Corsica: A pocket guide

Corsica is a wild and beautiful place, a mountain in the sea, a world of its own. The Greeks called the island Kalliste, “the Beautiful,” and this rare physical beauty, this wild nature just outside Europe’s usual bounds, drew wave after wave of conquest: Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Visigoth, Pisan, Genoese, Spanish, Barbary pirates, French, English, and even American. (Corsica was the first French land liberated during World War II, thanks to its home-grown maquisards, named for the island’s thick sweet-scented undergrowth that Napoleon, Corsica’s most famous son, said he could smell from his exile on Elba.) Each wave landed, lapped on the shores, left traces and retreated; 200 years of French rule have not eclipsed the island’s affinity to neighboring Italy, nor the island’s distinct grandeur, the wildness of its uplands and arresting emptiness of its valleys and woodlands where wild boar are more numerous than people. Boswell, Edward Lear, Merimee, Maupassant, and Flaubert are just a few visitors who have written about their visits to this extraordinary island.

Today, one of Corsica’s main attractions is its translucent sea, sand that is soft and white, creeks or calanches on the west coast, and magnificent white cliffs to the south. St. Florent, a little resort in the north, has some of the most luxurious villas on the island, and the white-sand beaches and shallow waters of Saleccia and Lodu are a short boat ride away. Porto Vecchio, to the south, has some of the most spectacular beaches on the island, such as Palombaggia and Santa Giulia, though they do get crowded, and Sperone, where the south’s elegant villas tend to be located.

Corsica is a veritable treasure trove of history. The various conquerors have left many traces behind—Roman, medieval, nineteenth century—but Corsica’s Golden Age is the Baroque. Holding pride of place, the seventeenth-century Church of St. Augustin rises above the village of Montemaggiore, but there are myriad castles, watchtowers, and churches for culture vultures to delight in. For music lovers, Corsica’s unique and haunting polyphonic melodies are played all over the island. Nearly extinct 30 years ago, this music has undergone a very successful revival and has become world-famous.

Other than its pristine sea and beaches, magnificent landscapes, and Baroque towns and churches, Corsica is famous for its cheeses, its specialties of wild boar, game, and seafood, and its red wines and Muscat, a sweet white wine.

Meet the Experts for Corsica