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Annie & Blue

French Journey is 5-Star Experience Without the 5-Star Price

By Sandra Scott

What follows in today's column are travel vignettes from our journey overseas. My husband, John, and I returned from this adventure just a few weeks ago. A room with a view We arrived in Marseilles with the Mistral, a wind that blows down the Rhone and pushes the clouds out of the area, leaving the sky a brilliant blue.

We checked into Hotel Hermes, a two-star hotel, where we had booked the most expensive room for $70, then began our journey up to find it. We took the elevator to the fifth floor, walked up a flight of stairs out onto the rooftop solarium, and then up another set of stairs to a room on the roof.

When we finally arrived, we discovered our two-star room had a small balcony with a five-star view of the old harbor and city. We made the most of it by buying food for breakfast and lunch from the nearby market and eating on our balcony while basking in the sun and marveling at the view.

At night, with the sliding glass doors wide open, the sparkling lights of the city were spread out before us. Corsica, of course From Marseilles, it's a one-hour flight on Air France ($55) to the Corsican city of Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Corsica, France's Mediterranean island is called a "Miniature Continent" because of its geographical diversity. We could see snow capped mountains and beaches at the same time.

We stayed at Acqua Dolce ($35), a two-star family run hotel/motel just outside of Ajaccio, tucked in the hillside with a beautiful swimming pool.

Each morning we left to explore a different part of the island. We drove our little Peugeot on corkscrew roads with the radio tuned to Corsican music. The scenery was spectacular. Along the coast, the sea crashed on the rocky shore with an occasional beach tucked in a protected cove.

One especially beautiful stretch, called Les Calanques, twisted and turned between reddish cliffs and outcrops that towered above blue-green sea. Beautiful Bonifacio Inland, we went up, down and around through pretty villages that cling to the mountainsides. A two-hour drive took us 50 miles to Bonifacio, on the southern tip of Corsica.

We wandered through the narrow streets, enjoying the medieval ambiance of this citadel perched 200 feet above the Mediterranean.

We savored our meal of fresh-caught fish at Les Terrasses d'Aragan, where we dined while seated on a sunny balcony that seemed suspended over the Mediterranean.

We could see the Italian island of Sardinia less than 10 miles away. Mysterious Corsica On our last day, we drove to Filitosa, a site inhabited for nearly 8,000 years, where we explored the remains of fortifications and cave-like shelters.

We wandered though a field of yellow, white and purple spring flowers pondering mysterious stone statues 6-feet tall called menhirs. Most have carved faces and are armed with swords and daggers.

It was a hard-scrabble existence for these prehistoric people. It made us wonder why the expended so much time and effort to create these megaliths.

Several theories exist. Possibly they were religious icons, or an attempt to scare off the enemy, or an artistic expression, or just a way for them to say, "We were here." Springtime Spring is a good time to visit Corsica. The beautiful flowers are everywhere and the mass of summer tourists has not yet invaded the island.

Each evening we drove along the coast to a promontory just outside of Ajaccio to watch the sun set on a group of islands called Iles Sanguinaires, so named because they are often turned blood-red by the setting sun.

Corsica has miles of trails for hikers and rivers for kayaking. We were surprised with the number of bikers given the hilly terrain and shoulderless roads with only a few guardrails.

From Corsica, we took a modern and very comfortable four-hour ferry ($25) to the French Riviera, then headed back to the United States to spend the next few months in one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially during the summer - Central New York.

For more information on the hotels we booked, check Hotel Hermes online at www.hotelmarseille.com (send e-mail to hotel.hermes@wanadoo.fr) and for Acqua Dolce, visit www.acquadolce.fr (send e-mail to (hotelmotelacquadolce@wanadoo.fr).

For information on Corsica, visit www.visit-corsica.com or call the French Tourist board at (410) 286-8310. The ferry can be accessed at www.sncm.fr/us/index.php and AirFrance, (800) 237-2747, at www.airfrance.com.

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