UK / Europe

Treasure Island

Off the coast of Italy, and just over 100km south of France, lies the rugged island of Corsica. It’s passed hands between the Italians and the French over the years, but is a “territorial collectivity” of France, governed by the French, but one of the country’s, thankfully, least-developed regions. It’s also one the most peaceful places on earth.

There are no motorways on Corsica, and no Gucci shops. There are no trends here. Only tranquillity – unless you’re driving the hair-pin turns down the coast.

This is an island which somehow doesn’t suffer the same plagues as others. So many spots, like its southern sister, Sardinia, are destroyed by hordes of tourists covering every last inch of sand on the Mediterranean beaches, or inspiring stressful early wake-up calls to lay towels down. Corsica never seems crowded. Perhaps it’s down to logistics. It’s not the easiest place to get to – but if you’ve got enough time, or money, it’s worth it. Easyjet operates direct flights at very unsociable hours.

Otherwise, there are direct flights on Air France and Corsair from France. Or, if you’re prepared to use the journey as part of the wind-down, a lovely way to get there is via ferry from either Nice or a host of other ports such as Marseille, Toulon, Savona or Genoa.  Nice offers the shortest crossings (starting with 5 hours to Ile Rousse) and also makes a lovely layover point. Pick up a car, and take in head over to the new Bonnard museum, a pastis in the old city at sundown, and a light supper before the early morning ferry the next day.

In fact, I’d suggest a ferry is the only way to go to Corsica.  Best to arrive on this island bare of the stresses of real life. Five hours flat on a chaise longue on the front deck, is a perfect way to prepare for Corsica. Most ferries also offer cabins which can be reserved once on board for a small extra supplement (30 Euros at the time).

Corsica is a haven for foodies and outdoorsy types, but neither is mandatory to fall in love with this place. There are white, sandy beaches, with clear, turquoise water, as well as rockier cliffs which beg for a dive into the lapis lazuli sea. Casual, beach-side restaurants welcome bare feet and serve local grilled vegetables with fresh pistou.

Also unlike other islands, Corsica is blanketed in fertile land, providing a bounty of vegetables, cheese, grapes (wine), olives, and meat. It also means food is outstanding without ever being extortionate. Walkers cluster in the interior of the island to explore the Grande Rondee routes, while seafarers hug the coast where you can rent yachts, kayaks and Catamarans, or take a boat ride out to a nature reserve.

The most popular spots are Bastia, in the north, and the capital, Ajaccio, half-way down the West coast. But popular on Corsica doesn’t mean crowded. Ile Rousse, at the northwest tip, where the ferry arrives from Nice, is a lovely little spot. It could easily provide a base for great beaches, or spend a few days on the slow, but scenic drive to Ajaccio. If you’re stopping along the way, go past the touristy town of Porto just a few miles and rest your head in Piana, a little gem worth the extra 15minutes of white-knuckle driving.

The pleasure of Corsica lies in it’s decidedly middle-classness. No one comes here to show off or party hard. Shopping is refreshingly limited, and not a nightclub in sight. This is a place best for beaches and books, especially if you like treasure islands.

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