It’s the birthplace of both Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte and Italian explorer Christopher Colombus who did most of his land-claiming under the flag of the Spanish Empire. Confused? That’s Corsica – an island in the Mediterranean Sea that was once Genoan (now Italy), briefly independent, and is now French.
Corsica lies closer to Italy than to France, just north of the Italian island Sardinia. But in 1769 the island nation was conquered by France and it’s been French ever since, though they do have their own regional dialect: Corsu. Napoleon was born that same year, 1769 – perhaps that’s what gave him the idea to go off and conquer the world.
These days Corsica is best known for its 200 beaches. It’s a mountainous island – the most mountainous in the Mediterranean and snow can stay on the highest peaks into July – and was once a volcano. A line of mountains runs down the middle of the island and takes up two-thirds of the land. These slopes together with the warm climate have made Corsica an excellent wine-growing island for around 3,000 years.
Ajaccio is the main city in Corsica and Bastia the next biggest. The northern town of Calvi claims Colombus as its own, while the Bonaparte family house in Ajaccio is now a museum.
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If you like the bustle and energy of busy resorts and ports head to Ajaccio and Calvi. Calvi has it all: beaches, an historic citadel, festivals and more. Ajaccio’s harbor is full of yachts and ferries from the south of France, and apartment buildings climb the hill alongside the narrow streets of the old town. Bastia is the main port town of the island.
For somewhere quieter head to Cap Corse, a 25 mile (40 km) long peninsula at the north of the island where the island’s fishing industry was traditionally based; Bastia sits at its base. For more traditional culture and a feel for the island as more than a busy resort, head inland to Corte. Here’s where you’ll find Corsica’s history as the past inhabitants did not live on the coast, which was vulnerable to invasion, but lived safely up here on the mountain slopes.
If you like walking, Corsica has Europe’s most challenging long-distance trail, the GR20 (Grand Randonnee). For 125 miles (200 km) the trail crosses the mountains and passes through lush forests, giving fabulous views of the coastline along the way. By day you can swim in alpine lakes and by night snuggle up in one of the gîtes d’etapes or mountain refuges.