One of our Corsica experts, Kathryn, recalls her first visit to the island and her discovery of Strada di l’Artigiani, the Artisans Route.
I have a favourite corner of Corsica, la Balagne. It was the first region I visited and I’ll never forget seeing the mountainous island surrounded by the bluest of seas, as my plane came into land at Calvi. It was during this first two-week holiday in Corsica that I fell in love with the pretty village of Pigna, and the island as a whole. Call me biased, but you’ll find the most beautiful scenery in la Balagne, as the mountains tumble down towards the sea.
The hilltop villages of la Balagne
The island’s history was shaped by one nation after another, coveting her lands. Along the coast, a series of watchtowers were built by the Pisans, and it was said that a message of impending invaders could be sent, passing from one tower to the next, around the island in under an hour.
Most inhabitants, however, settled inland in hilltop villages, like Pigna or Sant’ Antonino, commanding 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside where the villagers’ sheep grazed and wild boar roamed freely in the chestnut forests. It is thanks to this that Corsica’s traditional cuisine is more meat inspired rather than fish based. Although nowadays, fish and seafood do feature heavily on many menus, especially near the coast.
The view from Sant’ Antonino
Despite their beauty, by the middle of 20th century the inland villages, some of which are over a thousand years old, were becoming increasingly neglected as people moved away to the larger coastal towns and cities – after all there’s little chance of an invasion or pirate attack these days!
The Artisans’ Route
In response, Pigna was the first village to encourage artisans to take up residence. In 1964, a handful of residents formed a cooperative. They renovated disused buildings and offered apprenticeships in village crafts. In 1978, the association founded E Voce di U Commune (the Voices of the Community) to preserve local culture, in particular, traditional music.
It wasn’t long before other villages copied this approach. This took off further when in 1993 a regeneration scheme was introduced offering grants to further encourage artists to move into la Balagne’s villages. The wonderful result is the Artisans’ Route, Strada di l’Artigiani.
It’s a breathtakingly beautiful drive through the sweet-smelling maquis and olive groves from one historic village to another – driving is a necessity as public transport is spasmodic at best.
Stop at each village and take a leisurely wander down (or more often ‘up’) the narrow, cobbled streets to uncover a wonderful array of artists and craftsmen, producing everything from honey and jams, to jewellery, basket weaving or essential oils, to name but a few.
As you explore, you are guaranteed to catch your breath on more than one occasion as, turning the next corner, you catch sight of the stunning vista before you cross the groves and orchards down the hillside to the shimmering sea.
View from Corbara
During my first exploration of Pigna, I was enchanted by Scat’a Musica’s hand-painted music boxes and the colourful ceramics in Ceramica di Pigna.
You’ll now also find Casa Savelli in the village, where you’ll discover the best of local produce including olive oil, jams and herbs from the maquis.
Ceramica di Pigna
Tips: Many of the workshops close in the early afternoon, reopening about 4pm until around 7pm or 8pm. A list of artisans with the location and opening times are shown on this page of the Strada di l’Artigiani website. There is also an interactive map but not all the artisans are included on it.
Ask at any tourist office for a leaflet outlining the route.
You will also undoubtedly discover some fabulous little restaurants and bars along the way, just as I did in the form of Pigna’s A Casarella – a wonderful place to take some time out and relax with a bottle of the local beer Pietra, some chestnut fig jam and local paté with crusty bread.
A Casarella, Pigna
Corsican Places have a great range of hotels, villas and apartments in la Balagne, any of which would make an excellent base for exploring the Artisans’ Route. The drive winds its way around hairpins bends criss-crossing the equally enticing wine route so don’t be surprised if you are tempted off the intended path on occasion to discover the local wines. In Corsica, there are no rules to follow, instead, simply go wherever your heart leads you. My heart will always take me back to Pigna and the route des artisans.
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