Ancient citadel on a rock in Corte, Corsica

Corsica: Rugged landscapes and timeless charm

Whether exploring ancient citadels, savouring local cuisine or soaking up dramatic scenery, the Mediterranean island of Corsica promises authenticity and diversity

by Ros Woodham
Words and photos Ros Woodham

Known for its stunning contrasts, the Corsican landscape comprises a mix of lush valleys, majestic mountains, pristine beaches and ancient forests. Two-thirds of the island is a crumpled mass of granite peaks and valleys formed 250 million years ago. The terrain is therefore often rugged and is criss-crossed with narrow, winding roads that offer breathtaking views. Corsica has been ‘on the list’ for many years and, given its diverse landscape and short driving days, it seemed like the perfect destination for a summer family adventure.

Getting there

The island has four airports – Calvi and Bastia in the north, and Figaro-Sud Corse and Ajaccio in the south – which connect it, year-round, with France and other major European cities. As we were travelling from Spain and intended to tour extensively during our stay, the best option was to take our 4×4 on the ferry from Barcelona, first, to the Italian island of Sardinia, and then on to Corsica. 

After a twelve-hour night crossing, the ferry docked around lunchtime in Porto Torres on the northern coast of Sardinia. We then had a few hours to reach Santa Teresa Gallura to catch the second ferry to Corsica. The road was by no means direct, so we were able to take in plenty of Sardinia’s rolling pastures and lush vegetation. A hilltop restaurant provided a break, with an incredible sea view and some fantastic Italian pizza – there really is no other quite like it! A final dash through the quaint backstreets of Santa Teresa Gallura led us to a short queue for the ferry. 

Pretty harbour of Bonifacio with ancient citadel in the background

Arriving at Bonifacio

With the vehicle stowed in the car deck, we took our places up top for the one-hour trip across the Strait of Bonifacio. Immediately we could see the impressive towering limestone cliffs of Corsica’s south coast growing nearer. Natural erosion has carved incredible formations into the rocks and left much of the medieval clifftop architecture hanging over the edge. The citadel of Bonifacio is an imposing and majestic sight. In contrast, the town’s natural harbour, filled with elegant yachts and surrounded by vibrant buildings, is a picturesque setting. 

We took the tourist train from the harbour up into the medieval streets of the citadel, a jumble of cobbled streets and ancient buildings full of boutique stores, restaurants and clifftop terraces, setting the scene for the next seven days’ adventuring.

Language and culture

Although Corsica is now a French island, its history is a blend of different influences from various civilisations, including ancient Greeks, Romans and medieval powers like the Genoese, whose strong presence has had a lasting impact on the language, culture and, most notably, place names. The Corsican language, known as Corsu or Lingua Corsa, is similar to the dialects of central Italy and remains a vital component of the island’s identity, alongside French.

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