A journey through an island of unique Culture, Cuisine and Countryside
By Johann Beukes
Wonderful surprises and a feast of colour await you as you criss-cross this unique little paradise, south of the Cote d’Azur of France. Corsica, off the north-western coast of Italy has been part of France since 1768 and is the fourth largest Mediterranean island,.
You can see some highlights over a long weekend, you can saviour the uniqueness in a week, but you can treasure the many secrets only over an extended period on Corsica. Although it is a tiny splash on a map, the curling roads less travelled might take you to a gem not documented in travel books. Do not be mislead by a distance on the map – 30 kilometres might take over two hours of driving time, especially in the rural mountainous terrain of the inland.
My first sample of Corsica was limited to only four days of exploring the diverse scenery through my camera lens, sampling fruits la mer and sipping Sciacarello local wine; enjoying the total freedom of a true wanderlust experience in every sense.
As the flight into Bastia, (situated at the entrance to the Corso peninsula), had been cancelled at short notice, I was forced to reroute my itinerary, starting in Calvi: a small fishing village where time stopped a century ago. All activities play off on the smallish waterfront, facing the secluded little harbour. Although out of season, it was still a beehive of activities with locals buying fresh sea harvest of the day directly from the source. And tonight they will crowd the many bistros next to the water’s edge, with the strings of colourful lights mirrored in the rippling of the water of the quayside.
Next day the route the next day to the biggest city, Ajaccio, took me through a unique countryside: Curving narrow mountain roads climbing to breath-taking views of a rugged coastline of Les Calanche with many secluded and romantic beaches and the rocky coves of Piana far below.
Ajaccio is the birth place of Corsica’s famous son, Napoleon. One of the outstanding sights is the cathedral Notre-Dame-de-la-Misericorde, an imposing construction built in the Renaissance between 1587 and 1593. The enormous dome and cross shaped outline of the building reminds one of Byzantine churches.
This capital city radiates a Mediterranean flair even out of holiday seasons: irritated drivers in many one-way streets with limited parking. Despite the fact that cars are parked on sidewalks like sardines in a tin, there is always space for yet another car. The music from the many bars and bistros echoed through the narrow streets. You are met with the laughing and chuckling of young people on the sidewalks, due to overcrowding of the numerous wine bars.
You have not experienced Corsica in full, if you have not visited the historical sites of Filitosa and the Genoese Footbridge at Propriano. Neither are easily accessible and especially out of season I had to transgress on private property to reach the secured ancient menhirs.
My second last night I spent in Bonafacio at the southern tip of Corsica. To truly appreciate the striking location of the town, go on a boat trip. These are offered departing from the marina and allow you to have stunning views over Bonifacio’s spectacular location on top of the cliffs and many caves below. Sardinia (Italy), some 20 kilometres south of Corsica, can be reached by boat.
The inland north of Porto-Vecchio is a paradise for keen photographers. Winding mountainous roads leading from one secluded mountain village to another: L’Ospedale, Zonza, Quneza and Aullène are all located on a small secondary road, passing through densely wooded areas and scenic gorges. Certain of the routes were under construction and closed. Due to the fact that it was over a weekend, I unintentionally took the road only open for inhabitants of the towns. It was, however a real blessing in disguise.
The capital of Corsica’s inland Corte, is not a pretty town. The peeling facades are fairly ugly, and you have to bring other senses into play to appreciate the huge significance of this mountain village. The graffiti on the walls are evident that Corte remains a nationalist stronghold that physically and symbolically lies between Ajaccio and Bastia. The many students give this university town a special buzz; otherwise it is a vantage point for the many hikers visiting this island.
Corsica is a walker’s paradise; the number one reason to come to this island in the sun is to explore, enjoy and embrace its natural scenic beauty.
Le soleil a tant fait l’amour a la mer qu’ils ont fini par enfanter la Corse
The sun made love to the sea so often that they finally gave birth to Corsica;
The words of Antione de St-Exupery best describes the vibe of this little paradise in the Mediterranean.
Johann Beukes is CEO of SURE
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