Corsica, France: The French isle with Italian passion

Looking towards L’Ile Rousse, north-west Corsica

Thanks to there only being a few flight routes from the UK, Corsica, the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, remains a ‘hidden gem’ kind of holiday – especially with us Brits. It sits just above the better-known isle of Sardinia, 250 miles off the coast of Marseilles and in line with Rome: so it does have somewhat of a French/Italian fused feel: beautiful beaches, good food from local produce markets, (mountain bee honey, freshly baked croissants, and the sweetest nectarine fruit), and picture postcard hillside villages. The cities are small enough to navigate easily with intriguing citadels (a ‘city’ within a town or city) with their open squares and green areas, and the countryside is mountainous and peppered with gorgeous waterfalls waiting to be swum in.

The flight from the UK is just over two hours, and can easily be booked as part of hotel package deals. During spring and summer months, you’ll find warm Mediterranean temperatures, tempered by a cool mountain breeze. General pace of life is slow and you can dip in and out of spending time sightseeing, doing activities or staying on the beach.

Cycle to mountain villages

Take a dip in a waterfall

Visit a mountain village or three

If an all-inclusive set up with stand out kids’ club, crèche and full programme of activities floats your boat, then the place to stay on Corsica is the San Lucianu Mark Warner Resort hotel, pictured above and below. With separate toddler pool, beachfront location and mountain backdrop, it is a great base for young families. The crèche looks after children from just four months old.

The three-star resort is missing a little of the luxurious touch, with the emphasis rather being on getting out and about: whether that is in kids’ club, out on cycle tours, on the tennis court, sailing on the sea, or exploring the local area (waterfall, mountain villages, seaside town) on foot – not lounging around the pool on posh loungers. But, it is affordable for the Mediterranean, and you soon relax into the sense of familiarity. Note: the beach here is pebbles rather than sand, if that’s a deal breaker.

NORTH VERSUS SOUTH CORSICA

Corsica, AKA the ‘mountain in the sea’, is very much divided into North and South, since it is not particularly easy to get between the two at any kind of pace, owing to slow mountainous roads, with the famous (‘hardcore’) G20 walk. A drive from top to bottom would take you at least three hours. The ideal approach could be to decide which part you most want to visit and book yourself beachside accommodation. Then hire a car and stick to the coast roads, to enable you to see what you want, when you want, of the island.

*** Don’t miss my article rounding up the best Corsican mountain villages and beaches ***

If you are staying for more than a week, why not consider a multi-base stay? Half the time spent in the North and half in the South, means you could experience the best of both worlds and keep driving time down to a minimum.

THE BEST OF NORTHERN CORSICA

If you fancy a spot of shopping, don’t miss the large harbour town of Bastia (above) with it’s glamourous shopping street, Boulevard Paoli. The town was badly bombed in World War II, so lots of the buildings are charmingly wonky. Mix this with the 15th Century churches at the citadel and the ramshackle old tenements, and it feels like you have stepped back in time. It’s a great place for an aimless wander, knowing that patisseries (and clean public toilets) are never far away.

The citadel at Bastia

Bastia harbour

Calvi beach 

Calvi is a fun day out, with its five-mile long beach location with shallow warm waters. It is probably the most noticeably touristy place on the island, but this means good amenities and the lofty citadel is authentic and impressive. It’s citadel is also notably home to one of the many houses that claim to be the birthplace of Christopher Colombus.

THE BEST OF SOUTHERN CORSICA

The South offers the majority of the white sand beaches, turquoise waters and boat day trips. The southernmost tip town of Bonifacio, with its famous white cliffs, is only 12km from the neighbouring island of Sardinia. Like many of Corsica’s towns it is a warren of streets and has quite a lot of ‘ups and downs’ to walk: with plenty of ice cream parlours and cafes at every turn for stop offs. Porto Vecchio, half an hours drive south of Bonifacio, is a glittering harbour town with a chilled out vibe and a nature reserve nearby frequented by flocks of flamingos in the spring. The area has some of the best beaches, complete with shallow paddling waters.

When, where and how to visit Corsica

  • You can fly from UK airports to Bastia or Ajaccio. Package deals transfer you half an hour via coach to the resort. You can arrange car hire to collect straight from the airport – whether on a package holiday, or not.
  • June and September are lovely times to visit Corsica, when prices are off peak and the weather is still on your side. Avoid August when it is hot and full to the brim with French holidaymakers.
  • Check out visit-corsica.com for help planning your trip

A version of this article first appeared in Gurgle magazine in 2018

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