Corsica, by breathtaking and bumpy train
Hotel A Pasturelli, one of the only hotels in this remote and mostly residential mountain town, offers large well-appointed rooms and a very up-market restaurant with spectacular views from the balcony. There is also a more casual patio café out front that serves as a comfortable, neighbourhood gathering place for locals and visitors. You can sit and sip a glass of wine from the impressive wine list or enjoy your morning coffee while watching the neighbours play boule -- a traditional French game of tossing heavy metal balls as close to a smaller ball as possible across the street. Just be mindful when ordering a cheese plate. Corsica, along with its southern neighbour Sardinia, specializes in casu marzu, a pungent, sheep’s milk cheese, aged for 10 years and intentionally infested with maggots. If you are brave enough to sample this delicacy, be prepared to swallow a few living or dead maggots (depending on the cheese) and don’t be alarmed if your mouth goes numb for a few minutes after you eat it.
To see some of the most beautiful and quaint parts of the Corsica, you will need to head into the mountainous middle of the island. But do not forget your bathing suit.
It is about a two-hour train ride from L’Ile Rousse to Corte, Corsica’s physical and historical centre. The route takes passengers though tunnels and over bridges, past roaming cows and pigs, and across some of Europe’s most striking countryside. The landscape changes from sultry seaside to lush mountains, covered with olive groves and chestnut trees.
Corte lies at the bottom of the Tavignanu and Restonica river-valleys, where fresh water flows into cool clear granite pools and waterfalls. This area is also famous for its hiking and walking trails, especially the challenging 180km GR20 trail that stretches across the island,
There are a range of hotels to choose from in town, and the many campsites are an affordable option, for around 20 euros a night.
In recent years, Chemins de fer de Corse, Corsica’s regional rail network, has been upgrading the routes, aiming to even out the notoriously bumpy tracks for a smoother ride and to reduce travel time.
Many of the Michelines, the1940s train cars that were still widely in use until a couple of years ago, are being replaced by a new fleet of modern air-conditioned ones, but the adorable old rolling stock are still used along some parts of the route and are brought out each year to the delight of train enthusiasts.
You can buy individual tickets at each station along the route, or purchase a weeklong pass for travel along the Ligurian Sea for about 50 euros.
It takes about three and a half hours from coast to coast, and with walking trails and beach access near the tracks, you would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful or convenient way to see the island. Make sure to get a seat next to the window, so you can sit back and watch the golden mountains and shimmering ocean glide past as you trundle along.