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; and Mountain – hiking, with the famous Grande Randonnée.
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 in Corsica is French. However, island has its own language, Corsican. Due to the French state’s linguistic policies, it is now estimated that as few as 10% of the island’s population speak Corsican as a native language and 50% have conversational knowledge. Italian is also spoken in tourist areas.
Radical domestic opposition to the official French language is quite noticeable in the island. When traveling by car, you will find a number painted over road signs with a handwritten names of towns in the local language.
Things to do
Cities, Towns, Villages
Corsican cities and remote villages are a great place to enjoy the panoramic views and architecture, taste local delicacies, and touch a very authentic and unspoiled nature.
Corsica has excellent beaches and if you are there in the summer, most of your activities will be 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.
Once the sun goes down, many people stay on or near the beach, enjoying ice-cream 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 city or town centres and head into the mountains, for a walk along a marked trail or a meal in a small village.
Long Distance Walking
Corsica has many walking trails, perhaps the best known and most difficult is the Grande Randonnée trail, covering a distance of 180km and 10kms of climbing and descent. 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, the best time is in late spring or early fall. The greatest danger on the Grande Randonnée are the intense summer storms, with lightning claiming the most fatalities.
All walks will need topographical maps, despite usually excellent trail marks. The maps may be found in many of the bigger cities, at the airports. Additionally, you can purchase these maps from the internet ahead of time.
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.
Food and Specialities
Cuisine of Corsica has strong influence of French and Italian traditions, but it also has many unique dishes.
The chestnut is one of the ancient and current Corsican’s mainstay foods, and many meals and even desserts are prepared with it. 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.
Corsicans 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” and “Bière Torre” when visiting – a very distinct taste that you won’t find anywhere else.
From France, the simplest and fastest to come is by the ferry from Nice, Toulon or Marseille. It takes 2h45 – 3h30 to go from Nice to Calvi, l’Ile-Rousse, Ajaccio or Bastia. There are also a night ferry, departed at the evening you will reach the destination early in the morning.
You can also get to Corsica from Italy, leaving Genoa, Livorno, Savona, Naples or Sardinia.
Flights and Airports
There are four airports on the island: Aéroport Ajaccio Napoléon Bonaparte, Figari Sud-Corse Airport (next to Porto-Vecchio), Poretta Airport (near Bastia), and Calvi – Sainte-Catherine Airport. 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, in the evening where the interval is bigger. The last bus leaves at 22h45. Domestic flights are available by Air Corsica and Air France, Easyjet fly to Corsica from the UK.
However, flights to Corsica from outside mainland France are not-so-frequent and rather expensive. If you want to avoid the relatively expensive air fare, you can book a flight to Nice Cote d’Azur International Airport and book a connecting ferry from Nice to Corsica. Ferry (without taking a car) is a lot cheaper than flying and you’ll also avoid the cost of getting from a Corsican airport to the city.
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.