General Information About Corsica
Corsica, French Corse, official name Collectivité Territoriale de Corse, collectivité territoriale (territorial collectivity) of France and island in the Mediterranean Sea embracing (from 1976) the départements of Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud. Corsica is the fourth largest island (after Sicily, Sardinia, and Cyprus) in the Mediterranean. It lies 105 miles (170 km) from southern France and 56 miles (90 km) from northwestern Italy, and it is separated from Sardinia by the 7-mile (11-km) Strait of Bonifacio. Ajaccio is the capital. Although Corsica is still commonly described as one of 22 régions of metropolitan France, its official status was changed in 1991 from région to collectivité territoriale à statut particulier (territorial collectivity with special status). The unique classification provides Corsica greater autonomy than the régions. Area 3,352 square miles (8,681 square km). Pop. (1999) 260,196; (2012 est.) 316,257.
For the most part, the terrain of Corsica is mountainous. About two-thirds of it consists of an ancient crystalline massif that divides the island on a northwest-to-southeast axis. Corsica has a cluster of 20 peaks exceeding 6,500 feet (2,000 metres). Mount Cinto attains an elevation of 8,890 feet (2,710 metres). The mountain silhouettes are very dramatic, and their granite rocks display vivid colours. The mountains descend steeply in parallel ranges to the west, where the coast is cut into steep gulfs and marked by high cliffs and headlands. To the east the mountain massif falls in broken escarpments to extensive alluvial plains bordering a lagoon-indented coast. In the northeast a separate and less-spectacular mountain formation reaches heights not exceeding 5,790 feet (1,765 meters).
Both the eastern and western watersheds are drained by seasonally torrential rivers that rise in the mountainous centre and cleave their way through impressive gorges in their upper reaches. The island’s principal rivers are the Golo, Tavignano, Liamone, Granove, Tarova, and Profiano. A Mediterranean climate prevails on the coasts, where the average temperature is 51 °F (10.5 °C) in winter and 60 °F (15.5 °C) during the rest of the year. It is cooler at higher elevations. The average summer temperature at the southern coastal city of Ajaccio is 70 °F (21 °C). Precipitation is abundant, averaging 35 inches (880 mm) a year, though higher elevations receive somewhat more.
Corsica’s vegetation is luxuriant. Much of the island is covered with a scrubby underbrush, or maquis, that is composed of aromatic shrubs, together with holm oak and cork oak in the south. The flowers of the maquis produce a fragrance that carries far out to sea and has earned for Corsica the name the “Scented Isle.” Chestnut forests occur at slightly higher elevations, while the Corsican, or laricio, pine (Pinus corsicanus) dominates the higher elevations. In all, forests cover about one-fifth of the island.
Bastia and Ajaccio on the coast are the largest towns and home to about half of the island’s population. In the late 20th century some two-thirds of Corsica’s population was urban. In northern Corsica the Balagne (once called the Garden of Corsica) is also densely populated. In contrast, sparsely populated rural villages, mostly situated at elevations between 650 and 2,600 feet (200 and 800 metres), have experienced much migration to the coast and to continental France. Despite a long history of emigration, there is overall growth in population, though many of the newcomers are retirees, which has led to a progressive aging of the population.
Corsica’s standard of living, particularly in the interior, is lower than that of continental France. The island’s economic life is based primarily on tourism as well as the raising of sheep for ewe’s milk, which is used to make fine-quality cheeses, and the cultivation of citrus fruits, grapes (frequently with the aid of irrigation), and olives. Agriculture has been modernized along the eastern coastal plains. Industrial development is limited and focuses mainly on food processing.
Corsica has outstanding assets in its climate, scenery, and magnificent coastline, all of which promote tourism. The island’s network of paved roads is adequate, and a railway links Ajaccio, Bastia, and Calvi. Corsica is connected by air and sea with continental France.
French, the official language, is spoken by virtually all Corsicans, most of whom also use the Corsican dialect, Corsu, which is akin to Tuscan. The Corsu spoken in Haute-Corse and that spoken in Corse-du-Sud are distinguishable from each other. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. Traditional folk music is performed by groups in the towns, and traditional handicrafts have been revived. Corsica also has many museums.
A Land of Culture
Under Genovese rule before this France vacation destination became part of France, Corsica is proud of its vibrant traditions, its secular customs which are embodied by singing, music, craftsmanship and heritage France vacation Corsica resorts. The Bonaparte House National Museum and the Museu di a Corsica retrace the history of Corsica. If, in Bastia, you are impressed by the largest church, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church in Corsica, the Romanesque charm of the Church of Murato will surprise you with its originality. As for the Greek Church of Cargèse, this is a building which is at the heart of Corsican traditions. And the exceptional beauty of the Corsica tourism vacation Villages of Sant'Antonino and Piana, or the Lavezzi islands, will take your breath away.
Ah, the weather in Corsica! The island enjoys superb summer temperatures and don't forget, Corsica has one of the highest sunshine records in France, with an average of 2,793 hours per year - that is 7.5 hours a day! Outside of the summer, the Corsica climate brings cooler temperatures which make for great outdoor adventure opportunities, as well as the chance to comfortably explore cultural and historical towns and cities.
