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#04.01

Destinations

Corsica, our secret island…

Par Kareen Perrin-Debock

Bonifacio2

 

From the corner of your eye sitting at a table in a café, with the tip of your toe on the beach, or even in the train or plane, one way or another during your holidays you're going to come across the tabloid press. And like every year, you'll be ravished by the turquoise blue waters Yannick Noah baths in, the white sandy beaches Laetitia Casta walks on, or the natural beauty of the shores in the background behind a bare breasted Claire Chazal. Once again, this summer, like every other year for the past ten years, the who's who of French celebrities will conduct a friendly takeover of the island of Corsica. For the local Tourism Office, seemingly reluctant to any sort of effort, these stolen photos in magazines are worth as much as any advertisement campaign, to the point that the most «VIP friendly» places, such as region of Porto-Vecchio, Bonifacio and Calvi, are all but sold out from February onwards. Thus, to take advantage of the island without getting too excited against your fellow human beings, forget the month of August and plan to visit off season to discover some confidential and protected locations. But shhh! Make sure you don't tell anyone; secrets such as these can only be passed on by word of mouth, and from one generation to the next…!

Bonifacio-4

Cap Corse, where the mountains plunge into the sea…

A wise alternative to the crowds spread out along the beaches in the south of the island is to explore the north, particularly the area of Cap Corse. This peninsula extends northwards just a stone's throw from Bastia, a natural entry port to the region, easily accessible from the continent thanks to ferries and other high speed ships. The mountainous terrain here is often described as «an island within an island,» populated by shepherds and fishermen, its lush green Mediterranean finger pointing towards Italy and the Gulf of Genoa. In this region, the Genoese towers, erected to protect the population from barbarian incursions, provide a remarkable vantage point on a deep blue sea. The succession of fishing hamlets along the Cap are perched on the heights above the shore, perfectly in balance, such as Nonza, which is famous for its black sandy beach, as well as Centuri, two villages in one, since one part is situated on the seaside whereas the other sits overlooking from above, surveying the waves. Covered in low vegetation, the Cap's natural surroundings remain largely uncontaminated, the cliffs above the eastern coast offering stupendous vantage points. Along the countless corners and bends in the road, look up to admire the magnificent villas from the early 1900s built by the so-called 'Américains', traders and seamen on this island of highlanders who emigrated to the Americas before returning to their homeland with their pockets full of dollars, and had themselves built these large Hollywood styled villas.

Plage-de-Santa-Giulia

Our choices: Your first stop will take you towards the beautiful village of Erbalunga, which appears to be set on the sea. Stay at the Hotel Demeure Castel Brando and dine 50 metres further down at the Restaurant Le Pirate. www.castelbrando.com

Where the crowds and desert meet

The touristic village of Saint-Florent is nestled at the foot of the Cap. And since both tourists and VIPS, for the most part, have good taste, the village and its beaches are naturally magnificent. But we need to push a little further on. Only a few kilometres away is the Désert des Agriates, a true paradise that is accessible by boat. Covering nearly 16,000 hectares swept by the wind and stifling with heat, the Agriates desert is an immense arid limestone landscape. This uppermost part of Corsica, otherwise known as the island's «attic,» has seen some changes: no dwellings or civilisations, just rocks and grazing vegetation as far as the eye can see. There's virtually nothing to one's gaze, aside from the sublime desert landscapes. A single road, the D81, crosses this virgin space. It offers a view of the highest points in the desert, although it is at times transformed into a series of tracks which reach the northern coastline of Agriates. A boat is thus the best way to discover this out of the way place.

Our choices: Saint Florent at times reminds one of Saint-Tropez, with its terraces and shaded spots. And so accommodations are expensive and taken by storm. The problem is that the town is isolated, which means there are very few alternatives. Try staying on the Cap for greater authenticity, or move a little further away and make reservations, for instance, at the Case Latine, a small luxury hotel in the village of Lama. www.caselatine.com

Who says the Corsicans aren't hospitable?

