Corsica: France’s Secret Mediterranean Paradise

Calvi, Corsica. Photo from Thomson Cruises

A mere nine miles from Sardinia and 110 miles from the Cote d’Azur lies an outpost of France: Corsica. As a French région d’outre mer, Corsica enjoys a culture derived from its myriad influences and a breathtaking, natural topography. As the birthplace of Napoleon I, muse to iconic painter Henri Matisse, and home to a fierce regional pride, this rugged island is the perfect place for a re-vamped French getaway. The glistening water, jagged mountain ranges and charming seaside villages afford Corsica the beauty of the French Riviera, the leisurely pace of its Italian neighbor, and an unspoiled terrain for those pining for adventure.

Known on the mainland as L’île de beauté, Corsica justly falls within the ranks of other Mediterranean beauties, in part because of its stunning coastline. Despite its small size, the island is the fourth largest in the Mediterranean with 650 miles of coastal cliffs and beautiful beaches like the powder-white plages of the Balagne region. Take advantage of Corsica’s ubiquitous opportunities for athleticism intertwined with nature. Hiking trails line the mountains, which cover two-thirds of the island, and true enthusiasts will enjoy the challenging GR20, an 112-mile hike across Corsica’s varied terrain, considered one of Europe’s most famous paths.

Pro-tip: Rent a car! It enables you the freedom to traverse the winding roads and visit the island’s plentiful beaches and less-touristic towns like these gems listed below.

CALVI 

Calvi Citadel

The town of Calvi is a bustling port city, teeming with tourists and the Côte d’Azur’s mega-rich, whose huge yachts wade against the backdrop of mountains. One would be remiss to skip its ancient Citadel, which looms over the rest of the city and welcomes those arriving by boat.

Calvi offers an array of water activities, including kayaking, windsurfing, and sailing. Although Corsica is not usually known for its diving, adventurous scuba divers can plunge into the water’s depths to see a sunken WWII bomber, a beautiful, if somewhat eerie, underwater attraction.

EAT

Photo courtesy of L'Alivu
Photo courtesy of L’Alivu

L’Alivu – An unassuming restaurant offering fresh regional fare, located on a quaint side street (13 boulevard Wilson20260; Tel: +33 6 03 97 71 61)

On Dîne – Seafood-focused beachside restaurant; lunch will also get diners a sunbed and umbrella for the day! (Plage de Calvi, Route de la Pinède, 20260; Tel: +33 4 95 65 29 28) 

STAY

La Villa – Luxurious and modern, with impressive grounds and amenities (Chemin Notre Dame de la Serra, 20260; Tel: +33 4 95 65 10 10) 

Photo courtesy of La Villa.
Photo courtesy of La Villa

La Signoria – Low-key with a great sense of place; 10 minutes from the city (Route De La Foret De Bonifato, 20260; Tel: +33 4 95 65 93 00)

PORTO VECCHIO 

Porto Vecchio, Corsica. Image: ©eugenesergeev on Fotolia
Porto Vecchio, Corsica. Image: ©eugenesergeev on Fotolia

Most visitors will want to check out the favored beaches and towns of L’Extrême Sud (the southern end of the island), home to the glitzy Porto Vecchio. Often thought of as Corsica’s very own Saint Tropez, Porto Vecchio attracts French celebrities and international jet-setters alike.

Porto Vecchio is all about relaxing, tanning on beach days, people-watching, and shopping in the city’s upscale boutiques. Stick to the old town, which basks in historic beauty and quaint streets. For those looking for some action, visitors can easily take a day trip to Col de Bavella, a mountain pass within the Alta Rocca mountains. Everyone can enjoy walking and hiking, while adrenaline junkies can opt for rock climbing or canyoning.

EAT

Bistro La Table de Nathalie – A fine-dining restaurant a few minutes from the city center; terrific service, presentation and cuisine; reservations recommended (4 rue Jean Jaures, 20137; Tel: +33 4 95 71 65 25)

Costa Marina – Romantic, low-key pizzeria; elevated and overlooking Palombaggia beach (Résidence Costa Marina Hotel, route de Palombaggia, 20137; Tel: +33 4 95 70 36 57)

Photo courtesy of Costa Marina

STAY

Les Villas Porto Vecchio – Sleek, freestanding villas with 1-3 apartments; ideal for families (Lieu-dit Mora Dell Onda, 20137; Tel: +33 4 95 73 47 69)

Hotel Mariosa – Relaxing, intimate, design-oriented hotel (Route de Palombaggia par Piccovaggia, 20137; Tel: +33 4 95 70 17 77) 

Photo courtesy of Hotel Mariosa.
Photo courtesy of Hotel Mariosa.

BONIFACIO

From Porto Vecchio, visitors can hop down to Bonifacio, a distinctly Italian-feeling city on the island’s southern tip. Bonifacio offers the same citadels, marinas and scenery that abound throughout Corsica, but has a more relaxed atmosphere than some of its glamorous counterparts.

The city’s white limestone cliffs and proximity to Italy make it an ideal spot for a day or two of pure relaxation. Boat companies court — and often overwhelm — tourists, but all operate similar routes along the coast. A short boat ride (~40 minutes) will take you to sea caves and inlets near the city. Water lovers should opt for a longer trip to the Lavezzi Islandsan uninhabited “Natural Reserve” known for its snorkeling.

Bonifacio, Corsica. Image courtesy of the Travel Channel.
Bonifacio, Corsica. Image courtesy of the Travel Channel.

EAT

Restaurant Les Quatre Vents – Charming choice with water views; perfect for a relaxing sunset dinner (29 quai Banda del Ferro, 20169; Tel: +33 4 95 73 07 50)

Kissing Pigs – Hardy Corsican cuisine in an old-school restaurant (15 quai Banda del Ferro, 20169; Tel: +33 4 95 73 56 09)

STAY

Hotel Version Maquis Citadel – Luxurious, stylish, stunning views (Quartier Brancuccio, 20169; Tel: +33 4 95 71 05 30) 

AJACCIO 

Don’t miss the island’s capital and cultural hub, Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. Visitors can revel in all things Napoleon, by visiting his childhood home (now a national museum), seeing his favorite caves where he played, and enjoying a plethora of restaurants and streets named after this famous leader.

Ajaccio

EAT

L’Altru Versu – Seafood restaurant with modern interior and stunning water views (Les 7 chapelles, route des Sanguinaires, 20000 Ajaccio; Tel: +33 4 95 50 05 22)

Auberge Colomba – Cozy basement spot with Mediterranean offerings (3 Rue des 3 Marie, 20000 Ajaccio; Tel: +33 4 95 51 30 55)

STAY

Hôtel Les Mouettes – Sea-side resort ambiance, great location (Route de Collioure, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer; Tel: +33 4 68 81 82 83) 

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