It’s nicknamed the Island of Beauty for its sublime landscapes, from red cliffs plunging into turquoise waters, to stone villages clinging to mountains and dramatic gorges planted with chestnut trees. There are hidden coves, sandy beaches and craggy peninsulas... in Corsica, you can roam over 1,000 kilometres of coastline, which includes the iconic Scandola reserve, popular for scuba diving. But the homeland of Napoleon is also a land of tradition and history, best discovered on walks through its cities nestled away from their citadels, overlooking the Mediterranean.
Must-sees on your holiday in Corsica
The gateway to Corsica is most often Bastia. It’s a picture-postcard start to your holiday: in the old port, boats bob against a backdrop of colourful houses, punctuated by the tall silhouette of the Church of Saint Baptiste. Bastia is also the starting point for a pretty route through Cap Corse, an ‘island on the island’ that stretches into the Mediterranean like a finger for 40 kilometres. Between the sea and the mountains – the central ridge of the Serra rises to 1,307 metres – the road boasts sublime views: villages perched above the sea, beaches nestled in coves, and Genoese towers highlighting the horizon.
West of Cap Corse at Ile-Rousse, one of these towers guards the island of Pietra, the largest of the string of islands of red porphyry rock that give the town its name. The memory of Pascal Paoli, father of the Corsican nation, hovers over the large eponymous square where endless games of pétanque are played under the plane trees.
In Calvi, the legacy of four centuries of Genoese domination have inspired the vast citadel perched on a rock overlooking the port. Sheltered by its thick ramparts, the upper town, with its narrow streets and staircases, looks like something straight out of the 16th century. Though there’s no evidence that Christopher Columbus was born here as the legend claims, Napoleon did stay here in 1793, at a house belonging to his godfather.
It is Ajaccio that perpetuates the memory of the flamboyant emperor. The Maison Bonaparte museum traces history from the birth of the emperor in 1769 until the Second Empire, through beautifully renovated decorations and exhibitions. The highlight of the visit is the so-called ‘alcove’ room where Bonaparte stayed for the last time in 1799 upon his return from the Egyptian expedition.
South of Ajaccio, Porto-Vecchio is achingly beautiful, its turquoise bay one of the most photogenic in Corsica. Its Genoese citadel has become a popular stopover between the lively squares, vaulted passages and staircases, while cafés and boutiques attract fashion fans.
A sporty relaxation: this is Corsica
The Island of Beauty also takes its name from a hinterland, whose splendours are best revealed to the most active visitors. While on holiday in Corsica, why not try the GR20? Considered one of the most spectacular European hiking trails, it’s also one of the most challenging with its 180 kilometres from north to south, taking a minimum of two weeks to complete. But rest assured that you can tackle half at a time!
For refreshment after the adventure, snorkel above the beautiful seabed of six nature reserves, or ease aches and pains in the sulphurous waters of the Caldane baths. Visit a Corsican vineyard and sample one of its nine AOC wines. After that, move to the sounds of Calvi on the Rocks, the summertime electro festival.
Land-sea mixture for a gastronomic stay on the island of Beauty
To visit Corsica is also to savour the delicious delights of a characterful terroir. By the sea, watch out for the sea urchin season, in which fishing is only allowed in winter and is subject to strict quotas. On the land side, enjoy Corsican charcuterie, especially figatellu, a cured sausage that can be accompanied by polenta with chestnut flour. Among the many cheeses, try brocciu, made with the whey from goat or sheep cheese. And for dessert, Corsican clementines bring a sunny note just like the local honey, whose six varieties ooze all the perfumes of the maquis and the undergrowth.