Jutting from the foaming Mediterranean like an impregnable fortress, Corsica resembles a miniature continent, with astounding geographical diversity. Within half an hour's drive, the landscape ranges from glittering bays, vibrant coastal cities and fabulous beaches to sawtooth mountain ridges, verdant valleys, dense forests and time-forgotten hilltop villages. Holidays in Corsica offer tremendously varying opportunities: from hiking and canyoning to snorkelling and sunbathing, enjoying a leisurely boat trip, delving into the island’s multifaceted history and sampling local delicacies.
Though Corsica has been part of France for more than 200 years, it feels different from the mainland in everything from customs and cuisine to language and character. Locals love to explain their Corsican identity so plenty of engaging evenings await, especially if the holy trilogy of food, wine and harmonious Corsican music are involved.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Corsica.
The high pass by which the D268 crosses the mountains, the Col de Bavella (Bavella Pass; 1218m), is overlooked by the magnificent silhouettes of the serrated Aiguilles de Bavella (Bavella Needles). Soaring to over 1600m, and also known as the Cornes d'Asinao (Asinao Horns), these jagged points vary in colour from grey to ochre to golden as the sun moves across the sky.
Corsica's most important prehistoric site, 20km north of Propriano, preserves extraordinary granite menhirs (standing stones) that were originally erected as much as 6000 years ago. Many were re-carved during the Bronze Age, 2500 years later, to hold detailed faces and weaponry, and thus, uniquely, appear to commemorate specific individuals. It takes around an hour to explore this lovely open-air site, wandering across fields and hillsides that hold vestiges of ancient monumental enclosures, and finishing in the modern museum.
The great joy of visiting Bonifacio lies in strolling the tangled medieval lanes of the citadel. The paved steps of montée du Rastello and montée St-Roch lead up from the marina to its old gateway, the Porte de Gênes, complete with an original 16th-century drawbridge. Immediately inside, the Bastion de l’Étendard was the main stronghold of the fortified town. Built to hold heavy artillery, it now houses a small museum, and provides access to the ramparts, which offer jaw-dropping views.
When it comes to longing for the archetypal 'idyllic beach', it's impossible to think past the immense Plage de Palombaggia, southeast of Porto-Vecchio. This is the Corsican paradise you've been daydreaming about: sparkling turquoise waters, long stretches of sand edged with pine trees and splendiferous views over the Îles Cerbicale.
The jewel of the Golfe de Porto World Heritage Site, the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola extends both above and below the water, from the russet-hued cliffs down to their submarine counterparts. With no road or trail access, you can only explore this majestic wilderness by boat. Several Porto-based boat operators, including Via Mare, L'Eivissa and Corse Émotion, run half-day excursions into the reserve, in some cases combining it with Les Calanques de Piana.
Paradise! If you love to splash in tranquil lapis-lazuli waters, this protected clutch of uninhabited islets was made for you. The largest, the 65-hectare Île Lavezzi itself, is the most accessible. In summer, operators based at Bonifacio’s marina (and also in Porto-Vecchio) offer boat trips; bring a picnic lunch.
Crowning a rocky headland, Calvi’s massive citadel was fortified by Corsica’s Genoese rulers from the 12th century onwards, and has fended off everyone from Franco-Turkish raiders to Anglo-Corsican besiegers. While it holds little commercial activity to match the modern town below, a scenic hour-long stroll is rewarded with superb views from its five bastions. Don’t miss the Caserne Sampiero, once home to the Genoese governor and now used by the legendary Foreign Legion, and the 13th-century Cathédrale St-Jean Baptiste, home to the ebony Christ des Miracles, credited with saving Calvi from Saracen invasion in 1553.
Unremarkable from the outside, the old-town house where Napoléon was born and spent his first nine years was ransacked by Corsican nationalists in 1793, requisitioned by English troops from 1794 to 1796, and eventually rebuilt by his mother. It’s now preserved as a museum, filled with interesting displays and memorabilia despite the loss of its original furnishings and decor. Highlights include a glass medallion containing a lock of Napoléon’s hair.
A side turning north from the D268, 3km west of Levie, arrives after 4km at a beautiful forest, where an easy 2.5km loop trail leads past two remarkable castelli (Bronze Age hillforts). The first, Cucuruzzu, is a rocky hillock that was fortified around 1200 BC by cramming boulders into every crevice, and topping the walled ensemble with a round tower. Capula, a similar fortress further along, was strengthened by the Romans, and altered and then levelled during the Middle Ages.