Corsica Holiday Planning Guide
The island paradise of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea is a mosaic of diverse landscapes from comfortable sandy beaches and steep, narrow paved streets to inhospitable mountains rising up from the pasture. A beach vacation in Corsica offers adventures on and off the sand, including scuba diving, sailing, and hiking. Enjoy a rugged mountain adventure by sightseeing along the famous Grande Randonnée (GR) 20 path. For an intense view of the landscape and its jagged coastline from the water, rent a boat and travel around the island or charter a cruise.
Places to Visit on CorsicaAjaccio
: The capital city of Corsica has everything you want in a seaside stop. Add it to your Corsica itinerary and fill your stay with swimming at beaches, boating among the coves that dot the coastline, sitting at sidewalk cafes, or clubbing. History buffs will be excited by the many sites exploring the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born here in 1769.Bonifacio
: Perched on top of white limestone cliffs, this port town situated at the southernmost tip of Corsica holds a mix of old and new sure to interest travelers. Explore the kiosks and cafes in the bustling harbor, take a boat cruise, or explore the alleys of the Vieille Ville (old town).Porto-Vecchio
: This glamorous bayside city is often referred to as the Corsican St. Tropez, and rightfully so: it is a favorite Corsica holiday destination for the rich and famous. Enjoy shopping at luxury boutiques, strolling along narrow back alleys, and exploring the ruins of the citadel. Calvi
: One of the most popular tourist destinations in Corsica, this city offers a prime combination of excitement and relaxation, with a crescent-shaped white sand beach framing the bay and a medieval citadel waiting to be explored. Saint Florent
: Head to Saint Florent if you're looking for a more low-key trip to Corsica. This seaside village has a more relaxed feel than some of the busier resort cities nearby and offers water sports, beaches, and proximity to vineyards. Corte
: This mountain town has a slightly different flavor than other Corsican cities: situated where rivers meet, it is a favorite destination for travelers looking to take advantage of its stunning natural surroundings. Bastia
: A visit to Corsica's second-largest city will give you an authentic picture of modern-day life on the island, with opportunities to visit the old city, shop and dine in lively neighborhoods, and take in views of the sea.
Things to Do on Corsica
Popular Corsica Tourist AttractionsPlage de Palombaggia
: This 2 km (1.2 mi) stretch of golden sandy beach is surrounded by pink granite. This family-friendly spot has lifeguards and rental stations for a variety of activities to try out on the clear blue water. Iles Lavezzi
: This archipelago of uninhabited granite islands is a haven for outdoorsy travelers: take a boat cruise to the reserve, enjoy a hike, or go snorkeling or diving to observe a variety of fish.Bonifacio Citadel
: Often referred to as Haute Ville (or upper town), Bonifacio Citadel features narrow, decorated alleyways where local artisans sell their wares. Explore these streets, then stop in a restaurant or cafe with outdoor seating overlooking steep white cliffs to the sea beyond. Citadelle de Calvi
: Built in 1450 by Genoese governors, this fortress resisted many attacks over the years. A visit here is a great way to add some history, and yet another stunning view of the Mediterranean, to your Corsica vacation. Santa Giulia Beach
: The crystal-clear waters of this popular beach are warm and shallow, and the sand is clean. Aiguilles de Bavella (Bavella Needles)
: Seven high peaks inspired the name of this mountain range, which attracts visitors with rock climbing and hiking through pine forests and up rocky mountainsides. Plage de Saleccia
: This secluded beach is well worth the extra effort it takes to get there: a hike, motorcycle, or even horseback ride down the 10 km (6.2 mi) dirt road will bring you to an uncrowded, pristine beach flanked by dunes. Escalier du Roi d'Aragon (King Aragon Steps)
: Add some exercise to your Corsica holiday by descending these 187 steps carved into a stone cliff. They deposit you onto a clear blue grotto, where you can take a swim before climbing back up to the city. Les Calanche Cliffs
: Rock formations sculpted by the sea stun visitors with vibrant hues of red, pink, and orange and uncanny shapes, such as the famous “Tête de Chien” (Dog’s Head). Nearby Cosquer Cave yields still more animal forms, its walls exhibiting ancient art from the Paleolithic era. Chapelle de Notre Dame de la Serra
: Take a one-hour walk (or a short car ride) up the hill from Calvi to visit this small chapel that boasts sweeping views of the valley and water, plus a shot at lasting happiness: local legend says that bringing your partner here will ensure a good future together.
Planning a Corsica Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on Corsica with Kids
While the upscale reputation of Corsica tourism doesn’t immediately bring to mind a family vacation, the area boasts many features that kids will enjoy, especially if they love the outdoors. Porto-Vecchio
has many picturesque beaches with shallow, warm water and soft sand perfect for kids. Visit Bonifacio
, where children and adults alike can take in the sights of the busy harbor, shop, or explore the nature on nearby islands. Adding Corte
to your Corsica itinerary will give you a fantastic home base for mountain exploring and outdoor activities.