Corsica - Getting Around
The car is still the most efficient way to see Corsica, but not always the most fun - think of seeing the sights from a bike, a train or even from the back of a horse or donkey.
For the freedom to explore deep into the island's dramatic scenery, the majority of visitors to Corsica choose to get around by car. The cost of a hire car is included in the majority of our villa-based holidays.
Main roads (there are no motorways) are generally very good. However, many country roads, especially mountain roads, are likely to be narrow and winding with very little room for manoeuvre.
EU driving licenses are valid in France and speed limits are 110km/h (68mph) on two lane highways, 90km/h (56mph) on other roads in non-urban areas and 60km/h (37mph) in towns. The roads are generally fairly slow with 50 kilometers taking at least an hour. Anyone who has seen the Rallye de Corse (the French stages of the WRC) will know the terrain already. Some areas are better than others for ease of local driving - please call us if this will affect your choice of area or the enjoyment of your holiday and we will be advise on the best area for you.
During July and August the roads can be busy but at other times you won't see as much traffic as you do in the UK. In common with other parts of the Mediterranean, you may find the driving of other road users a little unpredictable.
Buses are Corsica's principal form of public transport but you will find that even in the summer season, routes between the larger town centers often only have departures once or twice a day, less frequently in more remote areas. Tourists would be advised to obtain an up-to-date timetable from the local Tourist Office or ask your Corsican Places representative for details.
This may be an alternative option for a planned day out to a town centre or simply if you want to leave your car at your property for the day. Taxis in Corsica have a 'Taxi' sign on the roof - prices given on request service from your nearest Tourist Office or ask your Corsican Places representative for details.
Travelling by train in Corsica is a thrilling experience! The island’s diminutive, bone shaking train, the 'U Trinighellu' (little train) operates along a principal line that crosses the mountains from Ajaccio to Bastia via Corte. It is a slower option of travelling around the island but the scenery en route is amazing and a journey along part of the route at least is very much recommended on a visit to Corsica. Visitors can obtain a timetable and more information from the local Tourist Office or ask your Corsican Places representative for details. Please note however, this service may be a little unreliable at times and departures are not always guaranteed.
If you enjoy a challenge, discover the mountainous landscapes of Corsica by mountain bike or road bike. For experienced cyclists this is superb cycling terrain. Bike hire is widespread and at a reasonable cost.
Food & Wine
Corsican food could be said to something of a microcosm of the island itself: somewhere between French and Italian but featuring many aspects which are distinctly Corsican and unique to the island.
Corsicans take their food and drink very seriously and it is quite common for locals to take a leisurely three-course lunch accompanied by a few glasses of Corsican wine. This also means that standards in restaurants are generally high. The earthy style cooking takes its inspiration from the land, with sun-loving fruits and vegetables, cured meats and cheeses. As for the wine, well, you won't be disappointed.
Wild boar is possibly the island's most celebrated dish - look out for sanglier on the menu. Meat dishes may be served with pasta or polenta. Here are a couple of the most popular dishes.
Arguably, the signature dish of Corsica. This is a rich, hearty casserole with the “gamey” flavour of boar, mixed with onions, carrots, garlic, chestnuts, fennel and generous quantities of eau de vie and, of course, red wine forms a fundamental part of the recipe.
Veau aux olives (Veal with olives)
A popular slow cooked stew, full of flavour with tender veal, olives, tomatoes, onions and herbs from the maquis as well as a generous dash of white or rosé wine
Agneau Corse (Corsican lamb)
Usually slow roasted with whole garlic cloves, fresh rosemary and potatoes, this traditional dish seldom needs accompaniments!
On the coast you will find a good selection of fish and seafood, although due to reduced fish stocks in the Mediterranean, prices are now fairly high. Look out for red mullet (rouget), sea bream (loup de mer) and crayfish (langoustine). Oysters (huitres) are particularly recommended in the east and trout caught in the unpolluted rivers is a good alternative to meat inland.
Catch of the day
Much of the mountain cooking is based around the locally produced dairy products and in particular the ewe's cheese brocciu which is similar to goat's cheese. Brousse is a cow's milk alternative which is often available in the summer but is not nearly as good.
Cured meats are very popular and a wide selection are usually available:
Prisutu - smoked ham
Figatellu/fitonu - liver sausage
Salamu - salami-style sausage
Valetta - cheek
Boudin - black pudding
Fromage de tête - "head cheese" made from seasoned pigs' brains
Most traditional Corsican desserts are milk or egg based: Beignets - chestnut flour doughnuts, sometimes stuffed with cheese. Fiadone - Essentially a cheesecake, but with a twist! Fiadone is a traditional recipe using Corsican brocciu cheese, eggs and chestnut flour that is then flavoured with lemon zest and eau de vie. Normally served chilled, this is a delightful finish to an evening meal.
Flan a la farine de chataigne (Chestnut tart) - A very simple, yet tasty dessert combining the staple ingredients of a typical Corsican recipe – chestnuts, eggs and eau de vie.
