The first thing you notice when you come to Patrimonio, in Corsica, is the kindness and warm generosity of the locals. First, they offer you handfuls of Clementines – its November and the fruit is in abundance on the trees. Then, every now and then, they break into song, but not just any song; traditional polyphonic songs, sung in a cappella. They can be either spiritual or secular hymns, motets, and funereal songs.
I flew to the island on a one-hour flight from Marseille to Bastia to join the residents celebrating the end of wine season in honour of San Martinu, the patron saint of winegrowers, held on November 10-11, every year. San Martinu festival is a joyous occasion where all the local wine producers open the doors to their cellars (out of nine AOP regions in Corsica, the Patrimonio appellation is the oldest one, dating back to 1968), and the local farmers bring food to share, including all kinds of meat (lamb and Figatellu), honey and Brocciu cheese.
With approximately 971 residents, everyone knows everyone in the village. In three days alone I met the local mayor, José Poggioli, the deputy mayor Brigitte Fratacci, winemaker Antoine Arena and his sons Antoine-Marie and Jean-Baptiste and Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis, President of the Corsican Assembly.
The location of lunchtime feasts are by word-of-mouth only and it’s an intimate affair with live music, singing, lots of laughter and drinking. It was a real privilege to be invited to sit at their table, to live like a local, and listen to their stories about life in the village. Far removed from the peak summer season, when it’s overcrowded with tourists, this felt authentic.
Christian Andreani is the organiser of San Martinu à Patrimonio Festival and its preceding Festivale de la Ruralità (Festival of Rural Life) celebrating local agriculture, where this year it launched a campaign to highlight “lagnellu nustrale, agneau de lait,” (suckling lamb) to promote this emblematic product of Corsican agriculture and livestock farming.
Andreani is on the development committee to recreate a pilgrimage trail (similar to the Camino de Santiago in Spain), emulating the Via Sancti Martini cultural route across Europe, celebrating Saint Martin. People can hike from Patrimonio to Bastia and the trail will open in 2024.
In the future, the Corsican part of the route is planned to be over 100 km taking in Nebbiu-Conca d’Oru, Cap Corse, Corse Orientale… The objective is to cover the entire territory, from North to South.
“This 4th-century Roman legionary left a significant cultural heritage on the island and the Via Sancti Martini pilgrimage route honours him throughout Europe. With an impressive 76 buildings or sites dedicated to his name, he is undeniably one of Corsica’s most venerated saints,” said Andreani.
“His legacy extends far beyond Corsica’s borders: he had a huge impact on all European territories. He founded one of the first monasteries to be set up in France in Ligugé, Vienne. He was behind the creation of monastic orders such as the Benedictines, who managed rural areas in Europe for centuries, and he became the protector of agricultural production throughout Europe.
“It was in his footsteps that the Via Sancti Martini cultural route was born, which stretches over 2,500 kilometres, from Szombathely in Hungary to Tours in France, covering more than 10 European countries.
“The committee of the Festivale de la Ruralità has been in talks since 2008 to develop a Council of Europe itinerary to extend this walking trail across Corsica, including 110 communes on the island that have a Saint Martin heritage. The first stage of the Via San Martinu Corsica route – some 15 km – will be accessible next summer between Patrimoniu and Ville di Petrabugno. To date, there are two heritage trails that have been restored, and this first stage of the route will link the two. It’s unique, because from the Pigno massif you can see two seas, the Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian.”
“It will reflect an itinerary that offers pilgrim walkers an ethical, social and environmental journey, part of a sustainable tourism project on a smaller scale. The route allows time to learn about the area in a different way, to meet farmers, producers and local cultural protagonists, as well as exploring the Island’s heritage, and to share and converse with local inhabitants.
“Festivale de la Ruralità is also working on a project from Patrimoniu to Casinca-Castagniccia to develop a different kind of tourism, one that will enable the island to welcome tourists from all over Europe throughout the year, by developing the inland towns. This cultural and heritage travel segment promotes ecology and respect for the land that sustains us. It would balance the year-round flow of tourists while creating jobs for young Corsicans. It’s a new way of looking at the tourism of the future, more respectful of the environment and the challenges of rural life,” said Andreani.
Lead photo credit : © Jenny Eagle
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