Blessed with a stunning natural setting, circled by jagged peaks at the confluence of several rivers, the mountain stronghold of Corte is as forbidding as it is spectacular. Centring on a towering pinnacle that’s been fortified for over 2000 years, it still stands at the heart of Corsican identity. When Pascal Paoli made it the capital of his short-lived Corsican republic in 1755, most of Corte’s population lived within its hilltop citadel. French invaders devastated the upper town 14 years later; fleeing refugees included Napoléon’s mother, pregnant with the future emperor.
These days, life focuses on the newer town below, linked to the citadel by steep stairways and cobbled alleys. While Corte remains a nationalist stronghold, famous for being secretive and inward-looking, it’s also home to Corsica’s only university, founded by Paoli and reopened in 1981. Its strong youthful energy is boosted in summer when hikers, bikers and climbers flock in to explore the nearby valleys.