- Lifestyle & Sports
- 29 Aug 17
The birthplace of Napoleon and an island with enough beaches to fill New York with sand, Corsica is a sun-drenched, picturesque landscape with a proud history. By Mark Conroy
Where exactly is it?
The island lies in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy and south of the French mainland. Although it’s located closer to the Italian peninsula, the region actually belongs to France. Corsica does however enjoy a greater degree of autonomy than other territories, and has its own assembly, which is capable of exercising limited powers. Separated into northern and southern sides, the main towns are Ajaccio, Porto Vecchio, Bastia and Calvi.
Why should I go there?
The warm Mediterranean weather is a major attraction, with the area getting average annual sunshine of 2726 hours (that’s a lot). With its breathtaking mountainous landscape, serene beaches and picturesque scenery, Corsica is a peaceful alternative to potentially hectic city breaks. There are beautifully quaint villages with age-old stone architecture, and for its relatively small size, the island has a rich and varied history. Away from its more rural locales, there are vibrant areas like Ajaccio, where tourists easily mix with the friendly locals. The people of the island have their own identity, distinct from the mainland nations close to them, and are proud of it.
How do I get there?
Corsica has four airports in Ajaccio, Calvi, Figari and one near Bastia, but you will have to go via mainland France if you are flying internationally. There are plenty of airlines, like Air France, that will take you from Dublin to Corsica, with stop-offs in Paris or Marseille (prices start from about €490). You can also get there via ferry from a variety of places on the French coast, like Nice, Marseille and Toulon.
What language do they speak?
There are three languages on the island. French is the most widely spoken, but Italian is used by many of the locals. There is an enduring regional dialect called Corsican, which about 10% of the islanders speak. English is generally understood, especially in the more touristy, densely populated areas. These are not Parisians – they’ll be accommodating.
Where should I stay?
Depends on what you are looking for. If you want something a little bit off the beaten track, there are charming places to stay in the craggy centre of Corsica. Amid the forestry in the heart of the island lies the Hotel U Castellu (hotel-ucastellu.fr, +33(0)4 95 30 53 00). Located near Vivario, the quiet inn is not too isolated and you’ll get the chance to hear some genuine Coriscan folk music at night. For those searching for a more convivial atmosphere, traditional hotels are available in the more lively locations. The Hotel du Napeleon (en.hotel-napoleon-ajaccio.fr, + 33 (0)4 95 51 54 00) sits ideally in the centre of Ajaccio, and serves continental breakfast in the rooms at no extra charge.
Public transport is limited, so if you want to explore the island, your best bet is to hire a car, especially if you’re there for a few days and aiming to have some flexibility. While this may sound like a bit of a hindrance, driving around through the scenic countryside is a treat. Whizzing around in your vehicle to the top of the alpine peaks, through the gorgeous greenery and beside the luxurious coastline is hard to beat. Buses aren’t all that reliable, as the routes are scarce and generally difficult to find. There are trains too that offer superb views on the journey, but only three lines to choose from that connect Ajaccio with Corte, Bastia and Calvi.
What’s the food like?
One thing that Corisicans treasure above all else is their food. The traditional cuisine is arguably more closely related to the Italian style than the French, although they are certainly influenced by both nations. Their earthy culinary skills are inspired by the land that they adore. In the many prestigious restaurants in Ajaccio and elsewhere, a feast of expertly cured meats, recently ripened fruits and organic cheeses will be made available to you.
The Corisican lamb and the veal with olives are popular amongst locals and tourists alike, but the signature dish is the civet de sanglier, a succulent wild boar casserole that’s cooked with locally sourced red wine. The A Nepita (4 Rue San Lazaro, Ajaccio, +33 495 26 75 68) is perfect for those looking for an excellent dining experience in a quieter space, away from the tourist trappings of other parts of the island.
What should I drink?
Speaking of the wine, it’s well worth checking out. When it comes to French wine, Corsica may not share the same prestige as Burgundy or Bordeaux, but it would be a crime to let that put you off. The quality is up there with the very best, and better yet, there is no VAT on the local stock, so most bottles start at about €5, with the most expensive cuvées reaching about €15.
What’s the nightlife like?
Don’t go expecting it to be party central. The nightlife is mostly low key, and generally more focused on dining and quiet drinks than clubs.
What are the touristy things to do?
Corsica is actually the birthplace of Napoleon, and the residence where the former emperor of France was born in is now a museum. Located in Ajaccio, the surprisingly simple looking home offers a detailed and engrossing insight into the life of this major historical figure – and yes, the door frames are as low as you’d expect! Elsewhere, with their baby blue waters and baking hot sun, the postcard-ready beaches are must-visit attractions.
The best is found in Calvi, which has a six-kilometre stretch of white sandy coastline, so there’s no need to worry about finding a space to rest your towels.
Finally, if you want to see the region’s natural beauty from a fresh, nautical angle, there are picturesque boat journeys available. Among the highlights are the trips from Ajaccio, Calvi and Porto to the stunning Unesco World Heritage Site and nature reserve at Scandola.
What’s my challenge?
If you’re up for it, the crystal clarity of the sea offers a perfect opportunity for snorkelling. Beaches like Lotto in the north, Palombaggia in the south and Marinella in the west, near Ajaccio, are some of the best for diving.