Corsica Travel, France

Corsica Calanches hiking trail, France

One of several easy Calanches de Piana red rock trails, the Sentier des Muletiers.

Corsica Holidays

Good: High and mighty rock landscapes, long and short hikes, big and little beaches, boating, pre-historic sites, outdoor activities in general. The road network, climate and local cuisine are excellent, people and costs fine.

Not so Good: Style free, concrete friendly new urban development; neglected old and historic buildings. Ajaccio, yuk! Porto Vecchio and outskirts of Corte, Ile Rousse, Calvi, demi-yuk. Where have all town planners gone? Gone to live in Monaco, every one.

Corsica is a small and rugged island four hours by ferry southeast of Nice in southern France. It’s about 160 kms/100miles long and 80kms/50miles at its widest.

The birthplace of Napoleon and still French territory in spite of local demands for independence, Corsica is a popular holiday target not only for French travellers but also European tourists in search of a mild climate, warm seas, piles of fine sandy beaches and dramatic hiking trails through an unspoilt and picturesque landscape of mountainous red and grey granite outcrops separated by huge swathes of pines and eucalyptus trees.

Activities (other than swimming)

Corsica village picture, France

One of the traditional and unspoilt Corsican towns near Filitosa, west side.

• Climbers love the multitude of magnificent tough, ridged granite heights;

• Kayakers love the warm, azure seas and protected coves;

• Boat people – be they yachtees, windsurfers or powerbores love the plentiful marinas (especially beautiful Bonifacio), rocky coastline and proximity to Sardinia;

• Canyoneers love the 1km deep gorge of Spelunca;

• Archeologists love the ancient menhirs (carved, standing stones) scattered around, especially well-organised Filitosa;

• Hikers, well, they’re happiest of all with hundreds of stunning and well marked walking routes, from short but perfectly formed trails through the red rocks of Calanches de Piana to the gorge walks around Porto and Corte and the challenging 170 km (100 miles), cross-island Grand Randonée of GR20.

• And there’s still plenty of space for paragliders, golfers and even skiers.

But Corsican towns? The plague of style-less concrete decorated with plastic sign boards is spreading as French cementism dominates old residential buildings that are collapsing from lack of attention and tormented by vehicle overdose. Urban blight is expanding – throughout France, not just Corsica – as town planners permit totally inappropriate new construction and ignore the demands of vernacular architecture. Or are they just out to lunch?

Corsica’s main sights

The North

**Cap Corse

The island’s 40km long, 15km wide northern peninsula, easily accessed via Bastia or St Florent, is a little-developed region of ruined Genoese towers and windmills, ancient fishing villages, flamboyant mansions built by affluent emigres (known as Les Américains), panoramic hiking trails along the 1, 000m high mountain Serra ridge, isolated beaches, and nature reserves (particularly brilliant for birdlife in the spring). The little old port of Erbalunga is especially attractive and cultured with an evocative Good Friday religious procession and many cultural events during the summer.
Activities available in the Cap Corse include climbing, walking, fishing, biking, canoeing, scuba diving, riding and paragliding.

*St-Florent

At the base of Cap Corse’s peninsula, St-Florent is yet another old Genoese fortified port with a new and popular marina, a reasonable town beach, a relaxed ambience and a couple of fine buildings – no prizes for guessing they are a citadel and a church.
The adjacent, barren Desert des Agriates offers little except desert flora and wild boar, though two of the beaches are among Corsica’s best. However, getting to Saleccia and Loto beaches will involve either several hours walk from St-Florent, a good 4 WD vehicle or catching a summer season ferry from St Florent’s marina.

Bastia port in north Corsica.

Bastia port in north Corsica. Photo by Pasteur.

Corsica’s second port after Ajaccio, is bigger, more commercial and more interesting than its visitor-oriented neighbours, but has less immediate access to good beaches or walks, though the superb Plage de Saleccia is not far to the west by 4WD while Cap Corse’s attractions to the north are within easy reach.

This centre-north tourist port has a calm though undistinguished air, a good home beach and easy access to some other excellent beaches.

Calvi beach, Corsica

Calvi beach.