We think of Corsicans as taciturn, rough and not always very welcoming. That's not knowing them at all! When it pleases them and at their leisure, they can be the most hospitable people in the world, even going well out of their way to have you discover their secret hideaways. Assailled by tourists over a short span of just 2 months, when the busy season is going full swing they often have a tendency to close themselves into a cocoon. By planning your trip in June or September, you'll also get a chance to discover the landscape without the crowds, and feel the warmth of the people.

Rocks, pine trees and streams, discover the inner Corsica…

Unless one is truly blind, it's impossible to escape the ubiquitous peaks of the island's interior, which enclose the renowned GR20. This hiking trail crossing the island from northwest to southeast is the eldorado of the motivated, well heeled trekkers. Considering the change in altitude and length of its 15 stages, this is no amateur hike, and newbies to the sport can easily end up in an infirmary!

The mountains in Corsica owe their reputation to the diversity of the landscape: forests of Corsican pine and beech trees, granitic lunar landscapes, windy ridges, waterfalls, glacial lakes, scrubland, plateaus, bogs, snow-capped peaks… A unique playground for extreme sports enthusiasts. The GR20 trail is also for those simply seeking a peaceful environment where nature reigns supreme, since it crosses only three hamlets. As for non sports fans, they can be content discovering the island's interior at the wheel, along the numerous sinuous and marvellously scenic routes winding their way through a myriad of small valleys. In fact, a car is the best way to head off and explore regions such as Castagniccia or Zonza, with their villages perched in the mountains.

Lac-de-Nino

Our choices:

Renowned for its sharp needle peaked stones, Bavella has all the charm of a mountain hermitage and is a wonder to behold, once you finally arrive after hundreds of turns. Yet the sea is just a few kilometres to the east. In terms of lodging, the village has a rather basic guesthouse, and to find something a little more comfortable it's best to push on up to Zonza (www.hotel-zonza.com). Breakfast, however, can be a delightful experience at the village's two mountain inns (www.auberge-bavella.com).

B&Bs, nowhere in sight!

Although Corsica is experiencing a tourism boom without precedent, it still has a big problem with lodgings. The majority of hotels are always just a tad antiquated, and are right out of the '70s, whereas the more becoming establishments are booked as much as a year in advance. Unfortunately, guesthouses are often devoid of luxuries, and the fashion of bed and breakfasts doesn't appear to have caught on yet on the island, aside from a few courageous proprietors who have embarked on this adventure. But it's still a far cry from the situation in Provence or in the Lubéron region, in terms of services offered. And yet, with the many sublime traditional houses of the interior and seaside villas, the potential is enormous! What will it take for the island's residents to become aware of the fact that luxury and quality are essential values, including when attracting mass tourism?

The deep south

At the extreme southern end of the island, with Sardinia only 12 km away, the «Corsican Gibraltar» is a pleasant and enriching destination, albeit very popular with tourists. Unfortunately, you wouldn't want to even consider it for the summer, unless you want to spend hours in traffic jams or have to jostle for a spot to lay down your towel on the beach! Bonifacio and its surroundings are so stunning they're well worth a trip to Corsica just by themselves. In the north, Porto-Vecchio and its crystal clear coves; in the south, Sartène and its uncontaminated shores preserved by the Conservatoire du Littoral. The city of Bonifacio owes much of its beauty and notoriety to the extraordinary marine site on which it is built, a narrow deep fjord surrounded by pristine cliffs. A true wonder. Jus off shore, the Lavezzi archipelago is a paradise lying between the sky and the sea, and is best explored by renting a speedboat from the beach at Piantarella.

Lavezzi-Islands

Our choices:

The Grand Hôtel de Cala Rossa, located north of Porto-Vecchio and 30 kilometres from Bonifacio, is the best hotel on the island. Its comfortable rooms will satisfy enthusiasts of fine decor, whereas the beach and terraces shaded by magnificent stone pines provide a dreamy relaxing setting after pacing along Corsica's winding roads. Amenities include a magnificent spa and reputable restaurant. www.hotel-calarossa.com. As for beaches, the choice is truly exceptional, but we especially recommend La Rondinara, Palombaggia and Santa Giulia, all three of which are situated in a gorgeous setting.

France-Rondinara

 

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