DESTINATION FOCUS • April 2019
Formed by a mountain range that rose from the Mediterranean Sea, there’s a reason Corsica is nicknamed ‘The Island of Beauty’ – and with next month’s seasonal service to Bastia from Heathrow, it’s more accessible than ever. Corsica aficionado Kathryn Burrington takes us to the island’s best bits
Head into the hills anywhere in Corsica and you’ll stumble across a captivating view. From the old coastal city of Calvi in the northern province of La Balagne, take a tree-shaded stroll to the hilltop chapel, Notre Dame de la Serra (pictured), where you’ll be rewarded with one of the island’s most beautiful panoramic vistas. Let your eyes wander down the verdant hillside to the sweeping sands of Calvi Bay (home to four miles of white sand beach), the marina, citadel and distant mountains. In the summer, make it a sunset or sunrise walk to enjoy a cooler ascent.
In order to stem the exodus of Corsicans moving to the cities for work, artists and craftsmen were offered incentives to move to the pretty village of Pigna. Today, you can wander along cobbled alleyways and watch glassblowers, weavers, potters and painters tinker away, selling one-off souvenirs and keeping alive ancient skills in picturesque surroundings. Spend an evening at A Casarella – its terrace has amazing views.
Just a half-hour’s drive from Bastia airport, La Dimora is an 18th-century farmhouse converted into an elegant boutique hotel in the heart of Corsica’s most lauded wine region, Patrimonio. Set among beautiful gardens and shrouded by ancient olive trees, the secluded pool area is perfect for soaking up the summer sun. The citadel town of Saint-Florent, with its array of watersports and harbourside restaurants, is five minutes away by car, while the magnificent scenery of Cap Corse and Bastia’s historic old town are also within easy reach.
The waters around Corsica are among the clearest you’ll find in the Mediterranean, thanks to the lack of heavy industry. One the loveliest beaches is also one of the least visited, no doubt because of its remote location by the wild Désert des Agriates. But take a 30-minute boat ride west from Saint-Florent and you’ll be rewarded by a sweeping bay of soft white sand and the sweet aroma of maquis, the dense shrubs that blanket much of the island. Make sure to bring water, snacks and a parasol for shade.
If you don’t fancy driving in Corsica (and the winding coastal roads can be hair-raising) a train network links the towns of Bastia, Calvi and Ajaccio via majestic mountain vistas, remote villages and dramatic coastlines. The most spectacular route can be found on the train departing Bastia for Ajaccio on the west coast, especially the stretch from Corte (in the centre of the island) to Ajaccio, passing forests and lush mountain trails, as well as the Veil of the Bride – Corsica’s highest waterfall.
Although influenced by France and Italy, Corsican cuisine is truly unique. Maquis herbs, chestnut-fed wild boar and chestnut flour are just some of the traditional ingredients. Step inside U Paisanu in Bastia and browse the shelves heaped high with quality local produce, before heading upstairs to the small restaurant for authentic home-cooked Corsican fare. The husband and wife owners (and their dog) couldn’t be more welcoming, or the prices more reasonable. Leave plenty of room in your suitcase, because you are bound to come away carrying bags overflowing with charcuterie, cheese and wine. Look out for figatellu, a spicy sausage smoked over beechwood, or a bag of maquis herbs.