Things to Do on Corsica with Kids
Corsica is known for its beaches, so you will definitely want to pack up the kids for a day (or more) of lounging on soft sand and splashing in sparkling warm water. A few beaches especially good for young children due to their shallow swimming areas include Santa Giulia Beach
, Plage du Petit Sperone
, and Plage de Palombaggia
, which has a lifeguard on duty. Try a new water sport at one of the many shops offering rentals and lessons at the beaches: DIVING CALVI A Piaghja
for example, is a favorite of families looking to explore underwater wildlife. The small archipelago of Iles Lavezzi
offers both land and water activities; kids will love exploring the islands and learning about life under the sea with snorkeling. Many boat cruises service the area, which can provide a relaxing break: a popular route is to view the intriguing, animal-shaped forms of Les Calanche Cliffs
from a boat on the bay.
Tips for a Family Vacation on Corsica
Try to plan your Corsica itinerary to include a mixture of exciting activities, but don’t forget to add in more low-key choices to let the family recover from all that fun, such as lying on the beach or taking a scenic boat tour. Beaches, especially ones that cater to families, tend to get crowded, so try to get there early--or take a sunset dip after most people have gone home. While the island has many hiking routes that will give you fantastic mountain, valley, or seaside experiences, make sure to check out how strenuous the hike is before bringing little ones. Renting a car for you and your family is highly recommended for your Corsica tour, as public transportation is only viable in larger cities.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on Corsica
Cuisine of Corsica
Corsica keeps up its luxurious reputation in its legendary cuisine. Food made in Corsica is largely influenced by geography and history: seafood from the Mediterranean is often center-stage, and Italian and French influences combine to make for unforgettable dining experiences on your Corsica holiday. Pasta, gnocchi, and soup are important to Corsican cuisine, as are cheeses traditionally made of goat and sheep milk. The Genoese brought widespread cultivation of chestnut trees to the island and the nuts remain an essential ingredient today, often ground into powder to make dishes such as "pulenta" (similar to cornmeal polenta, with a smoky, nutty flavor). Local meats are prized for their taste, which is attributed to feeding livestock a diet of chestnuts and native herbs. Adventurous foodies visiting Porto-Vecchio
might try "corda," a dish made with onions and goat or sheep intestines. The island’s charcuterie is famous, so be sure to try some local ham or sausage on your tour of Corsica. Wine is also an integral part of the dining experience, and Corsica boasts eight distinct denominations of wine-making regions designated by the French government.
Shopping in Corsica
You will be able to choose from a wide range of shopping experiences on your Corsica holiday, from local markets to luxury boutiques. With food and dining a central part of life on the island, a good place to start your shopping would be a local market or one of many epiceries, specialty grocery stores. Pick up some of the famed charcuterie, fresh cheese, honey, olive oil, and bread and have a picnic, or buy some chestnut flour to bring home as a delicious memento of your trip to Corsica. Most towns have outdoor markets. Visit Place Foch
for a quintessential Corsica market experience, where you will see piles of fresh fish, buckets of olives, and sausages strung up by the dozen. One popular grocery is Annie Traiteur
, where you can sample everything from octopus salad to fresh fruits grown on the island.
Food aside, most tourist-friendly seaside towns have many shops catering to visitors, selling less perishable souvenirs and local crafts. Knives, pottery, and leather goods are especially popular: for a real treat, check out Volubilis
, a treasure trove filled with crafts made by local artisans, including intricately woven baskets. The island famous for glamour has, of course, quite a few high-end shops offering clothing from French and Italian designers, mostly located in Ajaccio
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Corsica
History of Corsica
Corsica’s island location in the center of the Mediterranean has made it a strategic military stronghold for many nations and empires over the centuries, giving it layers of history that add intrigue to Corsica tourism. The island’s culture is a blend of native Corsican, Italian, French, and other influences. Phoenicians were the first to colonize the island, and Greek invaders established the foothold of Aleria
in 566 BCE. They were expelled by Etruscans and Carthaginians, who banded together to dominate the island. During the Punic Wars, in 237 BCE, the Roman Republic took over the island and while a few Etruscan settlements remained, the Romans colonized the remainder and instituted Latin as the language there.
During the decline of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th and early 6th century CE, the strategically located island was repeatedly attacked and raided by Vandals. This threat, combined with malaria in coastal areas, pushed most settlements into the mountains. For the rest of the Middle Ages, the island went through occupations by the Western Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Saracens, the papacy, and various Italian republics, punctuated by periods of raiding by peoples coming from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
In 1217 CE, the island got some relief from fighting when it was annexed to the Papal States. Pisa first controlled it, but by 1284 it fell to Genoa, which ruled it for the next 500 years, with brief occupations by Aragon (1286-1434) and France (1553-1559). During this time, the Genoese built a series of citadels, many of which still stand today. Add places like Citadelle de Calvi
or Citadelle Saint Florent
to your Corsica itinerary for a bit of history and some dramatic views.
