A wet winter in France and the Pine Processionary caterpillar

 

Chenille processionnaire in a line.

Chenille processionnaire forming a line.

January and February 2014 are shaping up to be one of the warmest winters on record for France. Heavy rainfall led to flooding in the South of France (Aquitaine and separately Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) and Brittany (the meteorological vigilance for the Finistère region was just recently removed). In Toulouse, the ground has been so saturated that moss is starting to grow everywhere, even on the parking lot at work. In case you were wondering, the French word for moss is mousse, which is also the same word for foam, as in the chocolate mousse that we all know and love.

February is also the month when the Pine Processionary caterpillar (chenille processionnaire) makes its apparition. What makes these insects so remarkable is that they when they leave their nests to pupate, the follow each other in a neat head-to-tail line. You can see them on the ground following each other in groups with as many as a few dozen individuals – I see them on my way to the cafeteria at work. Pine processionary caterpillars are hairy, but unlike the friendly woolly bear, they have irritating hairs that can invoke serious allergic reactions in some individuals, so be sure to look but not touch. One of their few natural predators is the very cute Great Tit (mésange chabonnière).

Mésange charbonnière. Photo credit: Marek Szczepanek.

Mésange charbonnière. Photo credit: Marek Szczepanek.

I hope this little post will inspire you to take a look at the flora and fauna in your neck of the woods. Writing it has certainly helped to take my mind of things like politics and money troubles in order to concentrate on the world around me and to appreciate my life here in France.

Until next time, au revoir.

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Great place to visit: Corsica

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One of the most beloved vacation spots of the French, Corsica is an island paradise situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to the Southeast of mainland France. It has been part of France since it was ceded by the Republic of Genoa in the 18th century, just before the birth of Napoleon in the Corsican city of Ajaccio. The island is split into two French administrative departments: Corse-du-Sud (2A) and Haute-Corse (2B). While French is the official language, a few rare residents still speak Corsican, which greatly resembles Italian (to me). Corsicans are very proud of their culture and language, which is distinct from other regions of France.

Like most of our vacations, we went to Corsica because my husband and I have friends there. We rarely go anywhere that’s not motivated by visiting friends or family since we have loved ones scattered all over two continents and wouldn’t get to see them otherwise.

Getting there:

Ferries are available from Toulon or Nice and take about 8 hours or more depending on what port you are going into (Bastia or Ajaccio). Easy-jet and Air France flights are also possible. However, be wary of low cost carriers, as we recently had an airport controller strike in France and a lot of flights were cancelled without the possibility for rebooking.

Things to do:

For those who love hiking, the valley of the Restonica, located near the town of Corté is really worth the visit. We hiked up to the first lake in the park and had lunch up there, though it was a bit cold and windy. The views were breathtaking. Did I mention there were waterfalls?

Melu Lake, Valley of the Restonica

Melu Lake, Valley of the Restonica

The limestone cliffs of Bonifacio are another must see of Corsica. When you get to the city, you park near the port and then walk up to the citadel, perched atop a limestone cliff. From there you can visit various historical points of interest such as the staircase of the king of Aragon. My favorite part was taking the path up the cliffs away from the citadel so we could see the ancient part of the city as a whole. If you’re planning on visiting, it’s best to go during the off-season and early in the day. Even on weekdays, the crowds are horrendous well into the month of September.

Citadel, Bonifacio

Citadel, Bonifacio

Finally, go to a beach, any beach, and go snorkeling. The Mediterranean is like an aquarium at bathtub temperature. We went to Ostriconi beach in the North and really appreciated the calm and the sea life. Small alert for nudists and yellow jackets (eat in the car, not on the beach).

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The food:

Corsica is famous for really stinky sheep milk cheese, pork products, hard cookies called Cannistrelli and sparkling muscat wine. Our neighbors had Corsican cheese that smelled so bad they closed the package with duct tape before putting it into refrigerator. There’s also a Corsican cheese that has worms in it (on purpose). The most famous Corsican pig product are lonzu, coppa and figatellu. Lonzu and Coppa are dried pork products similar to ham, while figatellu is a dried sausage containing pig liver. Finally, to wash down all that pig liver and wormy cheese, try a good sparkling muscat. Corsican sparkling wine is tasty and not too expensive, so why not indulge.

The people:

There’s a whole whole lot of tourist traffic that comes through Corsica, so don’t be surprised if people are a little gruff. If you are respectful and easy going, you won’t have too much trouble. Just remember that the customer service culture is not the same as in North America, so you might be a little taken aback at first.

I hope this little post about Corsica got you inspired for your next vacation to France or elsewhere. If you have already been to Corsica, I’d love to hear about your own experiences in the comments.

Until next time, au revoir.