Jutting out of the Mediterranean like an impregnable fortress, Corsica’s geography encapsulates fabulous beaches, sawtooth mountain peaks, deep gorges and acres of dense forest. Although the island has been part of France for over 200 years, it fiercely retains its unique customs, language, cuisine and character.
With its yacht-filled harbour, white cliffs and stout citadel, Bonifacio is a handsome port. The perfect way to enjoy it is to stroll around the shady streets, taking the Montée Rastello from the marina to the Porte de Gênes, with its 16th-century drawbridge. For views, head to the Place de la Manichella (bonifacio.fr).
The hidden coves and beaches along the Balagne coastline can be reached by the Tramway de la Balagne. This small train makes an unforgettable journey along the rocky coastline between Calvi and Île Rousse, calling at 15 stations, all of which are request stops only (Apr-Oct; £5).
Corsica has plenty of beaches, but the most beautiful has to be the immense Plage de Palombaggia on the southeast coast. The long stretch of sand is edged by pine trees and offers views over the Îles Cerbicale. Plage de la Folacca just to the south is also impressive.
The Îles Lavezzi archipelago is a clutch of uninhabited islets, now a nature reserve. The Île Lavezzi is the largest of the islands and is wildly beautiful. In summer, boat excursions run to the island from the Bonifacio marina (£28 return; book at the booth in the marina).
Born in Ajaccio, Napoleon spent his first nine years living in what is now the Musée National de la Maison Bonaparte. It houses memorabilia such as a glass medallion containing a lock of the emperor’s hair (musee-maison bonaparte.fr; rue St-Charles, Ajaccio; closed Mondays; £5).
Eat and drink
Le Gregale on Bonifacio’s Plage de Maora is worth a visit. Depending on the daily catch, the menu may feature John Dory, sea bream or lobster. It’s a family affair, with mum and dad cooking; their two sons both fishermen and waiters (00 33 495 735146; Plage de Maora, Bonifacio; dinner Jun- Sep; fish from £5 per 100g).
Close to the harbour, Kissing Pigs is an acclaimed restaurant and wine bar. The interior is rustic, with dried hams and sausage on display. Its charcuterie and cheese platters are popular and there’s a half-and-half option for the indecisive (00 33 495 735609; quai Banda del Ferro, Bonifacio; lunch and dinner; mains from £9).
Among the beach restaurants on the Plage de Palombaggia, Tamaricciu stands out. It specialises in Mediterranean dishes such as roasted lamb in oregano and thyme (tamaricciu.com; rte de Palombaggia; lunch and dinner Jul-Aug, lunch May and Sep; mains from £13).
L’Altru Versu belongs to the Mezzacqui brothers, Jean-Pierre and David. At weekends they hitch on their guitars and serenade guests. Try the pork with honey and clementine zest (laltruversu.com; rte des Sanguinaires, Ajaccio; mains from £19).
Île Rousse’s best restaurant is Michelin-starred Pasquale Paoli 1. Dine on the terrace and try innovative Corsican dishes such as foie gras with onion compote (pasquale-paoli.com; 2 place Paoli, Île Rousse; lunch and dinner; closed Wed and lunch in July and Aug; mains from £20).
Located in a fragrant eucalyptus forest, steps from Calvi’s sandy beach, is Camping La Pinède. Choose between air-conditioned chalets, caravans, or pitches beneath the trees. The campsite has a pool, supermarket and restaurants (camping-calvi.com; rte de la Pinède, Calvi; Apr-Oct; chalets from £48, camping from £10 per person).
The cottages of Littarricia are tucked away in a cypress wood. Wake to views over the Plage de Palombaggia before drifting down to the pool and spa. You can rent individual rooms or book whole villas (littariccia.com; rte de Palombaggia, Porto Vecchio; rooms from £60).
Occupying a 19th-century mansion, Hôtel Le Magnolia is located in Calvi’s old quarter. The 11 rooms are each named after a French literary figure and are individually decorated in elegant, faux-19th-century style. The hotel overlooks a garden restaurant with the eponymous magnolia tree at its heart (hotel-lemagnolia.com; rue Alsace Lorraine, Calvi; Apr-Oct; from £70).
Hôtel Les Mouettes occupies a 19th-century mansion that has served as both convent and film studio. It has one of the best seaside locations in Corsica, and a pretty palm-shaded terrace. Of the 28 rooms, 21 have views out to sea (hotellesmouettes.fr; 9 cours Lucien Bonaparte, Ajaccio; mid-Mar to mid-Nov; from £88).
Built precariously on Bonifacio’s ramparts, the Hôtel Genovese has a bird’s-eye view of the marina. Try an outside-facing room, rather than the darker courtyard rooms. The décor is contemporary, with rooms in cream and aubergine (hotelgenovese.com; rte de Bonifacio, Bonifacio; Mar-Oct; from £120).
When to go
Easter festivals and Passion plays are highlights of the island. Otherwise, visit in May or June when the maquis (shrubland) is in full and fragrant bloom. For hiking in the mountains and lazing on beaches, July and September are best.
Corsica’s interior is mountainous and there’s a limited network of trains and buses that ply Corsica’s coastal roads. The main train route runs between Bastia and Ajaccio (train-corse.com). The best way to get around is by car (from £30 per day; autoeurope.co.uk).
Corsica has four international airports – Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Figari. EasyJet serves Ajaccio from Gatwick (from £150) and Bastia from Manchester (from £240; easyjet.com). Thomson flies to Figari from Gatwick (from £185; thomson.co.uk). Taxis into town will cost around £20.
The article 'Mini guide to Corsica, France' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.