Dissatisfied with their Genoese occupiers, Corsicans rebelled against them for 25 years, eventually declaring their independence in 1755. They adopted la Tête de Maure (Moor's Head) as a symbol of the island's liberation--look for the image of a black head with a white bandanna and earring, still visible in Corsica today.
Unfortunately for the Corsicans, their newfound independence came to an end when the Genoese ceded Corsica to France in 1768, first in a secret sale and later in a public treaty. French king Louis XV's army quickly quashed the rebellion in 1769. Since then, the island has remained under French control, except for periods under English (1784-96) and German/Italian rule (1940-43).
A small group of Corsicans continued to fight for independence from French rule into the 20th century. In 1998, Corsica's prefect was assassinated, and in 2001 the French gave the island more autonomy with the condition that violent uprisings would stop. Although France's high court overturned the movement, claiming it was a threat to France's unity, Corsicans did retain the right to teach the Corsican language, Corsu, in public schools.
Landscape of Corsica
Sometimes called the “mountain in the sea,” Corsica’s landscape is a mixture of pristine seaside and dramatic peaks. Different geographic features provide a diverse array of things to do in Corsica, especially if you like the outdoors. Designated a World Heritage Site, Nature Reserve of Scandola
will show you the best of the Corsican coastline. A boat tour here lets you take in views of bright red cliffs, Roman ruins, clear blue grottoes, and a diverse array of plant and animal life. To see even more dramatic, steep cliffs dropping off into the sea, charter a boat to tour Grotte di Bonifacio
, where sculpted limestone caves and cliffs reveal a system of clear blue lagoons. The cluster of islands known as Iles Lavezzi
offers even more nature to explore, with rock formations in all shapes and water full of fish for snorkelers and divers. Gain some elevation on your Corsica vacation by climbing or hiking the peaks of Aiguilles de Bavella (Bavella Needles)
, which change color depending on the time of day. Alternatively, hop in a wetsuit and take a guided tour down a canyon at Aqa-canyon
, where a guide will lead your group on a day of fun sliding down rock slides, swimming in natural rock pools, and rappelling down waterfalls. Of course, don't forget to relax and splash around at the most iconic of Corsica's landscape features, its many unspoiled beaches.
Holidays & Festivals on Corsica
As a part of France, all major national holidays are observed in Corsica, including Easter, May Day (May 1), and Bastille Day (July 14). Corsica also has a few notable festivals unique to the island that you might consider when planning things to do on Corsica. Over 40 country fairs take place over the course of the whole year, with the exception of January and October. Arts and cultural festivals are concentrated in the summer months, when most tourists visit the island. Art lovers might go to Sant'Antonio in June for the International Contemporary Arts Workshops, and those who like music will be interested in Patrimonio
's Guitar Festival, held every July and hosting guitarists from around the world. Learn more about history on your trip to Corsica by visiting during a traditional festival, such as Festa Antica, a Roman-influenced celebration held in August and focused on the Roman settlement of Aleria
, complete with fireworks and costumes. In May, the town of Sartene
hosts the Carnival of Corsica: four days of street theater, concerts of Corsican music, markets, and night shopping. On Good Friday the town hosts the Catenacciu, a three-hour religious procession that draws pilgrims from all over Corsica.
Corsica Travel Tips
Climate of Corsica
Corsica has a classic Mediterranean climate, with winds and mountains influencing mild, sunny weather. You will enjoy a lot of sunshine on your Corsica holiday: one of the sunniest locations in the area, it boasts an average of 7.5 hours of sun a day. The most popular time to visit is summer (May-October), when temperatures average a comfortable 25-35 C (75-95 F). While May has a lot of sunshine, it takes about a month for the sea to warm up to an enjoyable temperature; once it does, it remains warm into mid-October. Temperatures can be cooler in the mountains, so be sure to pack layers if your Corsica itinerary has you heading uphill.
Transportation on Corsica
A car is the best way to get around on your tour of Corsica. Public transportation is limited, and service is only provided to larger cities, so you will not be able to access many of Corsica's tourist attractions through that mode of transit. Some buses do exist, although they generally make just one trip a day and don’t run on Sunday. The train affords beautiful views of the passing landscape, although it only goes between Bastia and Ajaccio, with routes that go to Calvi and Île Rousse. Getting around within cities, it is easiest to go on foot, or rent a bike or scooter from one of the many rental stores catering to visitors. The island is an international destination for boating, but if you don’t have your own many companies charter them or provide boat tours.
Language of Corsica
French is the official language of Corsica, and it will be helpful if you study up on a few key phrases for your trip. While Corsicans are generally laid-back, they do appreciate a little effort from tourists, so be sure to use your manners and greet people with a polite “Monsieur,” “Madame,” or “Mademoiselle.” Due to the island’s mixed culture, many Corsicans are bilingual or even trilingual, the most common languages after French being the native Corsu and Italian. You will most likely hear Corsu spoken when stopping through more rural areas on your Corsica tour.