4 must-see destinations in Corsica
Corsica is a rugged Mediterranean island that is a part of France. Situated to the north of the Italian island of Sardinia, making the two islands a perfect pair for discovery. The Genoese governed Corsica from the 1400s to the 1700s. Many of the Corsican port towns bear witness to this past rule with citadels, ramparts, and watchtowers of Genoese construction. Corsica joined with France in 1769, yet the island retains its own distinctive culture, music, and cuisine.
Corsica is truly a must-see destination. It mixes gorgeous beaches and resorts along its 600 miles of coastline with beautiful historic cities such as clifftop Bonifacio and the picturesque capital of Ajaccio, where Napoleon Bonaparte was born. The mountainous interior yields a wealth of fabulous landscapes and outdoor adventure opportunities, plus scenic villages perched on hilltops where visitors can watch artisans create a variety of beautiful crafts.
Here are our suggestions on the must-see destinations in Corsica to help you create the perfect itinerary.
Strikingly set atop sheer limestone cliffs on a peninsula. The medieval coastal town of Bonifacio is a highlight of any trip to Corsica. A natural harbour is set at the base of the cliffs, and is reached by entering a deep, fjord like cove. There are two distinct areas of interest in Bonifacio, the port below the cliffs and the citadel and historic old town perched at the top.
Bonifacio was founded around 830 A.D., making it the oldest town on Corsica. The 9th century citadel anchors the old town. A warren of cobbled streets leading past medieval buildings and attractive squares. All with amazing views over the port and coast. The 16th century Bastion of the Standard on the eastern side of town affords grand vistas, and churches of interest include the 12 century Romanesque Church of Sainte-Marie-Majeure, Bonifacio’s oldest building, and the 13th century Church of Saint-Dominique. The palm-tree lined port makes for a grand promenade with yachts moored in the harbor and shops and restaurants lining the walkways.
A series of 187 steps called the King of Aragon Staircase leads visitors from the clifftop to just above the sea, affording spectacular panoramas. Follow the paths along the cliff east of the town for glorious views back over the citadel and the town’s majestic setting. Taking a boat trip provides an up-close look at the dramatic coastal scenery, including grottoes such as the Cave of the Little Dragon with its white stalactites, and the town in its commanding clifftop position. Another option is an excursion to the Lavezzi islands, a natural marine preserve that provides swimming and snorkelling opportunities in beautiful surroundings.
Such a must-see destination is Bonifacio, we recommend that you visit this city for an overnight stay from Sardinia – even if you don’t have the time to travel through Corsica, Bonifacio is well worth a stop.
Picturesque seafront Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica and is most famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. Situated on Corsica’s west coast, Ajaccio faces the Gulf of Ajaccio on the sea while being backed by mountains. Ajaccio has a 16th century citadel and a historic town core with narrow streets and pastel-coloured houses, with key sights including the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Misericorde where Napoleon was baptised, and squares such as the Place Bonaparte. Statues in town such as the one in Place de Gaulle commemorate Napoleon, whose birthplace, the Maison Bonaparte, is a museum of his life. If you love Napoleon, you will want to discover Ajaccio with a guided tour to really discover the best insights.
The Fesch Palace is the town’s Museum of Fine Arts, with a strong collection of Italian Renaissance paintings. Visit the beautiful harbour area with its colourful houses, boats, and restaurants, and stroll out on the jetty for stunning views.
The Artisan’s Route through the villages of La Balagne
Corsica has preserved many of its ancient traditions and crafts. No better put on display than in its northwestern region in a series of attractive hilltop villages strung inland from the coast east of the port city of Calvi and south of L’ile-Rousse. Named ‘the villages of La Balagne’, these small towns are a testament to Corsica’s commitment to retaining its heritage. Corsica rewards young artisans to live in the towns and continue their time-honoured crafts in their own workshops.
A trail through the villages called the ‘Artisan’s Route’ was created in 1995 to maintain local crafts and culture. Examples of local crafts include pottery, music boxes, jewellery, basketry, musical instruments, and paintings. The La Balagne region also has a rich agricultural heritage, with vineyards, olive groves and citrus crops all growing in these picturesque settings.
Sant’Antonino is Corsica’s oldest inhabited village and is a member of France’s ‘Most Beautiful Villages’ association. Resting on a granite hilltop, its cobbled village streets afford sweeping views of the lovely countryside and towards the sea. The town of Pigna has rich musical and pottery-making traditions. The renowned Casa Musicale is in Pigna, and hosts Corsican music concerts. Lumio dates to the 15th century and its old town is a delightful maze of footpaths and narrow streets. It has an abundance of lemon trees and a scenic Baroque church. Enjoy a day trip visiting the villages, discovering the crafts, picking up some souvenirs and delighting in some lunch with sweeping views.
Fringing the La Balagne region to the west, the coastal town of Calvi has a beautiful setting on a large bay with mountains behind. Calvi combines the attractions of a historic old town and port with beaches. A stroll on the Quai Landry provides a scenic walk along the seafront marina. With palm trees and fishing boats adding to the beauty and local colour.
Calvi has its own Citadel at the northern end of town. Built by the Genoese between the 13th and 16th centuries and rising high above the port. Within its walls is a small town with cobbled streets to explore. From here there are broad panoramas over Calvi’s coastline. Among the historic buildings, look for the Cathedral of Saint Jean-Baptiste, an example of Corsican Baroque architecture. East of the harbor stretches the popular beach known as la Pinede for the pine trees bordering it.