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Corsica is a small French island swimming in the Mediterranean sun beneath the south coast of mainland France, and to the east of Italy. With both countries being so close-by, Corsica’s architecture is an amalgamation of French and Italian, but its culture and cuisine is truly unique. The island’s landscape is also a unique sight to behold due to its mountainous terrain and dry Mediterranean climate, and so much of it is preserved natural park. In Corsica, when you’re not hiking the spectacular mountain trails, it’s likely you’ll be sunning yourself on a balmy beach, since there are literally hundreds to choose from. However, there’s so much more to this incredible island to be discovered.
Explore Ajaccio and the Maison de Bonaparte
Ajaccio is Corsica’s dazzling capital city, recognized by its typical French-Italian terraced buildings with tall narrow windows alternating shades of yellow, orange and pink in true Mediterranean fashion.
The old town is brimming with historical landmarks and shops while the harbor front is brimming with yachts and restaurants.
As the birthplace of one of history’s most famous military leaders and France’s first emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, no visit to Ajaccio is complete without visiting Maison de Bonaparte, his ancestral home until 1923. Inside you’ll find traces of his incredible past, and learn about his exceptional life.
Feel the sand between your toes at a beautiful beach
Surrounded by shimmering sea, the island of Corsica is traced with almost 200 idyllic beaches with white sand and clear water – a luxury you’re more likely to find in the Caribbean than anywhere else in Europe.
Calvi Beach is one of the best in Corsica with its calm shallow sea and proximity to Calvi’s popular shops and restaurants. If the deserted island feel is what you’re going for though, head to the north of Corsica, where you’ll find plenty of untouched beaches like Saleccia. However, the most scenic, like Palombaggia Beach, are found in the south.
Hike along one of the island’s many walking trails
Corsica’s unique landscape merges craggy mountain peaks with wild terrain and calm sandy shores, much of which is part of a nature reserve of natural park with invigorating and astonishing walking trails.
The Regional Natural Park of Corsica covers 40% of the island alone, and in it you will find an abundance of flora and fauna, as well as rivers, waterfalls, hilltop villages, and even ancient structures. Of course, the park is laced with a great number of trails of any length and difficulty, including the popular Cascadas des Anglais, from which you can see the best of Corsica’s incomparable landscape.
Go diving in the crystal-clear Mediterranean Sea
In Corsica, you are never too far from the coast and, in turn, never too far from a top diving spot. As well as an array of mesmerizing Mediterranean sea life, including sharks, rays and dolphins, you’ll find a number of wrecks when diving around the island, like the WWII B-17 Bomber plane and La Pecorella freighter.
While some dives are strictly reserved for advanced PADI divers only, there are plenty of diving spots for those without any experience, including the Cirques de Marifaja and Punta Locca, which are just as scenic as the advanced dive spots, and full of weird and wonderful sea life.
Indulge in typical Corsican cuisine
A convergence of both French and Italian culture, Corsica is distinctive in many ways, and while its cuisine clearly takes influence from its relatives with its popular cured meats and cheeses, there are many dishes that are Corsican through and through.
Sanglier, or wild boar, is wildly popular in Corsica, especially when served in a casserole, while agneau Corse, or Corsican lamb, comes in a close second. The sunny Mediterranean island also knows a thing or two about seafood, and you can find a delectable seafood restaurant pretty much anywhere along the coast serving specialties like red mullet, sea bream and crayfish.
Take a scenic train ride across the island
Stretching a mere 50 miles east to west and 130 miles north to south, there’s no excuse not to explore every corner of this mesmerizing mountainous Mediterranean island, especially since its train routes are known to be amongst the world’s best.
Although having been running since the 1850’s, the historic Trinicellu is also known to have some of the world’s most bone-rattling tracks, but it’s hard to notice when you’re distracted with stunning window views. Three main train routes span the island, from Ponte Leccia to Ajaccio, Bastia and Calvi, tracing between mountains and along the coastline, stopping at picturesque towns, villages and even beaches.
Explore Calvi, Corsica’s cutest coastal town
Calvi is one of Corsica’s most-visited towns, and not just because of its five-mile-long stretch of sandy beach and shallow sea, ideal for paddling and snorkeling; it’s filled with renowned boutiques and restaurants. The town is overlooked by an impressive historic citadel which sits on a small peninsula at the edge of the harbor, surrounded by sea on three sides.
The best views of the city however, are from Notre Dame de la Serra, a small chapel on the hillside behind Calvi, which offers vistas of the entire bay. From Calvi, you can also take a charming train ride on the old Trinicellu along the Balagne coastline to L’Ile Rousse.
