Heaven scented: a guide to Corsica

Blissful beaches and breathtaking hikes are headline acts on the Mediterranean’s most beguiling island


Corsica can puzzle: there are beau-monde towns and Mediterranean white-sand beaches, and yet also an abundance of wild woods, fragrant mountains and epic trekking paths. Though family friendly resort hotels and tourist trains await, so too do pothole-ridden roads and a sense of rural disorder. The island is French administered, but nearer to Italy, and defiantly independent of both.

It all adds up to an enthralling holiday – and one that’s getting easier. On 3 May, national carrier Air Corsica will start inaugural summer flights from Stansted to Bastia in the north-east, the capital Ajaccio on the west coast and Figari in the south. British Airways will also begin services from Heathrow to Figari later in May.

What to do

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Broadly speaking, visitors fall into two camps: the active and the utterly inactive. Some of the Med’s premier beaches, pleasingly unaffected by mass tourism, await for those of the latter persuasion. The choicest crescents are found in the south-east around glitzy Porto-Vecchio – especially pine-flanked Plage de Palombaggia – or dotting the entire west coast. Inland, a rugged spine regularly exceeding 2,000m positively begs to be hiked, with the multi-day GR 20 route promising sheer bluffs, river gorges, hilltop villages and forests perfumed by their maquis shrub. The inland town of Corte is Corsica’s trekking HQ.

What to see

Filitosa, in the south-west, boasts 4,500-year-old standing stones; so does Palaggiu, further south-west, plus a bonus location near the handsome town of Sartene. Another cultural lure is Ajaccio’s Maison Bonaparte. This is where Napoleon was born and where the general’s death mask rather gruesomely remains. Leave time for drives between lonely fishing villages around the north-eastern Cap Corse peninsula and for cruises by Les Calanches de Piana – orangey-pink cliffs and needles that tumble into the bright blue sea.

Where to eat

On the coast? Opt for fresh fish. Along the marina at Porto, A Stretta serves grilled lobster and cuttlefish fricassees from a la carte menus costing just €30. "No frites, rice or ketchup" signs proudly declare. Inland, Italian-influenced cheeses and cured meats hold sway, while old-school haunts such as Zevaco’s Auberge U Taravu major in traditional fare such as wild boar soup and chestnut pannacotta.

Where to drink

Calvi and Porto Vecchio are the all-night spots, though Ajaccio’s old lanes always thrum with bars and Corsu-dialect speakers. Down on the island’s southern tip sits the lovely Bonifacio, its ancient buildings and narrow streets dramatically wedged between blanched cliffs. Ride a ferry for day trips to Sardinia, then return to Kissing Pigs to try some local vermentino wine and plates of charcuterie.

Where to stay

Two centre trips work best on Corsica, supported by car hire. Start in the north at the beachside village resort Calvi, and Hotel La Villa, which has four pools and can organise boat hire. Then skip south to Porto Vecchio, a glam, Genoese-style base for all those south-eastern beaches. At designer hotel Casa del Mar, bay views, a spa, Michelin-starred food and a 25m infinity pool combine in high style.

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