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Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily, Sardinia, and Cyprus). It is located west of Italy, southeast of France, and north of the island of Sardinia. Although Corsica is considered part of France, it still has slightly more power than other departments in the country and with some essential differences including its language and culture.
Corsica is made up of two departments: Corse-du-Sud (department number 2A) and Haute-Corse (department number 2B). The region as a whole has a population of 281,000 (approximate in January 2007). Ajaccio is the capital of the region and is located in Corse-du-Sud.
The island has a rich history including hundreds of years of turbulence and foreign rule and it was only in 1768 that Corsica fell into French hands.
Although French is the official language and is spoken by everybody, you will also hear Corsican which is close to Italian spoken everywhere, particularly in the villages.
Corsica is renowned for its charcuterie, including the smoked sausage and the ham made from wild boar. Other traditional foods include Corsican soup with beans, meat and vegetables, small brown trout from the mountain rivers, game - including wild boar; lamb, goat, veal; beans and lentils and pulenta - a chestnut flour porridge.
Cheeses are made from sheep's milk and include Brocciu, a soft white cheese as well as more mature cheeses. Deserts and pastries are memorable and include the famous 'fiadona' made with the Brocciu cheese.
Why you should visit Corsica for your next holiday in France
The islands sheer warmth and beauty attracts many tourists each year and the summer months can get quiet busy. Not far from the glitzy and commercialised Riviera, Corsica still remains unspoiled and unchanged over the years, which only makes it more endearing. Over 1000kms of coastline, including 800 beaches are at your fingertips with little coves waiting to be explored. Further inland, the island is more rugged in appearance with fabulous mountains and forest areas.
The seas are ideal for swimming, snorkelling, sailing and windsurfing. If you like walking then the island has everything from easy strolls to challenging mountain treks. There is an intricate network of ancient footpaths and mule paths, criss-crossing the whole island linking valley with valley and making Corsica a walker's paradise. Horse riding is popular on the old mule trails as are canoeing and fishing on the rivers and streams.
The climate in Corsica varies greatly depending on the altitude. The wild flowers first appear in February and snow can be seen on the highest mountain tops until late spring. From sea level to about 1500 feet, the climate and vegetation is typically Mediterranean, with hot dry summers and mild winters. Between 1,500 and 4,500 feet, the climate is similar but a little cooler the higher one goes. Above 4,500 feet, an alpine climate prevails, the sun is hot in summer, but the nights are cool, and in winter there is snow from September to May with skiing possible in many places.
The island has an average of greater than 2700 hours of sunshine per year and the average sea temperature in the summer is 24 °C.
What to see in Corsica
La Balagna, once called ‘The Garden of Corsica’, is a fertile area of hills and valleys, bounded by the sea to the north and the high mountains to the south. The valleys are covered by olives, vines, fruit and citrus trees. Flocks of milking sheep graze the valleys and their milk is used in the production of Roquefort and local cheeses.
The main town of Calvi - a small port dominated by its ancient citadel, claims to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and it was during the siege of Calvi that Nelson lost an eye.
Saint Florent is a small sheltered fishing port with good beaches and a citadel. It is an excellent centre to explore this area as well as the west coast of the Cap. In high season it is possible to take a ferry from Saint Florent to the beaches of the Desert des Agriates.
The drive around Cap Corse is often slow and tortuous, but the stunningly varied scenery is well worth the effort. Monte Stello is the highest point at about 3,000 feet. The best views can be seen driving in an anti clockwise direction down the west coast which gives wonderful views of the mountains of Haute Corse as you drive south with villages like Nonza perched high above the sea. Centuri Port, in the northwest, has a distinctly Cornish air, and serves very good fish and lobster in its restaurants. Macinaggio, on the northeast side, contrasts strongly with Centuri. It has a modern marina providing shelter for many large yachts.
The lush area of Castagniccia, with its soft chestnut-covered hills and deep valleys, was once the richest in Corsica, with its huge crop of chestnuts providing flour. Chestnuts were also used to feed pigs which were processed into sausages and hams. Because of its dense covering of vegetation, this area is always fresh and green, with no lack of water.
The contrast between this area and the rest of the island is marked and evidenced in the shape of the land and its architecture. Villages with slate-roofed houses are draped along the sides of the hills. The Castagniccia comes close to the sea at Moriani, and from here to Bastia the villages of the Casinca hang on the mountainside overlooking the oriental plain and the sea.
Dominated by its citadel, Corte was once the capital of the island, and is the seat of Corsica's University. The old town, with its four or five storey houses, is fascinating to explore. Corte is a good base for walkers. There is the Tavignano valley, accessible only by foot; the Gorge of the Restonica, Lac de Melo and Lac de Capitello; and further south Monte d'Oro, the Forest of Vizzavona and the Cascade des Anglais.
The mountainous heart of the island is divided up into many distinctive areas, but the Niolo is perhaps the most dramatic. It is a fertile basin at about 2,700 feet above sea level and ringed by the high mountains of Corsica including Monte Cinto (8,800 feet) and Paglia d'Orba.
The scenery along the west coast from Girolata to Cargese is stunning, with red granite cliffs dropping dramatically into the sea and few accessible beaches. Porto is probably the most photographed beach on the island, and is beautiful. Inland from Porto, the gorge of the Spelunca, a very deeply cut gorge with pink and green sheer granite slides, is one of the most spectacular sights on the island.
The elegant town of Ajaccoi, the birthplace of Napoleon, and capital of the island is reminiscent of the resorts of the Cote d'Azur. The Gulf of Ajaccio is beautiful, culminating on the northern side with the Iles Sanguinaires. To the south there are lovely sandy beaches and a well developed tourist industry with Porticcio being one of the main holiday resorts of the area.
The Gulf of Valinco is beautiful and there are a wealth of sandy beaches from Porto Pollo on its northern tip to the little resort and fishing port of Campo Moro a pretty little village which time has left behind.
Bonifacio is a beautifully restored old town, magnificently situated on its limestone promontory looking out towards the Island of Sardinia. Boat excursions around the limestone cliffs and caves, or to Sardinia, are possible. Just a short drive from Bonifacio are some magnificent beaches and a spectacular golf course.
Porto-Vecchio is situated at the heart of a vast gulf with many beautiful beaches. The town of Porto-Vecchio was built in 1539 to complete the defence system of the island and its fortress origins are evident. Inland there are cork-oak forests. The Ospedale Mountains and the dramatic Col de Bavella are within easy reach of Porto-Vecchio.
How to get to Corsica
Corsica has good air connections to France and most other European countries. There are direct flights from London Gatwick to Corsica with British Airways.
The fast ferry to Corsica runs from Nice and has a crossing time of about 3 hours. There are also regular ferries from Marseille and Toulon but these take between 7 and 12 hours. The journey to Nice is approximately 1300km from Calais and will take around 11 hours.