Near Zonza, at the foot of the Aiguilles de Bavella, sits a ring of greenery, the highest racecourse in Europe hosts delightful horse races each year. Here in this stony environment, horses and riders gallop on the green grass of authentic Corsica.
This place used to be a well-kept secret – but not anymore. At the foot of the Aiguilles de Bavella
, the highest racecourse in Europe has developed a reputation far beyond our borders. However, Viseo is not just a picture-postcard setting, it is also about the atmosphere, and perfectly illustrates the Corsican love of racing.
This place has a great feel to it, and above all, it’s a fabulous day out for the family, where great entertainment is guaranteed, and where you can relax in the shade of the pine trees with a picnic. Everything is designed to make it a fun visit for children and parents alike. There’s a traditional candy stand with colorful balloons, inflatable games and, of course, the horse races which never fail to impress. For parents, it is a chance to relax, play bar games, enjoy a drink, and wander among the horses. Zonza is a feel-good place, and everyone is happy to be there. It is also a village that lives to the rhythm of galloping hooves when there’s a race on. From the refreshment bar to the camera, including track maintenance, it’s the inhabitants of Zonza who keep the races alive.
Almost a hundred years of history
Inaugurated in 1928, the Zonza racecourse is a big part of the island's equestrian history. It used to be more or less a makeshift racetrack, but now it’s a racecourse that meets modern safety standards. However until just a few decades ago, people were able to use the area as summer pastures for their animals. People would bring their horses here to spend summer months in the cooler air and to train on the track when there weren’t race days. Even today, some arrive the night before and the horses sleep in temporary paddocks or in wooden boxes. Their entourage sometimes sleeps under the stars after a light dinner for the riders, or dining with other race members at the local inn of the Casaroli family. There is no separation between the public, the owners and their entourage here. Unlike national racetracks, Zonza has lots of provincial charm and is completely accessible, enabling the public to wander in the stables and meet the professionals. Although Bavella does get crowded in the peak summer season, after August 15 it’s less busy and this is a great time to enjoy the local surroundings, especially the clear waters of the river. But always with respect for this special place and the environment.
departs from the village of Zonza on 5th August each year, but the sanctuary is accessible all year round. Standing proud at the Bavella pass is a white statue of the virgin Mary, seeming to reign over the site from the top of its stony perch. Tradition dictates that a candle is placed at the feet of the statue, but in times of drought, a battery-operated candle is better, or an engraved stone - it’s still keeping the tradition alive, but less polluting. Some people also leave little notes for their lost loved ones.
At the foot of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, the Auberge du Col offers an exceptional panorama of the eastern slope and the sea. Run by a family from Bavella for generations, the Casaroli, the place is rustic and friendly, accessible to all scholarships. Charcuterie, meat, pasta, the menu is simple and effective. In case of wind or inclement temperatures, the large room allows you to enjoy the view in a warm and dry place.
Swimming in Ponte-Grossu
Located on the border of the two departments, about 40 minutes from the pass towards Solenzara, the Ponte Grossu car park provides easy access to a large pool. Surrounded by a pine forest, the wide banks of the pool are perfect for relaxing in the sun in this off the beaten track spot. If you want to avoid the crowds that are drawn here on hot summer days and be sure of a parking space, it’s best is to go at the end of the day, perhaps after spending the afternoon in Viseo. From the car park follow the road along the pine forest for a few hundred metres. There are narrow, but not steep, paths alongside the rocks which lead you to the pine forest. Continue your journey through the forest and a just a few metres away, you’ll see a natural beach around a large pool. The shallow edges make this an ideal bathing spot for all ages. It’s best discovered early in the morning, or at the end of the day.