A taste of Corsica
Champagne on a plane? Wow, but don't get me wrong. This was not to mark my
first visit to the island but a treat for all passengers to celebrate Air
Corsica inaugural flight from London to Ajaccio. So now, less than two hours
from Stansted, you can land on this highly distinctive French island,
beautifully coloured by a long Italian past and a unique Corsican culture with its
own language and traditions.
'Napoléon Bonaparte', prepares you straightaway for all things royal from the
Imperial Chapel, resting place of family members and descendants, the latest in
1997, to statues, street names and the ancestral home of the Bonaparte family
where Napoléon was born in 1769. Restored and furnished in style, it is the
most popular attraction in the capital, followed by the Fesch Museum which
displays one of the top collections of Italian paintings. This was acquired by
Cardinal Fesch who received the title and ensuing wealth from his uncle,
But on this
magnificent bay framed by mountains, Ajaccio has much to offer alongside
history. The old town is a delightful maze of colourful lanes where elegant
Italian façades mingle with traditional 'village' shops, glinting jewellery boutiques
tempting you with red coral or unusual mountain stones and fragrant outlets for
natural beauty products, their most highly prized ingredient the anti-ageing
'immortelle'. Then there is the Sunday market full of local produce, giant
lemons, oranges, honey, cheese, Corsican ham, chestnut flour cake and so much
more. Across the road and away from
ferries and cruise ships, fishing boats bob in the old harbour just below the
citadel. Walk up to the jetty and you will enjoy one of the best city views.
course Ajaccio has sandy beaches, just a few of 200 or so dotted along the
island's 1000 km coast, plus a lively palm-lined promenade and alfresco
restaurants serving seafood, in a delicious blend of French and Italian cuisine
with a Corsican touch. But before settling down to dinner, we walked to the end
of the peninsula looking out to the 'sanguinaires' or blood red islands. Wild
flowers splashed colour on verdant slopes, the old Genoese tower glowed on the
hilltop then the sun set over the sea in stunning shades of red and gold. Truly
Ajaccio claims around 60,000 people, though spread along the meandering shore it rarely feels like it, but if you prefer to get away from it all, for a day or more, you could head south to Porto Pollo, about an hour away. A city folks' favourite escape, the resort feels like a village nestling around a quiet harbour and a beach lapped by crystal clear water while red-roofed houses and their pretty gardens clamber up the slopes. In the lovely Hotel Le Golfe, Antoine can arrange a trip along the coast in a 'rescued' lifeboat with breakfast or picnic on board.
minutes drive from the village is a marshland for protected birds and among
reeds and yellow irises, you'll find a board walk and hides and if you're
lucky, you might spot some rare species of herons. Further on, you reach the
fertile Taravo plain where cattle graze in lush grass and then you arrive in
Filitosa, one of the best archaeological sites in Corsica.
around 8,000 years from late Neolithic to Roman times, it spreads across open
ground, totally wild and natural, with dramatic rocks, trails and steps leading
to menhirs carved with human faces and circular structures which may have been
temples built by the Torrean people. It's hauntingly beautiful, carpeted in
flowers including Illyrian lilies, growing virgin white in a meadow. Meanwhile the
Mediterranean scrub of the maquis releases its scent across the hills, thyme,
rosemary, fennel, myrtle, juniper, rock rose, to name just a few.
But for true
wilderness, you should venture into the hinterland draped in remote villages
and valleys, mountains and rocky crests. Short of time? No problem, plan a day
trip from Ajaccio to hill top Sartène, one of the most authentic of all
Corsican villages. It's a scenic drive, first through vineyards and olive
groves then climbing to over 300 metres to a medieval gem of granite houses and
cobbled lanes huddled around a church and shaded square. Locals watch the world
go by, visitors pop into the Musée de la Préhistoire and restaurants serve mountain food often
flavoured with chestnuts, wild boar, lamb, veal, charcuterie, ewe's cheese and
more. The views up there take your
breath away, from the Rizzanese valley to the mountains which cover two thirds
of this amazing island. Mountains and sea, Corsica has it all.
As well as Ajaccio,
Air Corsica launched direct flights
to Bastia and Figari.
transport is limited but if you don't mind winding roads, you can hire a car
through Air Corsica Fly and Drive, in partnership with Hertz. Alternatively
most hotels can arrange local trips and activities.
Silver Travel recommends Simpson Travel Corsica.