When we mentioned to friends that we were going to Corsica, the typical response was “where is Corsica?” Even though it’s part of France, relatively few people in the U.S know much about this island. For the record, Corsica is just north of Sardinia (another great island, which belongs to Italy) and is closer to Italy than it is to France.
Corsica is a relatively remote part of France and Europe—it’s rugged, mountainous, and sparsely populated, especially in the interior. Corsica has had a tumultuous history, with several nations (such as Spain and France) and medieval city states (such as Pisa and Genoa) staking their claim here over the centuries. Even today, the island is a very independent part of France, and there have been separatist struggles over the years. As a tourist, there is very little evidence of this, except for some banners or signage in the interior villages of the island.
As a sign of its independent roots, Corsica has its own language (more similar to Italian, although everyone speaks French also), and road signs are in French and Corsican.
Corsica offers the tourist a large variety of things to do: hiking, climbing, four wheeling, mountain scenery, kayaking, beautiful beaches, prehistoric sites and some very cool old fortified towns with huge bastions. We visited in October, and while the island was quieter, the weather was still good. During the summer, the towns on the coast are a magnet for sailboats and yachts from all over Europe.
We spent about a week on Corsica, starting our visit in Ajaccio and then taking a clockwise one-way route through the island. We rented a car and although distances aren’t far, the roads are winding and fairly slow. Luckily the local drivers were pretty patient with us as tourists, but I pulled over to let them pass every chance I got.
Ajaccio. We flew in to Ajaccio from Nice. It was a good place to start our trip. Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. It has a quaint old quarter, situated on a bay on the west coast of the island.
Napoleon, the early 19th century emperor of France, looms large over Ajaccio, his image can be found in several spots in Ajaccio.
One of the main sights in Ajaccio is Napoleon’s home and the church where he was baptized.
Like many costal Corsican towns, Ajaccio has a 15th century fortress guarding the entrance to the protected bay. The fortress is still used by the military and therefore is off limits to tourists.
Coastal and Mountain Scenery. We took a day trip north of Ajaccio through the mountains and along the coast. It is a stunningly beautiful island, and even in October I was impressed how green the island is. We had just one day of rain during our visit.
There are little villages nestled high on the steep hillsides. The backcountry has some great trails and rushing rivers. The coastline of Corsica is a mix of rugged terrain and secluded beaches.
Towers. There are 15th and 16th century towers dotted all along the coast, 91 of them in total, which were watch towers on the lookout for pirates and also light houses for the Genoese sailors.
Many of the towers are not accessible, but a few are. They give the coastline a unique feel, standing as they have for centuries against the wind and the waves.
Pisan Churches. Also throughout the island are tiny churches from the medieval era, many built by the Pisans in the 12th and 13th centuries. Each is unique, but the style is generally familiar to what one finds in northern Italy.
In parts 2 and 3 of my posts on Corsica, I will review other sights and towns as we traveled south and east around the island.