Corsica (French: Corse) is an island and region of France in the Mediterranean Sea, southeast of France and west of Italy.
An animated island, past and present, Corsica “often conquered, never subdued” has been successively Pisan and Genovese and has been French since 1768. It enjoys a special constitutional status.
Mountain in the sea, Corsica is also called “Island of beauty”, not without reason. The diversity of its scenery, and its preservation from the aggressions of development and tourism, makes it one of the pearls of the Mediterranean sea.
The places of interest to tourists in Corsica are various: Sea (beach, scuba diving, sailing), mountain (hiking, with the famous GR 20).
Most visitors come to Corsica in the summer months, and particularly in August, when the number of tourists double or triple from the already large populations in July. If you can only go to Corsica in August, planning ahead is essential, as hotels, campsites, car rental agencies, and ferries are all likely to be pre-booked.
The official language is French, but is only the native tongue for 35%, while Corsican, a Romance language close to Italian is the majority language. However, most Corsican-speakers also speak French and many also speak Italian, especially in major tourist destinations.
More about Corsica
Corsica boasts a stunning coastline and spectacular mountain scenery, yet France’s ‘Island of Beauty’ is still surprisingly undiscovered by many eco travelers and visitors.
Corsica is the sort of island that arouses people’s passions. First-time visitors frequently arrive expecting a clone of France, but the island has its own unique atmosphere and heritage which owes as much to Italy as it does to the Hexagon.
With 120 peaks over 2000 metres and 1000 km of spectacular coastline, Corsica’s USP is its unspoilt scenery and outdoor lifestyle.
The island offers some of the best diving, sailing and hiking in the Mediterranean. The GR20 is one of Europe’s most challenging long distance trails, requiring peak levels of fitness and expertise, but there are many spectacular routes through easier terrain for less intrepid walkers. Or just chill out and soak up all that sunshine and scenery. No-one will rush you in Corsica. The people are friendly and their French accent easy to understand. No Occitan twang of the south here.
If your family likes manufactured fun, forget Corsica. This is a theme-park free zone where the emphasis is on enjoying the great outdoors together. Many activity centers offer sessions and equipment suitable for children, so this could be the chance to try a new activity together, or perfect an old one.
Corsica will not suit anyone who wants all-day breakfasts, riotous nightlife, and man-made entertainment. The appeal lies in its unspoilt natural beauty, its laidback lifestyle, and glorious climate. And with just over 260,000 permanent inhabitants in an island measuring 183 km by 83, there’s plenty of room for all.
From France, the simplest and fastest solution is the NGV (High Speed Boat, Navire à Grande Vitesse): it takes 2:45 to 3:30 to go from Nice to Calvi, l’Ile-Rousse, Ajaccio and Bastia, and you can enjoy the view of the Corsican seashore and arrive practically downtown. It is also possible to take regular ferries from Marseille, Nice and Toulon. You can also get to Corsica from Italy, leaving Genoa, Livorno, Savona, Naples or Sardinia.
There are four airports on the island: Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Figari (next to Porto-Vecchio). There is unfortunately not much available for getting into the big cities from the airport, other than renting a car or hitching, though Bastia airport has an almost-every hour bus service to town for €8, except in the evening where the interval is bigger. The last bus leaves at 2245. Easyjet fly to Corsica from the UK.
A metre gauge railway links Ajaccio and Bastia with a branch to Calvi. New railcars are due in 2007 which will speed up journey times, but remove the unforgetable experience of traveling on the vehicles currently in use. The scenery and the ambience of the railway would not be out of place in South America.
It’s advisable to rent a car when in Corsica, as the public transportation is very poor. There are only 3 train lines connecting the major cities, the rest is by bus – which at most leaves twice a day!
What to see in Corsica
Long Distance Walking
Corsica has many walking trails, including the GR 20, perhaps the best known and most difficult of all the Grande Randonnée trails. The trail takes approximately 17 days if using the traditional waypoints, though may take more or less time depending on your experience and needs. The trail is particularly crowded in August, many people suggest the best time is in late spring or early fall. The greatest danger on the GR 20 are the intense summer storms, with lightning claiming the most fatalities.
