Years ago, my boss suggested that staying in Paris longer than the assignment required might be a career-limiting move. Of course I found this quite disappointing as I had a strong desire to explore Corsica and felt that a holiday was well deserved. The French, for good reason, call Corsica”the island of beautye” or Island of Beauty. The island is stunning at every turn with sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, granite mountain peaks and lush agricultural areas. Corsica offers something for everyone, from the “beach lizard” to the “adventure runner” and all the people in between.
There are two ferry companies that offer crossings to the island, SNCM and Corsica Ferries. We booked at Corsica Ferries from Nice to Bastia. Our trip fell between two religious holidays, The Assumption of Mary Y Locked, which required booking accommodation in advance and, in our case, dictated a clockwise circuit of the island. Bastia is a port city, located in the far north of the island. It is worth visiting the historic old port, the citadel and the current Plaza de San Nicolás. Bastia is a working city, which does not radiate natural or architectural beauty.
However, Bastia is the “gateway” town to Cap Corse, the wild and still relatively sparsely populated area at the tip of the island. There is a coastal road at Cap Corse, which allows the traveler to see most of the rugged coastline. There are towns perched on the hills above the coast; it is worth driving to some of these villages for some splendid views. In our case, it took us all day to drive 100 km, in a place that combines the beauty of Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) and Big Sur (California) on tiny roads with no shoulders and crazy drivers. The tourist office in Bastia is located at Place Saint Nicholas, they are friendly and have some colorful brochures available for visitors. However, they offer limited information about Cap Corse. The Cap Corse information office is located just on the edge of Bastia at Port de Toga. This tiny, poorly marked office is part of The Community of Municipalities of Cap Corse. They were helpful despite the apparently inefficient system.
After two nights in Bastia, the next overnight stop was Corte, located in the mountains. Corte’s permanent population is just shy of 7,000, numbers swell during the tourist season, April through November. Corte was once the capital of the island for a brief period from 1755 to 1769. Unfortunately, it is also not of remarkable beauty, although it is worth walking up to the citadel and taking some photos from the viewpoint. The charm lies outside of Corte, in the hills and gorges that surround the town that form the Corsica Natural Park. There are numerous hiking options from this starting point. We weren’t lucky enough to land in favorable hiking weather, however please understand there is something available for all levels, from the G20 for strong and fit people, to shorter hikes like the Restonic Throat.
On the coast of Corte is Porto Vecchio, famous for its marina and nearby beach areas. Porto Vecchio was built on a hill above swampy swamps, a defensive tactic against pirates and malaria, which breeds in the swamps. The salt trade developed after World War II, eventually turning the salt marshes into productive and economic use. Today, Port Vecchio is actually two parts of the old upper town on the hill, and the modern port below. We found the city and the surroundings a disappointment. The old town is small and full of restaurants and tourist shops. The port is nothing special.
So where is the beauty? I was sure I was beginning to wonder!
Just south of Porto Vecchio, everything begins to become clear. There are small bays and natural harbors; the water is aquamarine in color and is usually easily accessible by car or on foot. The town of Bonifaccio, located on the southern tip of the island, is a true gem. The old town is built within walls, on top of limestone cliffs of about 60 meters. The surroundings of the city, the protected marina and the impressive cliffs (cliffs) make Bonifaccio a real treat. Bonifaccio has a small market on Tuesday mornings in the summer. The tourist office is located in the center; helpful staff, and have made a decent audio guide available for a self guided walking tour.
The coastline from Bonifaccio to Ajaccio is beautiful, that is until you get to the capital and its traffic. At first glance, Ajaccio is not a pretty city. The capital is large by island standards with a population of just over 63,000. The city is poorly planned as the traffic is terribly congested. The true beauty of Ajaccio is found once you settle into your hotel and head out for a walk. The boardwalk is pretty, with an attractive boardwalk area. In my opinion, the real treasure is in the few well-preserved or renovated Genoese buildings to be found in the old town and in the Foreigners neighborhood. In the “Imperial City” of Ajaccio, the Fesch Palace (named after Napoleon’s uncle) is an impressive building both inside and out. This building houses an important art collection. However, they don’t offer audio guides, so the endless stream of heavy religious art was lost on this traveler.
At this point in the trip I was convinced that we had saved the best for last, and we were not disappointed. The coastal road from Ajaccio to Calvi is absolutely stunning. Be prepared for a long, slow ride though, as the road is small, full of curves, and plenty of photo opportunities. Can’t miss them streams (cliffs and rock formations) by Piana and the Gulf of Girolata.
Our last two nights were spent in the coastal town of Calvi. This attractive town has embraced tourism and yet managed to maintain its charm. The old town and the citadel are situated on top of a cliff, overlooking the marina, surrounding the old and the new are small pedestrian streets full of restaurants and shops. The tourist office is located in the marina, although it is useful, be sure to check the opening hours. In our case, we couldn’t get the walking tour audio guide because they were closing in the afternoon! It is worth walking or driving to the high viewpoint of Notre Dame de la Serra. We spent a glorious afternoon touring the trails of the peninsula through La Revellata, just wonderful. Whether due to careful planning or just luck, the result is that Calvi is an exceptionally pleasant place to spend a few days.
After 10 days this couple returned to Bastia in time for our ship back to France. We had circled the island completely, putting over 1,200 kilometers on the odometer, and we are already planning our trip back to “Island of Beauty”me”!!