Captivating Corsica

Corsica landscape
Corsica landscape

Captivating Corsica

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

When it’s time to plan a much-needed break from the hubbub of everyday life, choosing between tranquil, idyllic beaches and rugged mountains can be tough. White sand between your toes or hiking one of Europe’s most challenging and scenic trails? If you head to the dreamy French territorial island of Corsica, you won’t have to choose. It’s all right there at your fingertips.

Located in the middle of the warm, crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, Corsica is between France and Italy. The island’s southern tip is a mere seven miles across the Strait of Bonifacio from its Italian neighbor, Sardinia. While Corsica has been part of France since 1768, its Italian roots run very deep and are entangled with French influences to create a unique Corsican culture that perseveres still. The official language is French, but you’ll quickly discover many cities, towns and foods have kept their Italian flair.

Mountains or beaches?

For those undecided on whether to kick back at the beach or trek through the mountains, Corsica is a fantastic place to do both. Two-thirds of this enchanting isle is comprised of sheer granite cliffs and craggy mountain peaks. The infamous GR20 is a grueling 180-kilometer trail traversing vertically across the island’s center, connecting the villages of Calenzana and Conca. It is consistently rated as one of the most strenuous long-distance hikes in Europe. However, if you don’t have to conquer the whole trail at once, even just trekking a small section of the route will reward you with breathtaking vistas.

If relaxing along the water’s edge is more your style, Corsica is home to many pristine and unspoiled beaches. Boasting UNESCO World Heritage–protected marine sanctuaries, snorkeling and scuba diving offer a glimpse into fascinating underwater wildlife. At the northern edge of the Gulf of Porto on the island’s western shores is the Scandola Nature Reserve. Due to its remote location, the easiest way to access the park is to take a ferry from Calvi or Porto. Red rock formations and remnants of an ancient volcano peek above the waterline and create hidden coves and bays.

More places to check out

Ajaccio is known as the island’s capital city; however, it’s also known as the birthplace and ancestral home of Napoleon Bonaparte. Once his family residence, Maison Bonaparte is now a national museum full of artifacts and is a fascinating look into the famed leader. For a quick and humorous take on Napoleon’s battles, stop by NapoRama. While initially geared toward school children, this small space tells the story of Napoleon using dioramas made of Playmobil and Legos. Ajaccio is full of fantastic architecture, including towering cathedrals and an ancient citadel perched above the bay’s turquoise waters.

On the southeastern side of Corsica is Porto Vecchio. This once-quiet fishing village offers access to some of the island’s best beaches with sheltered inlets and serene lagoons. Visitors can dine al fresco at one of the many cafes at the port, many of which offer tasty local dishes such as spicy cheeses, fresh seafood and a delicious mash-up of French and Italian cuisine. Or enjoy an afternoon of people-watching at the yacht-filled harbor while sipping on a café au lait or cappuccino.

With two main airports on the island (Bastia and Ajaccio) and plenty of ferry options from Italy, France and Sardinia, Corsica is relatively easy to visit. The sun, sand, surf and mountains of this inviting isle are calling.

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