Bergeries de l'Onda to Vizzavona
(8 miles/13 kilometers)
Vizzavona is probably more than half way through the walk (when going North to South), but it's treated as the mid-point by most of the walkers. I'm told that some 70% of walkers do either the North or the South part of the walk, but relatively few people go on to do both at the same time. I knew from speaking to those I'd met on the walk that none of them was doing the whole thing, and so I was looking forward to seeing new faces and possibly making some new friends in the second half.
Vizzavona is a small village, and I'd also entertained heady ideas of possibly staying in the small hotel... Perhaps most importantly, though, I was hoping to be able to stock up on camera batteries, and also to look around the local shops for fresh bread, post cards, saucisson and whatever else might look exciting and attractive.
I got up, had a wash, filled my Platy with water and made my way up the hill to the bergerie for breakfast. I took my loaf and little food bag with me, and I was hoping to be able to buy a hot chocolate if the proprietors were up and about. I hadn't seen any sort of communal cooking area (although it's possible that it does exist: I hadn't actually looked), and so I didn't expect to be able to make myself a drink.
The proprietors were indeed up and about--one of them, anyway--and the woman who'd cooked our great meal the night before made me a cup of chocolat chaud for 3 Euros. I ate a little bread and saucisson with it, and was more or less ready to go by 7.15am.
I didn't like to leave without saying goodbye to Veronique, though. She had just one more night to spend before flying home to France, and she'd told me the evening before that she'd decided to spend the day at the bergerie in the sun, swimming in a pool and reading her book on the rocks. It sounded wonderful, and it meant that she could have lasagna again that night and wouldn't have to look for a place to stay in Vizzavona. Instead, she'd walk down to Vizzavona the following day and jump straight on a train. It made sense, and part of me envied her the relaxing day that lay ahead of her. Just as I was wondering whether to go down and wake her, though, I noticed movement in her tent, and a short time later she made her way up the little hill.
Veronique had tea and I had another chocolate, and she produced the large pot of discarded Nutella we'd found at the the Bergeries de Tolla the day before. That was extremely yummy on bread for breakfast, and I happily tucked into my second meal of the morning :)
I wanted to try to get to Vizzavona in good time, though, and so at about 8am I got my things together, said goodbye to Veronique and set off up the hill.
I'd dug out my MP3 player and returned to my place in HMS Surprise, and so I rather enjoyed the initial steep climb towards a col. I soon gained height, and stopped for a last look down at the Bergeries de l'Onda.
Views were once again amazing, and it was very frustrating not to be able to use my camera as much as I'd have liked to have been able to do.
The walk from Bergeries de l'Onda to Vizzavona along the GR20 is a low level route, and Paddy Dillon had suggested, in his guidebook, incorporating an ascent of Monte d'Oru, in order to liven things up a little. I'd thought about it, but I was keen to arrive at the thriving metropolis as early in the afternoon as possible, and therefore I'd decided to stick with the standard route, which was predicted to take about 6 rather than 7.5 hours.
I kept moving on up, surrounded by yet more beautiful views as I rose higher...
...and noticing once again a profusion of beautiful small flowers along the way.
I particularly liked the way the light glanced off this foxglove (though I've mangled it here in PSP for playing purposes)...
Eventually I arrived at a rocky little gap, the entrance to which was preceded by a small plaque attached to the mountainside.
As far as I can make out, the inscription states that the Alpinist, Jean Pierre Etienne, disappeared at that point whilst undertaking a journey along the GR20 on skis in April 2003. She (I think) had been accompanied by her dog, Lola.
I wasn't able to translate the inscription at the time, and so I continued happily enough through the gap and sat down to marvel at the views on the other side.
There were interesting plants too.
Annoyingly, I managed to scrape my leg on a sharp rock just as I was moving off. It was only a scrape, but it produced an immediate array of bright red beads of blood and so naturally I needed a picture :)
What I remember most about the rest of the walk to Vizzavona was an unrelenting and ultimately pretty boring down--creak--down--creak--down. I have to say that I really don't enjoy steep and endless rocky descents. They hurt my knees, and it's never possible to relax for a moment. Still, what goes up must come down, I suppose, and so I continued to plod along. In the meantime I amused myself with the lovely flowers, praying that I'd be able to get hold of new batteries at Vizzavona after all.
The one above was particularly lovely. I'd seen it on several occasions: clusters of soft, pretty, very slightly mauve and floppily foppish little petals, like small pieces of lace trimmed carefully from the cuff of an 18th Century shirt.
I stopped to check the guidebook from time to time, part of me hoping that perhaps I'd misread it and a well-concealed Vizzavona was about to pop out from behind a rock. Apparently it wasn't, though, no matter how many times I re-read the book.
Eventually I got down to a footbridge, where I saw some of the other walkers down in the rocks by the river, enjoying the sun and apparently relaxing after lunch. It was their last day, and they were making the most of it while they could.
