With a strong, dramatic landscape that mirrors its history and local culture, Corsica is a spit of land torn into the mediterranean some distance south of – and between – France and Italy. Occupying an important strategic position in the mediterranean, the island has been subject to numerous invasions, wars, and changes of authority; however, despite being repeatedly conquered by various militaries – and perhaps because of such invasions – it has always retained a strong, proud, distinctly Corsican culture. The island itself is of striking natural beauty, home to a combination of dramatic mountains and entrancing beaches, and is host to a variety of intriguing historical sites, which allow visitors a glimpse into the distinct culture and history of the island. With a mixture of French, Italian, and Corsican cultures, the character of this island and its people will welcome and intrigue you, making for a visit that is culturally and visually rewarding. Read on for the top 5 things to do during a visit to Corsica..
1.) Tour the Citadels
As an island that has been contested and conquered during most of its long history – the first invaders were the Ancient Greeks in the 5th century BCE – Corsica’s architecture is characterised by its militarisation. A part of the ancient military complex that covers the island are 6 scattered citadels, each of which was built as a defensive stronghold. If walls could talk, these would surely have some interesting stories to tell: most were built by the Genoese and have since witnessed a multitude of wars and takeovers, providing an interesting glimpse into the turbulent history of the island. Calvi’s citadel is particularly massive and provides stunning views of the surrounding area while the citadel in Bonifacio has the most charm: it is surrounded by winding alleyways, has an original 16th-century drawbridge, and is home to the exciting Escalier du Roi d’Aragon – stairs that cut down the face of the southern cliff.
2.) Hike One of the Long-Distance Trails
The most mountainous island in the mediterranean, Corsica is home to some incredible landscapes. Famous for its hiking, it is home to a series of trails that take ambitious walkers through the island’s dramatic mountain ranges and down to its gorgeous beaches. The most famous trail – the GR 20 – covers a distance of 180 kilometers and is notorious as the most difficult long distance trail in Europe, with much of the trail traversing mountainous terrain. However, the GR 20 isn’t the only trail on Corsica: other options include two Mare e Mare (sea to sea) trails, and one Mare e Monti (sea and mountain) trail, among others.
3.) Try the Local Cuisine
One of the most entrancing things about Corsica is the proud, distinct culture of the island’s residents. Not only do they have their own language, but they have their own unique and fascinating culinary tradition, which is built around the local foods readily available on the island and incorporates elements from the invading French and Italian food traditions. Full of distinct flavours yet simple, rustic, and unfussy, dishes usually feature some characteristic ingredients, such as seafood, wild pigs, local charcuterie, chestnuts, olives, citrus, and other local, characteristically mediterranean, fruits and vegetables. This island takes its food very seriously and is full of high-quality restaurants for you to try: Le 20123 is especially recommended. During your stay on the island, be sure to also try some of the local beer, wine, and coke – Corsica crafts its own local versions with flair.
4.) Follow in Napoleon’s Footsteps
Aside from its famous walking trail, Corsica is best known for being the childhood home of Napoleon, who would grow up to fundamentally influence the course of history in both France and Europe. The house where Napoleon spent the first 9 years of his life can be found in Ajaccio and still retains an aura of reverence – especially for those of a revolutionary irk who come to visit. Although the house was ransacked by Corsican nationalists near the end of the 18th century, it was later rebuilt by Napoleon’s mother and hosts the memorabilia of the emperor and his family, including a lock of Napoleon’s hair. The Bonaparte family has another legacy on the island: the Palais Fesch, Musée des Beaux-Arts. Established by Napoleon’s uncle, this museum has France’s largest collection of Italian art outside the Louvre, with most of the art coming from between the 14th and 19th centuries.
5.) Take in the Island’s Rugged Beauty
With an incredibly varied landscape that is breathtaking from every angle, this island is fascinating to just travel through. Follow the crooked roads as they weave along the coast and through the mountains to watch as the scenery unfolds and changes around you. The coastal geography varies so greatly from the interior that within a 20 minute drive you will feel as though you have travelled to an entirely different country. Be sure to also take advantage of the small island’s gorgeous coastline and multitude of beaches – opportunities for water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing abound. However, heading inland will yield many rewards as well: seek out the Aiguilles de Bavella, a particularly dramatic and jagged saw-tooth mountain that is worth a trip to see.
About the author:
Hailing from Canada, Jayme Collins now live in Berlin and works for GoEuro, a new multi-mode travel search engine. Despite living in the land of Bratwurst and Sauerkraut, she eats as much sunny mediterranean food as possible to fend off the winter darkness.