Wednesday, 9 February 2022

The Amazing Race 33, Episode 6

Corte, Corsica (France) - Zonza, Corsica (France) - Bonifacio, Corsica (France)

I talked last week about the complications of getting to and from Corsica during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, with The Amazing Race 33 still exploring this island in the Western Mediterranean, we got to see more of what you might do once you get to Corsica — or at least what the Tourism Agency of Corsica, which co-sponsored this episode of the reality-TV show, thought would attract the most (and highest-spending) visitors.

This episode of The Amazing Race featured the scenic drive along the east coast of Corsica and a variety of other coastal and harbor sites: viewpoints on the rocky cliffs, sandy pocket beaches, picturesque fishing villages and small-boat harbors. Activities for the racers included mending fishing nets, a ride in a glass-bottomed boat, and paddling kayaks in the harbor. There were lots of background shots of small and large sailing and motor yachts at anchor and under way. All this is consistent with the goal of promoting the segment of tourism to Corsica that has been most successful in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: boating.

Multiple companies are each now claiming (or at least aspiring) to be “the AirBNB of boats”. But the one thing one which they all agree is that boat rental has boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic as a form of accommodations and mode of travel that offers at least the illusion of isolation from infection by strangers.

Whether on a private boat or a cruise ship, you could be exposed (but not yet test positive) before the start of your cruise, en route to the port of embarkation, or while in port for food or fuel. There’s no space on a small boat to isolate yourself from your fellow travellers if one of you test positive or develops symptoms. As with any trip during the pandemic, you should have a plan B for how, where, how long (before you are allowed to fly home), and at whose expense (will your health or travel insurance cover the cost of a quarantine hotel?) you will isolate yourself if that becomes necessary or advisable at any place or time on your journey.

Murphy’s law: You will learn about a fellow traveller’s positive test while at some inconvenient time and place during your trip. Perhaps you’ll be on the train or on a shuttle bus to the airport to catch your flight home, for which you will be required to declare under penalty that you have not recently been exposed to anyone infected. What will you do then? Where will you go? But boat renters probably aren’t thinking this through ahead of time, any more than most other travellers are. Boat rental is booming.

Bookings in Corsica through one of these boat rental marketplaces were almost twice as high for the peak-season month of July 2021 as they had been in 2019 (before the pandemic) or 2020 (before the COVID-19 vaccines, when most people weren’t doing any discretionary travel due to COVID-19):

Pour la plateforme Click&Boat, qui propose près d’un millier de bateaux à louer en Corse, le trafic est «historique» avec des réservations en juillet «en hausse de 94% par rapport à 2019 et de 90% par rapport à 2020». «La location de bateaux incarne la plus grande tendance voyage 2021 en répondant au fort besoin des Français de s’évader loin de la foule, dans un cadre sanitaire sécurisant», assure la compagnie.

Large cruise ships remain a different story. Two weeks ago, I noted that one major cruise line, Crystal Cruises, had diverted one of its ships to the Bahamas to avoid having it seized for unpaid fuel bills if it returned to its home port in Florida. But both that ship and another Crystal Cruises vessel have now been seized and are being held in port by Bahamian authorities.

There were reports from frightened crew members that a third Crystal Cruises vessel had been seized in port in Ushuaia, Argentina, where the passengers from an Antarctic cruise disembarked. A disputed bill for refueling in Argentina was eventually settled and that ship was able to leave for its next scheduled port of call in Montevideo. Uruguayan authorities are reportedly prepared to seize it on arrival, however, so it may divert, anchor at sea, and/or delay putting into any port. You’ll have to check ship tracking Web sites and apps (yes, those are a thing, like flight tracking sites and apps) to find out where the fugitive Crystal Endeavor has gone to try to avoid the repo men.

Renting a boat for coastal cruising isn’t as simple or affordable as renting a self-drive RV or motorhome for a land cruise. For the right size group, a houseboat on a quiet lake — if you can operate it yourself without open-water skill or experience, and don’t go far enough to burn much fuel — may not be too much more expensive than a stay at a resort on land. Sea-going yachts, even small ones, are another story. Even if you have enough powerboat skill to hire a “bare” boat without a captain or crew, the fuel consumption of a sleep-aboard motor yacht is more likely to be measured in gallons per mile than miles per gallon. A sea-going sailing yacht requires more skill and is more likely to require you to charter a boat with a professional skipper and perhaps additional paid crew.

