Travel Guide Europe France Corsica

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Introduction

Corte, Corsica

Corte, Corsica

© All Rights Reserved Rika884

Corsica (Corse in French) is a French island, located southeast of the Mediterranean coastline of southern France and west of mainland Italy. About 300,000 people live on the island, most of them in the bigger cities like the capital Ajaccio.

"Often conquered, never subdued": Corsica has a turbulent history. In the medieval period it was ruled by warring Italian city-states; first Pisa, then Genoa. The island was independent from 1755 before coming under French control in 1768. A separatist movement (re-)emerged in the 20th century, leading to some politically motivated violence. The region now enjoys a special constitutional status within France.

The rugged mountain terrain has deterred industry and large-scale agriculture, and Corsica has suffered comparatively little of the ugly tourist developments that blight other parts of the Med. In fact, Corsican's abundant nature has earned it the nickname île de beauté (island of beauty). It has tourism from France and Italy, but of all the islands in the Med, it's the least-visited by English-speaking tourists. Its main attractions are water-sports (beach, scuba-diving, sailing) and mountain hiking and climbing. The tourist season is fairly narrow, mid-June through August (when booking is essential), although the climate is pleasant May-October. Outside those months many facilities close down, and the mountains become wrapped in clouds and mist.

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Geography

Corsica was formed about 250 million years ago with the uplift of a granite backbone on the western side. About 50 million years ago sedimentary rock was pressed against this granite, forming the schists of the eastern side. It is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean, a "mountain in the sea". It is also the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. It is 183 kilometres long at longest, 83 kilometres wide at widest, has 1,000 kilometres of coastline, more than 200 beaches, and is very mountainous, with Monte Cinto as the highest peak at 2,706 metres and around 120 other summits of more than 2,000 metres. Mountains comprise two-thirds of the island, forming a single chain. Forests make up 20% of the island. About 3,500 km2 of the total surface area of 8,680 km2 is dedicated to nature reserves (Parc naturel régional de Corse), mainly in the interior. Corsica contains the GR20, one of Europe's most notable hiking trails. The island is 90 kilometres from Tuscany in Italy and 170 kilometres from the Côte d'Azur in France. It is separated from Sardinia to the south by the Strait of Bonifacio, which is a minimum of 11 kilometres wide.

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Cities

  • Ajaccio - the capital and chief city of the island, and main port of entry to the southern part. As Napoleon's birthplace, it's well stocked with memorials to the man.
  • Bastia - the main city and port of entry in the north. It has a charming old harbour and citadel. It's also the gateway to Cap Corse, the rugged northern peninsula, which includes small communities such as Canari and Nonza.
  • Bonifacio - at the southern tip of the island, and spectacularly located on cliff tops, this is the port for ferries to and from Sardinia. It's also the access point for Cap Pertusato, the southern tip of Corsica.
  • Calvi - on the north-west coast, this is a major tourist centre and port with ferries to mainland France. There's an old town with a citadel.
  • Figari
  • Propriano

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Sights and Activities

As the island was so often fought over, the main towns were heavily fortified. So they typically contain a walled citadel and old harbour, often pedestrianised, and dotted with restaurants and bars. The finest citadel is Bonifacio; arguably the most charming old harbour is Bastia. Ajaccio as the chief city has less old-world charm but has the best museums and galleries.

Corsica has many walking trails. All require the use of topographical maps, despite usually excellent trail marks. IGN maps are the most detailed, and are similar to Ordnance Survey maps in Britain and Ireland. IGN maps may be found in many of the bigger cities, and at the airports, including Bastia airport. Additionally, you can purchase these maps (more expensively) from the internet ahead of time, and in some specialist map shops around the world.

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Weather

Mountains in Corsica

Mountains in Corsica

© All Rights Reserved Sam I Am

Corsica has a Mediterranean climate with temperatures during the dry and warm summer (June-August) around 27-30 °C and averages lows around or just below 20 °C. Winters from December to February are mostly around 15 °C and nights around 5-7 °C. Most of the precipitation falls from October to March and the average annual amount is about 650 mm. Note that these averages are for coastal Corsica. Temperatures in summer can be much higher inland, though cooler at night. Also, snow in the mountains in winter is possible though not very common.

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Getting There

By Plane

By Car

You can take the car on the ferries (see below).

By Boat

Italy

Mainland France
The Société Nationale Maritime Corse-Mediterranée has a number of daily services between mainland France and the islands of the coast, most notably Corsica. Services run from Marseille, Toulon and Nice to Ajaccio, Propriano, Porto Vecchio and Bastia on Corsica.

