South of the Côte d’Azur and north of the Italian island of Sardinia, Corsica is a land of contrasts and a miniature continent all its own. Wild, dramatic mountains and gentle sandy shores; time-warped villages beside buzzing coastal resorts; the language of France with an Italian-style cuisine. This nature-lover’s playground is directly accessible from the UK in season and from France all year round, by both air and sea.
Feel Corsica with our top sensory experiences…
They don’t call Corsica the ‘Île de Beauté’ (Island of Beauty) for nothing. In the island’s north west, Calvi’s beautiful sweeping bay is best appreciated from Notre Dame de la Serra, a chapel perched high above the town. From Calvi you can explore the Pointe de Revellata, a natural paradise with 300 acres of flora unique to Corsica, as well as a magnificent underwater world attracting keen divers.
A day trip from Calvi to the Scandola Nature Reserve is a must, with boats departing from the port every day. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was established in 1975 and schools of dolphins can be found just a few dozen yards from shore. The Piana calanques (rocky inlets), also UNESCO listed, offer an awe-inspiring sight of red granite cliffs eroded and sculpted by the sea over centuries. Some of the shapes are famous for their resemblance to animals, people or symbols. The Desert des Agriates is a barren, dramatic landscape of rocks and scrubland where eagles soar overhead – and Corsica is generally a very mountainous island, its highest peak (Monte Cinto) standing at 2,710m.
In the south of the island, feast your eyes on the gleaming yachts moored in the marinas at glamorous Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio. The former has 380 berths and is one of the south of France’s best equipped to accommodate large private vessels. The beaches around these two resorts are also considered by many as the island’s best, with startlingly vibrant turquoise waters lapping shingly coves and stretches of fine, white sand. Palombaggia and Santa Giulia are among the most breathtaking.
Go to a concert of Corsican polyphonic singing to truly fall under the island’s spell. Included on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2009, this haunting musical tradition is performed by small groups all over Corsica in a range of venues – but consider choosing a large church or cathedral, where the acoustics really add to the experience. The official festival devoted to this singing is held in September – the Rencontres Polyphoniques de Calvi.
For something lighter and louder, time your holiday with the Calvi on the Rocks electro festival (June/July) and dance the night away on the beach. Ajaccio also hosts a jazz festival every June, showcasing some of the most exciting artists of the international and French jazz scene today.
Although classically Mediterranean and combining elements from both France and Italy, Corsica has its own unique cuisine. Most famous is its charcuterie: richly-marbled coppa, lonzu, prisuttu and figatellu. Fish and seafood are accented with local herbs including oregano, marjoram and mint. Honey and chestnuts are other staple island products; you should also taste fiadone, a traditional Corsican cheesecake made with lemon and the local brocciu, a ewes’-milk cheese similar to ricotta. The Corsican clementine, a cross between an orange and a mandarin, is grown on the island’s eastern plain.
Wine connoisseurs shouldn’t miss the vineyard tour itinerary across 276 hectares between L’Île-Rousse and Calvi, a delightful wine terroir producing rich, aromatic wines with their own strong identity. The island also makes a range of fruit-based liqueurs, the most distinctive using myrtle, and the local La Pietra beer is brewed with chestnut flour – distinctive and delicious.
Corsica is a tactile island perfect for outdoor activity: there are 250km of walking trails surrounding Calvi alone, and you can hire an electric bike if you need help tackling the hilly terrain. Water-lovers can windsurf, waterski and jet-ski to their hearts’ content from any of the coastal resorts.
On lazier days, browse locally-made jewellery in the boutiques lining the shopping streets in any of Corsica’s main towns (look out for the Calvi ‘eye’ motif, said to keep evil spirits at bay). Also discover pottery, glass and musical instruments in the Balagne villages of Pigna and Sant’Antonino, perched in the hills inland from Calvi; follow the Route des Artisans to meet the creative locals in their workshops.
Corsica is also known for its beauty products, made from the plants of the maquis (scrubland) that blankets the island. One of these, immortelle, is thought to have excellent anti-ageing properties and is used in numerous creams, serums and essential oils.
Corsica’s trademark fragrance is the maquis (scrubland), carried on the wind from the mountains to the coast. This heady mix of plants includes eucalyptus, juniper, rosemary, heather, myrtle, sage, mint, thyme and lavender. The yellow immortelle has the most distinctive aroma and is one of the most celebrated plants.
Visit Porto-Vecchio’s plant nursery ‘Les Aromatiques de l’Île de Beauté’ and meet horticulturalist Stéphane Rogliano, a specialist grower of the wild and aromatic plants of Corsica. Or roam the fragrant seven-hectare Parc de Saleccia, an amazing natural wonder and Corsica’s only botanical garden dedicated to aromatic plants and flowers from across the Mediterranean.
You can also smell wonderful local produce – fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and charcuterie, cheese and olive oil – at Corsica’s markets. One of the most popular is held in L’Île-Rousse on Tuesday mornings, in the shade of a 21-pillared portico resembling a classical temple.