The French region of Corsica is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy and the Southeastern coast of France and is made up of the same landmass as Sardinia. These two island states both also offer a culture of fierce independence, with independence movements as central forces within the islands' political spheres.
Exploring the island of Corsica and its rich culture will offer tourists a unique look at the diverse history of rule in the area with its food largely influenced by both the indigenous wildlife of the island but also the cultures of Italy and French cuisine and its language influenced by a mix of French and Italian languages.
Corsica is about 133 miles north/south by 50 miles, for a total land area of 3,352 square miles. Corsica is really just one big mountain sticking out of the sea, having several peaks more than 2,000 meters high. The island is covered by maquis, which is a pungent combo of lavender myrtle and heather, as well as pine and chestnut forests.
Although Corsica offers a wide variety of natural landscapes and human-made art, you'll definitely want to check out the cities listed below to really experience the diversity of culture Corsica has to offer.
Cities to Visit
The French island of Corsica is charming, wild, unique, and interesting, but also a tourist hot spot and constantly overbooked. It's important to plan ahead when visiting Corsica, especially during the busy summer and winter tourist seasons.
Corsica is a unique kind of place, like Sardinia to the south, where you're much more likely to come across artisanal goods and foods, where people are proud of their heritage and their accomplishments, and where you'll yearn to come back with a better camera and more time.
There are just over a quarter of a million people residing on Corsica and a good percentage of those live in the two largest cities of Ajaccio and Bastia, which have international airports. Corsica is populated much less densely than its neighboring landmasses, so a vacation should take into account the many nature reserves and wildlife areas, as well as the beaches of Corsica.
Five Cities: Ajaccio, Corte, Calvi, Sartene, and Filitosa
The capital city of Corsica, Ajaccio, is also the home of French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte and serves as an excellent place to start a vacation to this island region of France. Be sure to check out the port, the old village, and the markets while you're in town, but don't linger too long—two or three days should be plenty of time to explore this city.
Culture fanatics will instead want to spend more time in Corte, an inland city with a mixture of people from all the nationalities of Corsica's rich and diverse history. Above all, you'll want to eat in Corte, especially if you've come outside the high season when the wild game shows up on the table.
Folks who like the sea will appreciate the Riviera-like Calvi for its seaside, if not its citadel. If you're going on to Sardinia, about nine miles away, you might head over to Bonifacio, with its spectacularly situated fortress.
Sartene was founded in the 16th century and is the most typical of Corsican towns—a good place to start if you're interested in Corsica's prehistory; the Musee Departemental de Prehistoire Corse is found in the town's old prison, and just 16 miles northwest of Sartene is Filitosa, the site of Corsica's biggest group of megalithic statues, which is only open June through August.
Transportation: Getting There and Around
When visiting Corsica, you'll either come by air or ferry, unless you're lucky enough to own your own boat. International airports in Corsica are found near Ajaccio and Bastia, while smaller ones exist near Calvi, Figari, and Propriano.
The major ferry companies serving Corsica are SNCM, which leaves from Marseilles and Toulon to most ports in Corsica; Le Méridionale, which leaves from Porto Torres and Marseille; Moby Lines, which leaves from various Italian ports including Sardinia and Ebla; and Corsica Ferries, which leaves from Savona and Livorno, Italy.
You can take the tourist train around Corsica; it stops at many places of interest to the tourist, and the Chemins de fer de Course has more information and up-to-date travel times for these public trains. The interest here isn't just quaint towns; there are nature preserves that you can visit from the train.
You can also cross Corsica. In addition to the 100-mile-long GR20 long-distance trail, there are many shorter trails in Corsica to trek on. Warning: The trail takes nearly 100 hours to complete, but there are villages and refuges at decent intervals along the way.
Finally, renting a car and driving around the island is the fastest and most independent means of transport on the island. Below you'll find the distance and travel time between the popular cities listed above:
- Bastia to Ajaccio: 95 miles, around two hours driving time
- Bastia to Bonifacio: 106 miles, two and a half hours
- Bastia to Calvi: 57 miles, less than two hours
- Bastia to Corte: 43 miles, one hour
- Ajaccio to Bonifacio: 82 miles, less than two hours
- Ajaccio to Corte: 50 miles, about one hour and 15 minutes