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Getting Around

By Train

Chemins de fer de Corse operates a couple of trainlines on Corsica. The main trainroute travels between Bastia and Ajaccio and a branch line runs from Ponte-Leccia to Calvi. The train between Ajaccio and Bastia takes almost four hours and costs €21.60; there are 6 per day Mon-Fri, 5 Saturdays, 2 Sundays, all direct. Between Bastia and Calvi takes about 3 hours and costs €16.40; there are two trains every day of the week, some with a change at Ponte Leccia. Between Ajaccio and Calvi takes 4.5 hours and costs €25.10, with two trains every day, both with a change at Ponte Leccia.

By Car

Car is the simplest way to get around this rugged island, as public transport is limited and the hills are formidable. Many people arrive by ferry and take their own car onto the island. Rental cars are available from airports and ferry ports, but do book ahead. Supermarkets do not generally have petrol stations, so make sure you have a decent reserve before embarking on a longer trip. The roads are often twisty and don't allow high speeds, but the road surface is mostly in good repair even in the mountains - except where, all of a sudden, it isn't. Signposting is good, but you may benefit from Satnav in the towns, as traditional little blue French street signs are hard to read from a moving vehicle. Place names are given in French and Corsican: Corsican activists have diligently painted out the French, but you should have no difficulty recognising the Corsican names.

By Bus

Buses run along the south-west coast from Ajaccio to Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio, taking 3 hours. In July and August these run three times a day, 7 days a week; the rest of the year it's twice a day, Mon-Sat. Along the east coast they run from Porto Vecchio to Bastia, taking 3 hours. They run twice a day, 7 days a week mid-June to mid-Sept, and Mon-Sat the rest of the year. A same-day connection between Bastia and Ajaccio is possible with a two-hour layover at Porto Vecchio. The operator is Rapides Bleues but a more intelligible timetable is posted on the unofficial website Corsica Bus. The cities have buses to their neighbouring mountain villages, but there's no cross-island bus between Ajaccio and Corte and onward to Bastia - take the train.

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Language

The official language is French. However, Corsica has its own native language, Corsican, which is quite close to Italian. It is estimated that up to 50% have conversational knowledge of Corsican, however everyone has a fluent knowledge of French. Italian is also spoken in tourist areas, but travellers should be wary of whom they address in Italian, due to it being seen as a colonial language.

Few of the islanders speak or even understand English, or other major European languages such as German or Spanish, so some knowledge of French (or Italian - to facilitate understanding of Corsican) may be essential to fully appreciate your time here, depending of course on what you want from your visit. At any rate, it will be polite if you start conversations in French; if locals see you making the effort but realise you're struggling, they will generally be willing to speak more slowly, mime or use any English they do know to help you out!

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Eat

Corsican food has French and Italian influences, but also has many unique dishes of its own. The chestnut is one of the island's mainstay foods, and is used in many meals and even desserts. Most of the domesticated pigs on the island are semi-wild, released to forage for food for much of the year, and the local charcuterie reflects this excellent flavour. Typical Corsican charcuterie include lonzu, coppa, ham, figatellu and saucisson made from pig or boar meat. Canistrelli are typical Corsican biscuits which come in many different flavours. Corsica also produces a uniquely flavoured olive oil made from ripe fruits collected under trees. Many villages have small shops where locally-produced food is sold. That said, it may be difficult to find a restaurant that prepares true Corsican dishes, and you may find yourself eating at tourist-oriented pizzerias, which nonetheless serve excellent food.

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Drink

Corsica has a commercial wine industry, and heritage dating back to the Phoenicians. The techniques employed in Corsica have more in common with Italian than French winemaking traditions. The island has an impressive nine appellations d'origine contrôlée (AOCs), and most wines use nielluccio, sciacarello and vermentino grapes.

Corsicans brew a wide selection of local beers. which have a very distinct taste that you won't find anywhere else in France. It's highly recommended to try "Colomba", "Pietra" or "Bière Torre" when visiting.

Corsica even has its own brand of cola, reflecting its independent ways. Don't be surprised if you are asked "Américain ou corse ?" when ordering a cola. Double points for responding "Corsica-Cola, per piacè!"

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Accommodation in Corsica

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Corsica searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Corsica and areas nearby.

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This is version 14. Last edited at 15:24 on Mar 5, 19 by Utrecht. 23 articles link to this page.

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