Happy Sunday everyone – the last before December kicks in… Today, we’re travelling to Corsica, with Vanessa Couchman. It’s somewhere I’ve always thought of visiting, but never quite got around to, so I’m sure I’ll be tempted after this!
Hidden Treasure in Corsica
Thank you for inviting me, Jennifer. My special place inspires me as a writer, is also special to one of my characters and is a setting for my story.
The Mediterranean island of Corsica is a place apart. The finger-like spur of Cap Corse in the north-eastern corner has a distinct feel of its own. The village of Nonza is reached by a switchback road that runs around the cape.
Nonza clings to a rocky pinnacle between the mountains and the cobalt-blue sea far below. We stayed at Casa Maria, a B&B off the village square. This typical Corsican house is foursquare and unadorned, but has superb views of the sea and the mountains beyond. In the foreground stands the intimate church with a glowing apricot-coloured façade.
This small village is steeped in history. Outside Casa Maria’s gate, a path fringed with fig trees and cacti leads up to the ruined château and an 18th-century watchtower of greenish stone. The Paoline Tower dates from Corsica’s short-lived independent republic. A Corsican captain, Casella, held it single handed against the French invaders in 1768. They offered a truce, convinced that he commanded a unit of troops in the tower, although his men had already abandoned him.
In an alley we stumbled upon a pink-painted museum dedicated to the history of the cédrat. This giant, wonderfully-scented citrus fruit used to be one of Nonza’s main exports. Like much of rugged Corsica, Cap Corse has little cultivable land and produces mainly wine and olive oil. Silvery-green olive trees clothe the hillsides.
In the evening we ate in the restaurant set in the ruins of the château, our skins tingling from the heat. Coloured lights played over the crumbling walls. Above the peaks across the bay, the sky blazed purple and red. The scent of the maquis, the aromatic scrub that covers the hillsides, grew more distinct.
But the best was yet to come.
The walls of Casa Maria were decorated with framed letters on yellowed pages, written in faded ink. At breakfast beneath an arbour supporting an ancient vine, our host, Monsieur Burini, brought us copies of the letters and told us the story.
‘We found them walled up in the attic when we restored the house,’ he said. ‘The village schoolmaster wrote them to the daughter of the house in the 1890s. They carried on a secret love affair, since her parents would have disapproved, and left notes in a concealed letter-drop. But she was destined for an arranged marriage and we don’t know what became of the schoolmaster.’
Chance brought us to Nonza and handed me the idea for a novel on a plate, which became The House at Zaronza. Much of the story takes place in the village, but about one third is set on the Western Front during World War I.
Vanessa Couchman lives in southwest France and is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer. French and Corsican history and culture provide inspiration for her fiction. A sequel to The House at Zaronza, set during World War II, and another novel set in 18th-century Corsica are in progress. She has also contributed a story set in Occupied France to the recent collection Pearl Harbor and More: Stories of WWII – December 1941. Vanessa has a degree in Modern History from Oxford University and an MBA and belongs to the Society of Authors and the Historical Novel Society.
Find Vanessa online…
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/vanessacouchman.author/
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vanessa-Couchman/e/B00LQM4T9O
Find Vanessa’s books online
Amazon (universal link) – http://getbook.at/Zaronza