All walks will need topographical maps, despite usually excellent trail marks. The IGN maps may be found in many of the bigger cities, and at the airports, including Bastia airport. Additionally, you can purchase these maps (more expensively) from the internet ahead of time.
Other Corsican Trails
Other trails include the two Mare e Mare (Sea to Sea) trails which cross the island, and the Mare e Monti trails (Sea and Mountain).
Mare e Mare Nord: Cargése to Moriani la Plage. Suggested time – 11 days. This trail intersects with the one of the Mare e Monti Trails. The trail is only lightly traveled from Corte to Moriani, as this is perhaps the less interesting half, with uniform scenery, and Gites that may not be open unless you call first.
Mare e Mare Sud: Porto-Vecchio to Propriano. Suggested time – 5 days. Considered an easier trail than the other trails on the island.
Mare e Monti: Calenza to Cargèse. Suggested time – 10 days. This trail includes the beautiful fishing village of Girolatta, unnusual in that it is only accessable by boat (from Calvi) or on foot.
There are additional Mare e Monti trails.
Beaches and Sightseeing
Corsica has excellent beaches and if you, like most of Corsica’s visitors, are there in the summer many of your activities will center around the beach. Beside sunbathing and swimming almost every beach offers opportunities to snorkel. Some more popular beaches will rent windsurf boards and kite-surfing boards. Scuba diving is available, particularly at popular beaches near islands and in major towns. Expect to pay around €45-60 euros for a one hour dive.
Once the sun goes down, many people stay on or near the beach, enjoying gelato or one of the many beachside bars and restaurants.
Sightseeing in Corsica’s major towns is also an excellent activity, though those who wait to do this on cloudy/rainy days may find the roads in and out of town completely overwhelmed by summer traffic, with traffic jams up to 2 hours in August. On cloudy days, your best bet is to avoid the centers and head into the mountains, for a walk along a marked trail or a meal in a small village.
What to Eat and Drink in Corsica
Corsica food has French and Italian influences, but has many unique dishes. The chestnut was one of the ancient (and even current) Corsican’s mainstay foods, and many meals and even desserts are prepared with this. Also, most of the domesticated pigs on the island are semi-wild, released to forage for food much of the year, and the charcuterie reflects this excellent flavor. Typical corsican charcuterie include lonzu, coppa, ham, figatellu and saucisson made from pig or boar meat. Canistrelli are typical corsican pastries which come in many different flavors. Corsica also produces a uniquely flavored olive oil made from ripe fruits collected under trees. Many villages have small shops where locally produced food is sold. That said, it may be difficult to find a restaurant that prepares truly Corsican dishes, and you may find yourself eating at a tourist oriented Pizzeria, which nonetheless serves excellent food.
Corsican brew a wide selection of local beers, have their own coke and make their own wine, reflecting their independent ways. Don’t be surprised if you are asked “Américain ou Corse” when ordering a coke. It’s highly recommended to try the beers “Colomba”, “Pietra” or “Bière Torre” when visiting – a very distinct taste that you won’t find anywhere else in France.
From here, you can go to Sardinia, an Italian Island just to the south. Ferries leave from Bonifacio every few hours for San Teresa during the summer, and cost approximately €15 per foot passenger and can easily accommodate cars, light trucks and motorcycles. The ferry ride is approximately one hour. A weekly ferry also leaves Porto Vechio for Palau, Sardinia once a week.
You can also leave the ports of Ajaccio, Calvi, L’île Rousse. or Bastia for mainland France (Nice, Toulon, Marseille) or Genova. However, it is essential to book far ahead on these ferries, even if you are on foot, as they tend to fill up very fast in the high season–especially those leaving for Nice! It is rather pricy as well so do nt be surprised to pay €50 or more, even without a car. Book with Corsica Ferries or SNCM.