Travel to Corsica: 10 Things to Do on an Island of Eternal Beauty

Pack your camera, hiking shoes, and bathing suit as there’s plenty to see and things to do in Corsica. Enjoy this striking, sun-kissed isle in the middle of the Tyrrhenean Sea.

In ancient times, the Greeks called this place the “Island of Beauty.” In modern times, the travel expert included it in its Top 10 Most Romantic Destinations in the World. Corsica, which attracts nearly 3 million visitors each year, is the jewel in the sea off the coasts of France and Italy. The number of tourists visiting this island has surpassed those actually living on it ten times over.

It’s admired for its white sand beaches, imposing rock cliffs, beautiful harbour towns and quaint cobblestoned villas. It’d be hard to cover such a fantastic place in just one visit but if you’re coming here for the first time, here are 10 things to do in Corsica you’ll want to put on your priority list.

#1 Enjoy the Warm Waters

Lagoon of Piantarella Corsica

With the perfect Mediterranean weather – hot summers and mild winters – and 1,000 kilometers of stunning coastline, can you resist the lure of the island’s warm, crystal-clear waters? Take your pick:  Swimming, kayaking, windsurfing, boating, fishing, snorkelling, or scuba? The dive sites around Corsica are reputed to be some of the best in Europe. You won’t run out of places to sunbathe, either, as there’s over 1,000 km of coastline around the island with many isolated coves and inlets to discover.

From the west coast, you can rent a boat to sail to the Reserve Naturelle de Scandola, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with amazing 900 meter-tall red cliffs and the chance to catch a glimpse of dolphins, seals and osprey. Or, if you’re in the south, visit the Iles Lavezzi off the port of Bonifacio, a cluster of protected, uninhabited islets with natural pools and endless stretches of sand.  It is beauty in its rawest form.

#2 Explore Bonifacio and the Citadel

Bonifacio town on cliff Corsica island

While in Bonifacio, wander through the charming town with its narrow, cobbled streets, medieval houses, and quaint chapels. Soon you’ll be drawn to the Citadel, a massive fortress perched precariously on a promontory, 200 feet (60 meters) above the harbor. The imposing 9th century monolith was used as a prison during World War II, and its gateway still has an ancient drawbridge straight out of the medieval period. The fort overlooks the Straits of Bonifacio and nearby Sardinia, and all around it is a vertical chalk-white rock face that drops dramatically into the sea.

#3 Go on a Coastal Drive

View on Porto gulf from Capo Rosso Genoese tower

If you have more than a week to spare, why not rent a car and cruise down the Corsica coastal road, which skirts through 900 kilometers of scenic, curvy mountain roads that are soothing to the senses? When on the west coast of Balagne, make sure to stop by the port villages to experience local life and culture. Don’t miss the picturesque Gulf of Porto to admire a Genoan tower sitting atop a seaside pinnacle, or drive through the amazing Les Calanques de Piana to marvel at more of those red-pink-golden granite cliffs (depending on where the sun hits) rising magnificently out of the turquoise sea.

#4 Re-trace Bonaparte’s Roots

Follow in the footsteps of France’s erstwhile emperor Napoleon, who was born in the capital of Ajaccio. You’ll find his ancestral home at the National Museum of the Bonaparte Residence/La Maison Bonaparte along Rue Saint-Charles where he spent his first nine years. The house was ransacked by the Corsican nationalists then requisitioned by the English in the 1790s, but was reclaimed and rebuilt by Napoleon’s mother. The place eventually became a place of pilgrimage for the French revolutionaries. It houses well-preserved mementos of the French General and his family including, reportedly, a glass medallion containing a lock of his hair.

#5 Get Local

Love music? One of the best ways to get to get acquainted with local people and their culture is to listen to their ethnic music. Catch it at the Polyphonic Chants, a series of live vocal and often a capella performances by different groups singing Corsica’s unique tunes. This genre has seen a resurgence in the past couple of decades, and festivals dedicated to this distinct sound happen usually in June and September – often in Balagne. Popular groups include Barbara Furtuna, U Fiatu Muntese, and A Filetta among others.

#6 Go Ancient

Filitosa Corsica

Experience the prehistoric site of Filitosa where mysterious stone heads called dolmens and menhirs – the European version of Easter Island – jut out from the ground. Archaeologists, who date it back to the Neolithic era, say the figures depict primitive warriors who fought the ancient Egyptians.

#7 Take a Hike

Walks are available for everybody, at all levels, from a relaxing stroll to a horrendous 15-day trek through the mountains. Corsica offers more than a hundred peaks to explore with picturesque views of rocky fjords, granite outcroppings and deserted beach coves interspersed with mountaintop villas, citadels, watchtowers, chapels, olive groves, and farmlands with grazing goats and sheep. Where else can you find such diversity? The sights alone would fetch enough gratification for tired, blistered feet. Needless to say, hiking boots and thick, thick socks are in order.

#8 Do the GR-20

Corte Citadel at sunrise

Up for a gruelling expedition through 160 kilometers of rugged terrain? Take the famous Grande Randonnee (GR) 20 route, which is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest and most difficult hiking trails. Reaching altitudes of over 6,000 feet and requiring a couple of weeks to complete, the route meanders through mountains and villages from Calenzana to Conca.  You can cut it in phases and take rest stops in mountain and village camps before heading off to another – or do only short, selected legs along the way. Hands down though, it’s the best and, literally, most exhilarating way to explore the island.

#9 Eat Corsican

Replace those burnt calories from hiking with the culinary delights of the island that simply cannot be ignored. A fusion of French and Italian cuisine, Corsica’s distinct gastronomy blends the flavors of fresh herbs, sausages, charcuterie, Brocciu (goat cheese), honey, wine and chestnuts. Have a sweet tooth? Don’t go near the Boulangerie Galeani or you won’t be able to resist their canistelli (biscuits made with walnuts, almond, lemon and aniseed) and the beignet de brocciu (goat cheese fritters), which have lured and conquered weak-kneed pastry lovers for many decades.

#10 See the Island’s Priceless Treasures

The Musee Fesch/Musee des Beaux-Arts in Ajaccio houses one of France’s finest collections of old masters, including the works of Boticelli, Bellini, Titian, Veronese and Fra Bartolomeo. Outside of the Louvre, this place holds the widest array of Italian paintings in France. The museum was established by Bonaparte’s uncle, and inside the Chapelle Imperiale (Imperial Chapel) lies several members of the General’s family, entombed in the crypt.

Whatever your tastes, Corsica has something to offer every traveler and promises to be a memorable trip. This is definitely one for your bucket list. 


About the author

JD Lara

JD is a former travel writer-producer for TV. Now a work-from-home mom, she lives in a homestead with animals, fruit trees and a vegetable garden. She’d still love to travel but since family and farming have become priorities, she’s content with just armchair traveling via the internet.

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