A little north-west port town, Calvi is home to a lengthy and seductively curving beach with a sweeping view of the Genoese citadel, a fine marina, a cheerful old town and plenty of tourist restaurants to handle the summer invasion.

The West

Porto town view from high, Corsica, France

The least accessible tourist town in Corsica but offers a lot – a beautiful mountain and sea shore setting, a fair beach, a cluster of good restaurants, boat trips to the Marine Nature Reserve of Scandola, drives and fantastic hikes and other activities around the Calanches de Piana, Gorges de Spelunca and the Aitone Forest.

Corsica’s capital and Napoléon’s birthplace, once an elegant white city with a terrific climate is now a flabby mass of cheap cement engulfed by smoking steel boxes. Nul points. We are informed that the city council is considering changing the name to Ajacculate.

It rules Corsica’s ancient sites with a dozen 7, 000 year-old standing stones attractively and naturally arranged. This superb collection of pre-historic menhirs with carved faces and other relics from that era is little more than an hour or two between Ajaccio and Bonifacio.

Filitosa menhir, corsica

A menhir in the very ancient site of Filitosa, south of Ajaccio.

The Centre

Almost dead centre of the island is a perfectly situated, easy to reach and pleasant base for some amazing hiking trails, both long and short, though it’s hardly fascinating as a town and the urban plague is spreading. . . Other activities on offer in Corte (in season) include canyoning, abseiling, zip-wire slides and climbing.

The South-east

The most interesting sizeable town on the island and one that has managed to hang onto its ancient character by force of its geological situation. On Corsica’s far southeast tip Bonifacio is a sheltered port protected by an haute-ville, a fortified town perched on high chalk cliffs and otherwise surrounded by stupendously impregnable walls.

On the downside the bas-ville is pricey, parking a hassle and that’s where tourist hotels cluster. However, a nearby car park will take care of the motor while a stride up the steps and inside the (haute-ville) citadel will present hungry souls with excellent eating and drinking options in stylish surroundings.

Bonifacio is probably at a premium as a sailing base, with plenty of yacht rentals, gorgeous endless coves and white beaches in the vicinity, while Italy’s Sardinia is only a couple of hours away.

Head north from Bonifacio by car and various great beaches are reachable off to the right, ranging from newly roadworthy Rondinara beach to Santa Giulia’s easy-entry and low-development crescent beach to Palombaggia‘s spaghetti of access roads and delightful but fenced strand of over-populated sand backed by majestic pine forest.

The East

With a renowned harbour and ideally located near some fantastic beaches – such as Palombaggia – Port-Vecchio has been deformed into a random mess of mangled dreams. However, it is a good start/finish point for some incredible hiking trails such as the GR20 or Mare a Mare Sud.
Corsica’s flat east coast is otherwise mostly excellent for its endless beaches and accelerating hard for a couple of hours Bonifacio to Bastia or vice versa.

Getting there

Flights are fast and frequent from France but so are ferries, and ferries do not require small bags and large queues. . . forget packing, just throw some stuff into the boot of the car and off you go. Flight vs Ferry prices are not dissimilar and you will almost certainly want a car in Corsica so take your own and save on rental. Just don’t take a big car.

Getting around

corsica rolled car

Corsica is small and has some fast straight roads, mainly on the east coast and from Corte north to the ports of Calvi, Ile Rousse and Bastia. Otherwise tourists tend to find themselves endless wiggling around spectacular but narrow and nauseating bends.

If you have a choice a smallish car is best as many town, coast and – most of all – mountain roads can be exceedingly narrow. Anything bigger than a 5 series BMW would be difficult to manoeuvre in many situations and positively dangerous in some. Think tight and winding cliff road, no crash barriers, long rocky drop and borderline deranged white van man.

Southern Bonifacio to northern Bastia can be completed in less than three hours, Corte to the coast in less than one hour, though Calvi down to Porto on serpentine coast roads is a very tense 2. 5 hours.

The best time to holiday in Corsica is May and September when there is plenty of sunshine, flowers, less heat and less visitors, though June, July and August are fine if you like it hot and book ahead. It’s a 40-minute flight from Nice or a few hours by car ferry from Mediterranean ports.