There’s no better person to share his native region of Castagniccia with visitors than mountain tour guide Xavier Santucci, who has a story for every place, from San Pedrone, the Convent of Orezza and the village of Campudonicu to the Church of Sainte-Marguerite and even his own village, Perelli. Xavier’s eyes light up when he talks about the Castagniccia of his childhood, a region with the largest chestnut grove on the island, the densest population per square kilometre in Europe, schools full of children, special places where paisani (villagers) would stop and chat, épiceries and bars... Today, life in the village has changed but Xavier wouldn’t leave it for anything in the world.
What are the main reasons for both living and working in your village?
I have always been passionate about the mountains and am deeply attached to the valley where I was born. Coming from a family of sheep farmers, nature has always been a part of my life; conserving its beauty and protecting all its precious gems. Castagniccia is a raw gem. Its beauty, its character, its history... Everything inspires me and makes me want to discover it, show it as I see it, connect local producers and artisans, taste local products. I also want to pass down what my elders passed down to me – this philosophy that defined my childhood and has defined me ever since – that we belong to this land, and not the other way around. There are so many beautiful, authentic and enriching encounters to be had, wherever you go, moments of exchanging and sharing. It's much more than a job for me – it's a state of mind, a way of life, a passion.
Could you describe Castagniccia in three words?
It’s tough to pick just three – I could come up with one for every letter of the alphabet! So I’ll go with three that begin with A: atypique (atypical), authentique (authentic) and accueillant (welcoming).
Could you recommend to us three iconic places to visit in Castagniccia?
That’s another tough one, as there are so many iconic places in Castagniccia! The three sites I’d recommend to anyone visiting the region for the first time are the three convents of Ampugnani, Orezza and Alisgiani. Many events have taken place there over the years that have defined the history of Castagniccia and all of Corsica.
What’s your favourite season?
My favourite season is autumn, quite simply because the colours that fill the region at that time of year are just marvellous.
What do you think are the two unmissable walks to go on in Castagniccia?
Firstly I’d recommend just walking from village to village, to find out more about the historic, religious and built heritage of these places, and the people who live there. Then there’s the Punta à e trè Pieve walk. The views over the Alisgiani, Orezza and Ampugnani valleys and beyond are magnificent.
Your job couldn’t bring you any closer to nature! Does protecting the environment and responsible tourism play an important part of your job as a tour guide?
Protecting the environment definitely plays a vital role in what I do. All of my tours are put together in an ecologically-responsible way and these themes often come up in discussion, whether it’s me raising awareness among the visitors on my tours, or them wanting to know my thoughts on the subject. As Castagniccia is not a very touristy region, it’s not prone to overcrowding like other parts of Corsica, so it’s easier to tackle issues like the pollution caused by visitors. I always try to raise awareness among the visitors on my tours, to try and help protect our island. One thing’s for sure – the tourism of today and tomorrow must respect nature much more.