Years ago, my boss suggested that it could be a career-limiting move, staying in Paris longer than required by the assignment. Of course I found this quite disappointing as I had a strong desire to explore Corsica and felt that a vacation was well deserved. The French rightly call Corsica “Isle of Beaute “or Island of Beauty. The island is breathtaking at every turn with sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, granite mountain peaks and lush agricultural areas. Corsica offers something for everyone, from the” beach lizard ” down 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 on Corsica Ferries from Nice to Bastia. Our journey fell between two religious holidays, The assumption of Mary and Pentect, 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 extreme north of the island. The historic old port, the citadel and the current Place Saint Nicholas are worth visiting. Bastia is a hard-working city, which does not radiate natural or architectural beauty.
However, Bastia is the city “gateway” to Cap Corse, the wild and relatively sparsely populated area at the tip of the island. There is a coastal road at Cap Corse, allowing the traveler to see most of the rugged coastline. There are villages perched on the hills above the coast; Some of these villages are worth a drive for 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 small roads with no hard shoulders and crazy drivers. The tourist office in Bastia is on Place Saint Nicholas, they are friendly and have some colorful brochures available for visitors. However, they offer limited information on Cap Corse. The Cap Corse information office is located right on the edge of Bastia in Port de Toga. This poorly signed little office is part of The Community of Communes of Cap Corse. They were useful despite the seemingly ineffective system.
After two nights in Bastia, the next night stop was Corte, located in the mountains. The permanent population of Corte is barely 7000 inhabitants, the number increases during the tourist season, from April to November. Corte was once the capital of the island for a short period from 1755 to 1769. Unfortunately, it is also not a remarkable beauty, although it is worth the walk to the citadel and take some photos from the viewpoint. The charm is found on the outskirts 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 hiking friendly weather, however please understand that there is something available for all skill levels, from the G20 for the fit and fit, to shorter hikes like the Gorges de la Restonica.
On the coast of Corte is Porto Vecchio, famous for its marina and nearby beach areas. Porto Vecchio was built on a hill over swampy marshes, a defensive tactic against pirates and malaria, which breed in the marshes. The salt trade developed after World War II, eventually turning the salt marshes into a productive and economic use. Today, Port Vecchio is actually two parts of the old upper town on the hill, and the modern harbor below. We found the city and surroundings disappointing. The old town is small and full of tourist shops and restaurants. There is nothing special about the port.
So where is the beauty? I was sure he was starting to wonder!
Just south of Porto Vecchio, everything begins to clear up. There are small bays and natural harbors; the water is aquamarine in color and is usually easily accessible by car or a short walk. The city of Bonifaccio, located at the southern tip of the island, is a true gem. The old town is built within fortification 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; the staff are helpful and have created a decent audio guide available for a self-guided walking tour.
The coast from Bonifaccio to Ajaccio is beautiful, that is, all the way to the capital city and its traffic. At first glance, Ajaccio is not a beautiful city. The capital is large by island standards with a population of just over 63,000. The city is poorly planned as traffic is terribly congested. The true beauty of Ajaccio is found once you settle into your hotel and go for a walk. The boardwalk is pretty with an attractive promenade area. In my opinion, the real treasure is in the few well-preserved or renovated Genoese buildings 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. They don’t offer audio guides though, so the never-ending stream of heavy religious art was lost on this traveler.
At this point in the trip he was convinced that we had saved the best for last and we were not disappointed. The coastal drive from Ajaccio to Calvi is absolutely breathtaking. Be prepared for a long, slow ride though, as the road is small, full of curves, and plenty of photo opportunities. You must not miss the calanches (cliffs and rock formations) of Piana and the Gulf of Girolata.
Our last two nights were spent in the coastal town of Calvi. This attractive city has embraced tourism and still managed to maintain its charm. The old town and the citadel are located 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 helps to make sure you check the opening hours. In our case, we couldn’t get the walking tour audio guide because they were closing for 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 La Revellata peninsula, simply wonderful. Whether through 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 done a complete loop around the island, putting more than 1200 kilometers on the odometer, and we are already planning our trip back to “Isle of Beaute “!!