Sail to the Scandola Nature Reserve
Scandola Nature Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Corsica’s west coast defined by its tumultuous mountains reaching 1000 meters high, its red-tinted volcanic rock faces, and its plunging coastline. Scandola’s coast is impossible to reach by foot because of its rocky nature, however, its rust-red rocks painted against the dazzling cerulean sea is a sight not to be missed.
Instead, take a boat from Calvi south along the coast to see Scandola in all its glory. From the boat you can reach Corsica’s famous Calanques de Piana, which are narrow, steep-walled inlets carved from the sea leading to hidden coves and beaches.
Admire the views from Aiguilles de Bavella
Aiguilles de Bavella, translating to needles of Bavella, is one of Corsica’s most famed and photographed scenes of nature. And for a good reason. The needles of Bavella refer to a rock formation in the heart of Corsica’s Regional Natural Park which protrudes in needle-thin columns from the hill below, creating an impressively tall natural wall reaching over 1850 meters.
Centered in a mountain range, the Aiguilles de Bavella isn’t easily reached, however its beauty bellows over a number of quaint villages below, including Quenza, Zonza and Conca. If you do want to get up close and personal with Aiguilles, there are also a number of hiking trails you can take to reach its base.
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Live like a local in a hilltop village
As Corsica is such a small mountainous island, many of its residents settled in small villages sprinkled across its scenic hilltops. So, whether you’re in the north or south of the island, at the coast or in the heart of its natural park, you’re bound to be within arm’s reach of one of Corsica’s rustic local villages with their traditional small-town feel and breathtaking views.
Speloncato on the northern coast is one of the most spectacular villages, as its traditional houses spill over the tip of a steep hill overlooking the sea. Meanwhile, Soveria, surrounded by mountains of central Corsica, impresses with its tall bell tower and rocky charm.
Drive around the Cap Corse coast
Protruding from the northern coast of Corsica is a 40km-long peninsula known as Cap Corse. Spanning the peninsula’s entire coastline, the Cap Corse Road is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, boasting some of the islands’ most exceptional beaches, villages and scenery.
Imagine never-ending sea views gracing you on your right, while rolling hills and rocky mountains rise above you on your left, as the salty sea air whips through your fingers and hair when you wind the car windows down. There’s nothing quite like it. You can stop anywhere along the way, but Erbalunga, Albo and Nonza are not to be missed.
Go back to nature at the Gorges de la Restonica
The Restonica River cuts and curls through the depths of Corsica’s interior, creating an exceptionally stunning rocky ravine with a crystal-clear stream trickling through it. It’s possible to hike along the gorges eight kilometer stretch to Lake Melo, the river’s source, at any time of year.
In the summer, tall pine trees will shade you from the sun, and in winter you’ll be surrounded by snowy mountaintops. Don’t forget to take a bathing suit with you on your hike if you do visit in summer because there are chilly rock pools all along the gorge which are perfect for paddling in.
Head to Lavezzi Islands for some peace and quiet
The Archipelago of Lavezzi is a small group of wild and rugged granite islands and reefs in the Strait of Bonifacio off the southern coast of Corsica. As a nature reserve, Lavezzi Islands are largely uninhabited, creating the Mediterranean’s own tropical paradise.
The coast is rimmed with dreamy white sand beaches, yet there’s hardly a soul in sight. The islands may seem sparse, but there is much to be seen and done, starting with an exploration of Lavezzu Island and its Neolithic rocks. However, the islands are best explored by jet ski, canoe, or even by diving due to its surrounding sea life.
Discover the wonders of Bonifacio
Bonifacio sits at the southern tip of Corsica, almost kissing the neighboring Italian island of Sardinia. The area boasts a dramatic coastline with tall vertical cliff faces giving way to serene crescent-shaped beaches. Walking paths have been carved into the cliffs, although they are not for the faint-hearted!
Bonifacio’s old town and medieval citadel, enclosed by its intimidating ramparts, teeter daringly onto the towering coastal cliffs offering to-die-for views of the horizon and the port town below. The old towns’ rustic narrow passageways lead down to the bustling port, filled with boats and an excellent choice of restaurants and cafes.
Get lost in the Désert des Agriates
The Désert des Agriates in northern Corsica is Europe’s only desert, yet instead of smooth sand dunes like the Sahara, its wild landscape consists of a vast bed of craggy rocks covered in dry scrub. Still, the desert is equally impressive, especially as it reaches Corsica’s coast, where it opens out onto a 40km-long stretch of sandy bays, which amass to the longest stretch of preserved coastline in Europe.
Ostriconi Beach, which is only reachable by foot or boat, is often said to be Corsica’s best. There’s only one road to take you through the desert, or if you’re brave you can attempt the two to three day walk along its coastal path.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile, with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.