When most people think of France, they probably imagine the hexagonal country mashed in the middle of continental Europe and its stunning capital city Paris. Although this does make up the most populous bulk of the country, France also consists of many overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Tahiti, etc.) as well as one of the largest, most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean Sea: Corsica (”La Corse”).
The French call Corsica ”l’Ile de Beauté” (the island of beauty) and it truly is a place of inspiring landscapes and stunning geography. Unlike the French Riviera which has basically turned into one gigantic strip of unbridled concrete sprawl, the Corsican coastline is still virtually unspoiled, with limited construction allowed only in major cities or very small fishing towns that have been there for centuries. In fact, if you try to build a vacation house too close to the coastline in Corsica, it is actually not an uncommon occurrence for the local Corsican populace to blow it up during the off season. A few suggestions before embarking on a building project in Corsica would include:
- having a Corsican or Italian sounding name
- acquiring a good standing with the local population by helping to “finance” a project of public interest (something more consequential than a public bench).
Although not as well known outside of Europe, Corsica is an extremely popular summer vacation destination for many of the French. So popular, in fact, that you literally need to reserve accommodations in October for the following summer! On top of exorbitant rental prices, there is also the added cost of paying for the high-season Saturday car ferry crossing and also fighting against every other person in France who is driving to their vacation destinations on the same day! However, once you’ve visited the island once, you will quickly see that it’s all worth it.
First of all, despite their penchant for blowing things up, excellent hospitality is actually a question of honor for most Corsicans. Because of the island’s Mediterranean climate, you’re also virtually guaranteed to have sunny weather. Hearty Corsican meats, cheese, fish and wine provide an exquisite gastronomical experience. And, did I also mention that the entire island, with its turquoise beaches, hidden mountain villages, rolling green hills and ancient citadels, is also stunningly beautiful?
Corsicans refer to France as “le continent” (the continent) and visiting French as “du continent” (from the continent). In fact, no true Corsican would ever say that they would willingly be part of France, and there is still an independence movement on the island that occasionally will bomb a deserted town hall or post office in the middle of the night. However, considering the massive amounts of subsidies provided by the French government for new public infrastructure projects and income supplements, it is probably in no Corsican’s interest to actually secede from France. It is also a popular past-time to see how much money can be skimmed from the local tax authorities. In fact, many businesses and restaurants only accept cash, so don’t forget to use that ATM when you see one!
The island itself is a hiker’s paradise. The coastal paths are breathtaking, winding through rocky outcroppings, sandy lagoons and always not far from an ancient Genovese watchtower. The middle of the island consists of a massive mountain chain with stunning alpine landscapes full of rocky spires, goat herders, crystal rivers and ancient bridges. There is also a popular, high altitude hiking path (GR20) that traverses the island from North to South in 15 days with mountain refuges for weary hikers after long days of climbing the Corsican summits.
Because of its mountainous geography, the roads in Corsica are not for the faint-hearted. The main roads are actually quite well maintained, but as soon as you turn into any side road, be prepared for hairpin turns, narrow tunnels, steep inclines and clinging to your side of the road in the hopes that other drivers stay in their lane! Corsicans are also renowned for driving extremely fast, passing everything that moves and tailgating. A Corsican friend actually explained to me that they don’t mind slow tourists, but only the ones that don’t pull over to let them pass. Also, always remember to honk loudly when going around a blind corner on a two-way cliff road that is actually only wide enough for one car…
Corsicans themselves are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met in France. Families have lived on the island for generations and adhere to strict values of honor, tradition, family, religion and hospitality. Ancient tombs line the roadways, speaking of a long past of family rivalries and secret vendettas (imagine Romeo and Juliet). Road signs are in both French and Corsican to help maintain the local language. Churches also ring with traditional Corsican music sung by male acapella groups. The high notes are quite amazing with never ending vocal vibrations!
Bonifacio – On the Southernmost tip of Corsica, despite being a massive tourist-trap, the city of Bonifacio is really worth seeing from a boat. It is a disconcerting vision to observe the ancient houses all huddled together on a cliff that is slowly eroding into the sea. There is also a staircase literally carved into the cliff face apparently used during a past invasion attempt!
GR20 Route Planning Information and Map – This site provides map and planning details for the difficult North/South hiking path that traverses Corsica. Check out some stunning photos of the scenery at the bottom of the page. Hiking boots are required!
For more information on Corsica and France visit http://www.agathoune.com