They saw me watching and beckoned me down, and so I scrambled down the rocky slope and sat down on a rock to get out my little yellow bag of lunch thingies. I was thinking about swimming, but the likely temperature of the water was uppermost in my mind and somehow I couldn't quite bring myself to get in. In response to a tentative enquiry the French confirmed that they'd not swum, and so I felt better about wimping out :)
One of the walkers then said something that included a mention of lunch, and I thought she was telling me they'd just eaten it. I sat facing the water and ate a bit more of my loaf and saucisson, and it was only then that I turned round again to find the others tucking in. It seemed likely that they'd invited me to sit with them to eat, but I'd misunderstood. They must have thought me pretty odd from time to time! I hope they didn't think I was ignoring them! Sigh...
Anyway, after no more than about half an hour I decided to go on, as I was really very keen to get to the village. I got my things together, waved goodbye and set off across the footbridge. There was more descent but by now it had levelled off a bit, and eventually I arrived at La Cascade Bar at a point on the river known as the Cascade des Anglais. There I stopped for a Coke and celebrated my return to level ground. I was surrounded by tourists (well okay: other tourists), and I could hear several English voices in the babble of sound that drifted across from the veranda to my little table in the trees.
The walk from the bar to the village was relaxing and lovely. I'd been giving further thought to my accommodation for that night, and over my Coke I'd decided to take a look at the little Hotel Larrici which was pictured in the guidebook. As things worked out, I passed it on the right as I was walking down into the village, and it looked so cool and welcoming that I decided to go in.
It turned out that a single room for the night would cost 59 Euros without dinner or breakfast, or 63 Euros with both. I knew I wanted to eat with the others in the village and so I went for the cheaper of the two options, which with the benefit of hindsight was pretty stupid, really, as it would certainly have been worth an additional 4 Euros for breakfast. My mind had been turned by thoughts of a long, hot shower, though, and so I wasn't really thinking straight. Not to worry.
The room was lovely! Large, airy and bright with a wooden floor...
...and big wooden shutters...
...which I immediately opened, revealing a view onto the road down which I'd just walked.
My main concern, though, was to check out the shower, and I discovered it to be spacious and deep and extremely warm and long-lasting :)
Steaming, slightly, I returned to my room and donned my cleanest remaining clothing, at which stage I wandered over to the window, from which vantage point I saw the French GR20'ers I'd earlier sat with at lunchtime making their way past the hotel. They spotted me immediately, and I waved across at them, making semi-apologetic noises about douches chaudes and dix minutes!
After that I made my way downstairs and set off for the village. I'd somehow got the impression from the books that there were shops in Vizzavona, but when I arrived at the bar I discovered that there weren't. Well, not shops in any significant sort of sense. I sat with the other walkers, who'd all congregated at the bar on the right, opposite the train station, but there was also a bar on the left, and in a little room at the back there was a range of interesting foods and--most importantly of all--camera batteries!
I bought 2 packets of 4 AA batteries, an artisan-produced saucisson and a selection of instant coffees for use in Refuge kitchens. Then I returned to the bar and sat around for a couple of hours, drinking pastis (1 Euro!) and helping the other walkers to celebrate the conclusion of their walks.
After an hour or so the group of young French students walked across to the train station, and some of us went over to wave them off. The night before in the bergerie, Ursula and I had arranged to have dinner together in Vizzavona. Ursula was staying in the Gite attached to the bar, and after she emerged we sat together and chatted until 7pm, at which stage I nipped back up to my luxury accommodation for a quick wash before dinner at 7.30pm.
When I got back down to the restaurant Ursula was having the Menu du Jour, but I decided to choose something from the larger menu. Although it was simple, it was one of the nicest meals I had in the entire 2 weeks. I started with a hot goat's cheese salad (7 Euros), and followed that with a potato omelette and salad (8 Euros). The whole thing was absolutely delicious, and if I could eat goat's cheese with salad at every meal I'd be a very happy (and porky) piglet indeed :) After we'd eaten the proprietor gave Ursula and I a liquor each: delish!
A little while later, two of the other walkers who were also staying overnight at the hotel sat down with us (Jean-Marc, and his partner: somehow I kept missing her name), and helped me write a postcard to Annie, Freddy and Jacques, explaining that I wasn't going to have time to stop off at Bastia due to the time of my flight. That was a great relief, because I'd been concerned that I wouldn't be able to let them know that I wasn't going to be able to meet up.
We then spent the next hour or so chatting. Jean-Marc had fallen and cut his head earlier in the day, and it sounded as though there'd been a great deal of blood and gore. He seemed okay, though, and at about 10.15pm we all decided it was time for bed. I said goodbye to Ursula, not expecting to see her again, and made my way back to my room. There I sent a few texts, and slipped happily off to sleep on the comfortable bed.
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