One of the most pristine and scenic islands in the Mediterranean, Corsica lies an hour by air from Nice or Marseille. This fascinating place is a logical complement to a vacation in Provence or the Côte d’Azur. Most of Corsica’s 100-mile-long, 50-mile-wide terrain is dominated by jagged peaks rising to more than 7,500 feet. Despite its French connections since 1768, the island still has a hybrid culture resulting from five earlier centuries of rule under the Genoese. Calvi is particularly delightful and possesses the charming atmosphere of a 1960s Riviera town, its picturesque port backdropped by 16th-century fortifications. Narrow pedestrian passageways thread the fashionable waterfront, where seafood cafés overlook a lively marina.
Try to plan a visit during June, July or September. August should definitely be avoided because of the invasion of French and Italian vacationers, who rapidly outnumber the Corsicans.
In the Footsteps of Napoleon
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio in 1796, and there are many places and monuments that recall the city’s most famous son. The Palais Fesch-musée des Beaux-Arts was established in 1839 after Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon’s uncle, left a spectacular collection of more than 17,000 paintings and art objects to the city. Highlights of the museum, which is among the great provincial museums of France, include some superb Renaissance canvases, the finest collection of Corsican art in the world, and several galleries of Napoleonic art, as well as objects owned by the emperor. Three other places and monuments not to miss in town are the Maison Bonaparte where Napoleon was born, the white-marble statue at the Place Foch, and Chapelle des Grecs, the 17th-century Greek Orthodox chapel where Napoleon worshipped as a boy.
The D80 in Corsica mostly follows the sea around the Cap Corse peninsula. It is one of the most exhilarating and beautiful drives in the world, but be forewarned: This route has switchback curves and some hair-raising drops into the Mediterranean on the other side of the guardrail. That said, the route we took on a sunny summer day with the sea as a vast glittering swath of topaz was exceedingly memorable.
Lapped by the waves of the cerulean Mediterranean, more than 200 magnificent beaches punctuate Corsica’s coastline — some with fine white sand and others with pebbly seashores. Though narrowing down the list to our favorites poses quite a challenge, we highly recommend Ostriconi and Saleccia beaches in the north and Santa Giulia, Palombaggia and Rondinara in the south.
Founded by a Calvi native, Marie Ceccaldi, Casanera produces all-organic cosmetics, soaps and candles with the essential oils of wild Corsican herbs such as rosemary, thyme and immortelle. Sold at Ceccaldi boutiques on the island, the products are also carried by Le Bon Marché department store in Paris. Other specialities to look for include locally made olive oil, charcuterie and coral jewelry.
The Corsican wine industry has evolved enormously. Today the island boasts nine appellations contrôlées and two cru designations, a remarkable concentration of quality vineyards given its size. Truly spectacular wines include the suave reds of the Patrimonio region and the Muscats for which Cap Corse is well-known. We recommend booking a tasting at Clos d’Alzeto, a winery with vineyards founded in 1800 in the hills above Ajaccio and run by the Albertini family for five generations.