If you can’t afford a yachting holiday cruising the coast of Corsica, what options do you have for accommodations on land? That depends on what you are doing where on the island, and how you are getting around.

Corsica is known as a destination for outdoor activities. That’s one of the reasons for its relative attractiveness to tourists during the pandemic. Walking on the beach or in the mountains, or exploring empty roads by bicycle (or e-bike or car), you don’t need to wear a mask all the time or worry about crowds. The “must-see” in Corsica is actually a “must-do”: walking all or part of the GR20 (Grande Randonnée) hiking trail that winds along the spine of the mountains from one end of Corsica to the other. It’s one of the world’s best-known long-distance walking routes, and there are special maps and guidebooks devoted entirely to the GR20.

In normal times, most people hike the GR20 from hut to hut, staying in dormitory-style refuges run by the regional park service. That’s undoubtedly what my father-in-law, who had been attracted to the GR20 after enjoying a similar style of village-to-village trekking in Nepal, did when he hiked the GR20 some few years ago. As of now, the park service is planning to open the refuges on the GR20 for the 2022 summer hiking season from May 21st to October 2nd. But due to the pandemic, fewer guests are being allowed to stay in each hut, and advance reservations are required. You can no longer walk up and count on a bunk or at least a place to spread your sleeping bag on the floor but under a roof.

If there isn’t room in the refuge, there are some places along the GR20 where you can camp, although “wild” camping outside designated areas is generally not permitted. Camping, of course, means hiking with the extra weight of a tent. There are also gîtes, although not as many or as well spaced along the GR20 route as the refuges. The French term gîte has no exact English translation, but the range of possible meanings of “cottage” perhaps comes closest. A “gîte” can be anything from a hostel with dormitory accommodations and a communal kitchen to a small self-contained private holiday cabin in the mountains, on the coast, or in rural countryside. If you need to ask for a place to stay, the most general French term for “lodging” or “accommodations” is “hébergements”. (The initial “H” and the final “S” are silent.)

What if you don’t want to walk, or don’t feel up to such a strenuous hike? The racers were provided with cars rented by the TV producers (or possibly provided as a product placement by the car company). In the real world, renting a car on a (French) island is expensive, and you might not want to deal with driving on narrow mountain roads. An increasingly popular alternative is to tour Corsica by bicycle or e-bike.

Corsica is, by all accounts I’ve found, an excellent bicycle touring destination, especially in shoulder season (May and September-October) when the French summer vacation crowds have left, accommodations are much more readily available without long-in-advance reservations, and traffic on the roads is light. The narrow roads keep motorists slow, and the narrow, twisty roads are better suited for bicycles or motorcycles than for cars anyway. You can bring a bike to Corsica on the ferry, rent one locally, or — an option exploding in popularity — rent an e-bike.

The Tour de France visited Corsica for the first time for three day-long stages at the start of the 2013 race. Partly to capitalize on an expected post-Tour boom in cycle tourism on Corsica (which has yet to materialize, although e-bikes and COVID-19 may make a difference), and partly to emulate the success of the GR20 hiking route in attracting visitors, the government and the cycle tourism industry have developed and marked the GT20 (“Grande Traversée”) multi-day cycling route along the spine of the island from end to end.

(Somewhat ironically and confusingly, on Corsica the “Randonnée” is the hiking route, not the cycling route, although normally in both French and English a randonnée is a long-distance bicycle ride or route, such as Paris-Brest-Paris or Boston-Montréal-Boston.)

If the GT20 looks too mountainous, consider cycling all or part of the perimeter of Corsica. Some ridges and headlands are unavoidable, but the daily doses of climbing on this route are much more manageable than on the GT20. There are substantial stretches of relatively level but winding road along the shore below the coastal cliffs, or along the tops of the bluffs. The views are spectacular, as we saw on this episode of “The Amazing Race”.

Unlike in parts of the interior of the island, if you stick to the coast as much as possible small towns and villages are close enough together that you can probably circle the island with little if any necessity to camp. As along the Danube, although not to the same extent, there are also “supported” bicycle tours and services that will transport your luggage between each pre-arranged overnight stop, so you only have to carry whatever you need during the day with you on your bike. Charging points are close enough together for an e-bike, although that too may require planning. I’d welcome any feedback from readers.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 9 February 2022, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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