

Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica (1870)
Edward Lear

The way onward has plenty of interest ; here the view is never impeded
by high walls, as in the neighbourhood of the northern lakes or the southern
towns of Italy. To the right is the bright calm sea, with Elba on its horizon,
and, looking to the left you seem always in a garden of almond, walnut, fig,
and cherry trees (the Diligence I meet is piled up high with cherry baskets
for the Bastia market), corn, potatoes, and flax, varied at times by olive
groves, while in the roadside hedges, pink convolvulus, scarlet pea, and
honeysuckle are blooming in gay and fragrant wreaths.

The superb Lariccio pines of Corsica have not degenerated from their ancestors of two thousand years ago, when praised by Theophrastus, who observed that the pines of Latium could not be compared to them. The forests of Corsica, to the number of forty or fifty, of which two only are turned to account, would supply more than the wants of our navy. The Genoese, wiser than we, imported all their wood from Corsica, and this explains the importance they attached to possessing the island. These forests, the first in Europe, instead of extending monotonously in long plains, plunge into deep valleys, or wind along the sides of high mountains, not wrapped in heavy and gloomy clouds like the forests of the north ; a splendid sun illumines them, and they present immense and magnificent prospects. The forest of Aitone, one of the two which are being utilised, passes for the most vast and the most beauti- ful of all in the island. I admired its gigantic Lariccio pines, their trunks slender and smooth,
towering, exhaling a powerful perfume of resin, branchless up to a height of above 100 feet, and crowned by a magnificent tuft of foliage, waving and sonorous in the breeze.

Romantic Corsica, wanderings in Napoleon's isle; (1909)
Renwick, George; Ouston, T. G

The condition of the road round the Cap is all that
can be desired, though near Bastia the dust lies on it
five or six inches in depth. It follows the ins and outs
of the irregular coast line, now dipping down almost to
a level with the gently murmuring, rippling wavelets,
now rising far above them. Walnut and chestnut trees
line the route on the landward side ; from the road
picturesque valleys cut their way inland. It is not long
before the traveller is presented with many a typical Cap
Corse view. They are unique in the island. One of the
prettiest on the east coast is at the Tour de Toga. The
old Genoese watch-tower is falling gradually into the
realm of the past and taking its story with it ; the fresh
green paysage is indeed charming to be amongst, with
the perfume of its early morning purity ; here and there
somnolent little villages and white villas cut the land-
scape up into pictures ; out at sea the fishermen are
busy with their nets and lines.

Here it was that I first appreciated the glorious
charm of the maquis, its hesitant, elusive perfume, which
makes the air of Corsica something unique in the work
It is spread all over the island like a carpet, making
the country another Green Isle, another Ireland. The
maquis, although to be found in one or two of th
nearest parts of the Continent, grows nowhere else t
such an enormous extent. It is a mixture of eight plants
— cistus, lentiscus, arbutus, myrtle, heath, rosemary
juniper, and wild olive — combining to give Corsica a
enchanted atmosphere, to make it the Scented Isle.

The country through which the road to Bastelica passes
would be difficult to surpass in that part of Corsica. It
winds through the gorgeous maquis, the subtle perfume
of which dwells with me to-day — the maquis in all the
splendour of early summer garb, hiding in its depths its
herds of goats with their tinkling bells. Oak and pine
vie in offering shade ; Monte Renoso, between 7,000 and
8,000 feet high, towers beyond Bastelica ; far as the eye
can reach over hill and dale and up to the mountained
horizon is shimmer and shade, shade and shimmer.

The house was one of a cluster looking out from the
forest towards the sea and Porto Vecchio. The forest
can be seen spreading away to the south-west along a
mountain ridge, at the end of which our old friend, the
Homme de Cagne, peeps out of the brooding, haze-
enshrouded distance. The soil at this height is not very
fertile, and the trees are lanky and their foliage scrubby
on this account. One wonders how they weather the
winter tempests which must howl around this highland.
Most of the houses are only used as summer residences
by the richer inhabitants of Porto Vecchio and the other
little towns beyond the northern boundary of the Ospe^
dale Forest. The odour of the pine and the upward-
wafted perfume of the maquis, with the cool air carried
gently from the south-eastern sea or along the fin-like
mountain range from stormier south-western shores,
make the atmosphere elysian.

"Grandiose, n'est-ce pas ? " was my companion's con-
stantly reiterated exclamation, and the word fits exactly.
Far and wide is a cunning parquetry of colours, blending
into one another magically, over which the dazzling
light of day casts a curious spell. Seen from the Col de
Capicciolo (i,8oo feet high) the valley of the Porto is a
masterpiece, rivalling in seductive beauty even the Gorge
of Santa Regina, but alas ! words are such very poor
paint-brushes. The severe, majestic grandeur of the steep,
reddish rocks, the far-thrown maquis, the spreading
chestnut forests, are inspiringly grand even to one whose
eyes have been fed day by day with the endless comeliness
of all the " Scented Isle."

Centuri is the place where James Boswell landed when
he visited Corsica. " The prospect of the mountains
covered with vines and olives," he says, " was extremely
agreeable ; and the odour of the myrtle and other aro-
matick shrubs and flowers that grew all around me was
very refreshing, As I walked along I often saw Corsican
peasants come suddenly from out of the covert ; and as
they were armed, I saw how the frightened imagination
of the surgeon's mate had raised up so many assassins.
Even the man who carried my baggage was armed, and
had I been timorous might have alarmed me. But he
and I were very good company to one another. As it
grew dusky, I repeated to myself these lines from a fine
passage in Ariosto : —
" ' Together through dark woods and winding ways
They walk, nor in their hearts suspicion preys.' "