Corsica: Rugged Outdoors Adventure Haven

Unspoilt and Untamed Corsica: The Recipe for Thrill and Adventure

Corsica’s severe and rugged landscape offers unending opportunities to experience a surprising and contrasting side to the outdoors. Scramble up rocky paths for panoramic views from heady heights, and bathe in eden-like crystal clear natural pools to experience an unspoilt and untamed wilderness at its most alluring.   
Corsican Mountains reddened by SunsetHolidays to Corsica at different times of year give way to extremely varied experiences of the same rugged wilderness. Skiing and hiking misty gorges in the winter and sun-lounging on baking natural stone slabs beside flowing falls in the summer are just some examples of how the island can offer such different activities, and of course there are fantastic beaches.  One thing is for certain though, whenever you visit, you’ll be astounded by the island’s natural and severe beauty.
Corsica’s infrastructure is not well developed, partly due to Napoleon’s neglect to put large efforts into his homeland’s growth, and partly due to Corsica’s disputed identity throughout history. Even the main roads (apart from a few miles of flat ground on the East Coast) are the most winding, narrow pathways cut into the mountain rocks, complete with sheer drops, risky local driving, and an incessant entourage of campervans taking up the width of the roads in summer. This however, makes driving in Corsica thrilling as well as dangerous, and of course there’s those stunning views…

Swimming in Corsica

The beaches are stunning and varied, and some are more popular than others due to access, amentiies and so on. For true beach wilderness head to the Northern shores – Plage de Saleccia is a stunning strip of turquoise waters, tranquil and serene – you can’t drive here but you can sail or kayak etc. There are boats from St Florent.
A good pebble beach close to Porto is Bussaglia. The water is crystal clear, and unlike most places in this part of Corsica there is ample parking. The views out towards the mountains of the Scandola Nature Reserve are stunning. Hire of motorised boats and kayaks is possible as well as sun loungers. There are a couple of good beach bars with good variety of food and drink, including ‘pizza au feu du bois’ – tasty and authentic brick oven pizzas.

Away from the shores and up in the hills and mountains are plenty of clean and beautiful streams and rocky pools (‘vasques’). A stunning and cavernous example is one of the many vasques outside the village of Chisa, in the South East of the island. The clear cool water spills from pool to pool of stone, and is surrounded by smooth sun-baked rocks and maquis on the hillsides (typical herby Mediterranean vegetation). There are lots of vasques in this area and you can’t see them from the road. All are distinguished by informal parking areas at the edge of the narrow road. This particular one can be distinguished by a slightly larger ‘parking’ area on a bend, about a mile from the largest bridge which is at the entrance to Chisa. To get down to the vasques you need to walk down the hill through the maquis for around ten minutes. You should start to hear the water as you climb lower.
Make sure any  much-needed toilet visits are at least 100 metres away from the flow of the water. For natural wonders such as these to remain unspoilt it is important not to contaminate them.

Eating and Drinking in Corsica

Corsica’s most famed local meat produce is its charcuterie. Some particular types are made in winter, so an advantage to visiting in winter is fresh and authentic types of charcuterie specialities. That said, it is delicious in summer also. The pigs’ particular local diet is what gives it its distinctive flavour.
The Italian heritage of the island means that Italian dishes are in abundance. The food is generally reliably delicious and the Corsican’s generally eat very healthily. Expect to regulalrly come across delights such as rich red tomatoes, fragrant olive oil and tasty coarse homemade pesto.
Although not renowned, Corsican wine has apparently improved a great deal since past times, and there are some wonderful ros├ęs and whites to try. 

Walking in Corsica

No one can come to Corsica without walking. Whether it is to see some untouched natural beauty or to get somewhere without losing your precious parking space, you will find yourself walking one way or another. The best way to see most of Corsica’s treasures is to walk, and to walk is one Corsica’s greatest treasures. Some of the most amazing hikes in France are to be found in Corsica. The renowned two-week GR20 and the coast to coast hikes cover the most diverse ground and are an amazing achievement.

Sights and Activities in Corsica

Pink sunset with boats in the harbour
Corsica’s natural sights are many, however particularly interesting sights and activities are Les Calanches – strange and stunning rock formations in the Golfo de Porto (West Coast), the Napoleonic museum (based in Ajaccio in Napoleon’s actual childhood home) and the seaside towns of Bonifacio, Ajaccio, Calvi and Ile Rousse (and more)! For crafty types, the Artisan Craft Trail in the Balange region is a series of workshops producing local goods such as pottery, food, wine etc. A map is available from the tourist offices at Calvi or Ile Rousse, which gives details on where to find the various workshops. Pigna is a wonderful village full of little shops and workshops of various goods including local music, jam, pottery and jewellry.
corsican mountain village with sea in the backgroundLes Calanches can only be seen properly on foot (or boat). A good hour’s walk (there and back) starts from the road between Piana and Porto, at the ‘tete du chien’ (the dog’s head). No – not a British pub (you will find no such thing), this is in fact a rock shaped like a dog’s head. It has a small sign and there is a little parking area to the side. The walk ends with spectacular uninterrupted views of the Scandola Nature Reserve and the chateau fortress (a tall rock with a square flat surface). The walk is easy but does cover some steep and rocky ground.

Hotels in Corsica

Prices are variable depending on how well the hotels are doing. Peak season is very busy and prices can be inflated considerably. It is possible to find a bargain though, especially outside of the most popular towns. Hotel La Vaita in Porto (just up from the coastal area) is a good 3 star hotel. Staff are very friendly and the continental breakfast is excellent.  Camping in Corsica is very popular and there is alot of choice. Camping on the East side is wonderful for waking up to magnificent misty sunrise.

Getting There and Around

There are at least four airports in Corsica. The main town is Ajaccio and most flights will arrive here of the main port town Bastia. Ferries are between 4 and 8 hours long. A night ferry is a good option as it saves money on hotels and doesn’t waste valuable time travelling in the day. The ferries are excellent, clean and with a great restaurant and buffet complete paella, spaghetti Bolognese and other Mediterranean dishes.

The deck-style chairs at the top desk outside are a great option for watching the sunset, and the buffet lounge offers comfy seating to stretch out on for a sleep if you haven’t booked a cabin. Pullman seats are available also (like a big reclining aeroplane seat).

Public transport on the island is very limited, although in the major towns it is slightly better and there are some organised tours to the popular attractions. There is a train which links Bastia and Ajaccio, stopping in the mountains at various places including Vizzavona which has a good adventure park, and there are also various boat trips which can take you to various cominations of rural beaches and coastal sights like les calanches. That said, it is better to hire a car (or bring your own). Driving is not quick or easy but as long as you’re taking it easy and very aware of crazy local drivers tearing around bends you will be fine.  

If you only have a few days, it is best to stay near to your favourite attractions as it takes so long to get anywhere. Another option is to hike the length of the island doing the GR20 (2 weeks). If you are not driving try to stay in a large town like Bastia or Ajaccio to maximise your chances of being able to do organised trips and use public transport.

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved


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