Corsican Wine & Beers
Corsica produces several very good wines, which are hardly known outside the island. The producers are scattered and tend to be highly individual - Corsican, in other words. The grape harvest is still often cut by hand, and visiting a vineyard for an afternoon is a pleasant expedition.
James Boswell was an aficionado, writing in his Tour of Corsica published in 1782: "The flavours of wines differ all over the island. It is a true marvel that such a slight difference in soil and exposure generates such considerable diversity." Some wines are made with traditional Corsican varieties of grape, such as the delicious white Vermentino, Nielluccio, the basis of the esteemed Patrimonio red, and several excellent rosé wines. As a quick guide, wines from Patrimonio, Ajaccio and from near Sartène are outstanding, and the Domaine Vico wines are notable.
Producers from across the island travel to the Corsican Wine Festival in Luri, Cap Corse, in mid July each year to show off their award-winning wines.
Also worth tasting are the local fortified wines, such as Muscat made from the delicious pale Muscat grape, or the darker, sweetish herb-rich Cap Corse. Both can be drunk as apéritifs - or at any time. Home-produced, dusky coloured, apéritif-strength drinks, with herbs such as myrtle and basil, can be found for sale on some roadside stalls. The island also has its own beers.
For those wishing to dine out, there are some excellent restaurants and numerous informal cafés serving pizzas, mixed salads or delicious stewed mussels.
Fish, as is the case everywhere in the Mediterranean today, is fresh but expensive. Vegetarians can usually find pastas, pizzas, omelettes and vegetable dishes.
In Corsica, as anywhere in the Mediterranean, café life is vibrant and everyone takes part - children are very much welcomed. Most restaurants have high chairs available and some will offer a children's menu although eating out will be later than your children may eat at home with service from 7pm. We provide a list of local restaurants in our guide book which is sent to customers with their tickets.
Corsica Top 10 Places to go
With almost 200 beaches and 1000km of coastline, Corsica is a beach lover’s dream. The island is blessed with an incredible diversity of beaches from intimate hidden coves to magnificent bays. The most renowned include the sweeping bays of Calvi and L’Ile Rousse in the north, and Palombaggia, Pinarello and San Ciprianu in the south.
Perched villages of la Balagne
Time seems to be held in suspension in the hills of la Balagne and a visit to these beautiful villages is a must if you’re staying in the north. Clinging to mountains above the sea, they give a glimpse of the old days in Corsica and afford spectacular viewpoints.
Désert des Agriates
Situated between la Balagne and St Florent, the Désert des Agriates is an area of arid landscape and savage beauty. The highlights here include the deserted beaches of Saleccia and Loto – with their curves of pearl-white sand and crystal clear water, these are some of the finest beaches to visit during Corsica holidays, offering the perfect picture-postcard scenery.
The history of Ajaccio
Famed as the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte, it is safe to assume that Corsica's capital is a historically-rich destination. From the house that the great man was born in to the beautiful architectural themes present throughout the city, Ajaccio is a fascinating location to explore.
Scandola Nature Reserve
The coast of the Gulf of Porto is one of Corsica's most famous landscapes, and rightly so - with its dramatic sculpted red rock and sweeping bays it has to be seen to be believed. The pinnacles and ravines of the red granite Calanches soar out of beautiful blue seas framed by the jagged peaks of Paglia Orba. Best explored by foot or by boat, there are daily boat trips from Porto that visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gorges of Restonica & Tavignano
The region of Corte in the Interior offers beautiful rugged landscapes, two of which are the spectacular glacier-moulded gorges in the Mediterranean right on the town’s doorstep – the Restonica and the Tavignano valleys. These valleys echo with tumbling rivers and rock pools, and sharply sculptured slopes rear from forests of enormously tall Corsican pines, proving the perfect locations for outdoor adventure.
The rugged beauty of the south-west coast
Many of Corsica's beaches are hidden coves accessible only on foot or by boat – there's certainly something magical about exploring the coastal paths and stumbling across a deserted cove washed by the warm deep blue of the Mediterranean. Our favourite coastal stretches include the Gulf of the Valinco, Campomoro-Tizzano, and the Gulf of Roccapina further south.
Adventure along Cap Corse
The northeastern peninsula poking out to sea towards mainland France, Cap Corse is a rugged and adventurous part of Corsica. Driving along the winding roads here can be enough of a thrill for some, though others may be drawn further, visiting wonderfully-wild beaches like that found at Nonza.
Fortress town of Bonifacio
This majestic old town sits on a limestone throne at the far south of the island and is one of the most spectacular towns in the Mediterranean. The citadel walls and ancient houses of Bonifacio appear to rise seamlessly out of sheer cliffs that have been hollowed and striated by the wind and waves. Beneath, an inlet about 100 metres wide forms a natural harbour and a series of grottoes and coves.
Situated between Corsica and Sardinia, the archipelago of Lavezzi is a sublime sight and something of a paradise. The 10 small islands boast a number of secluded beaches, coves and naturally formed pools and the magnificent underwater offer opportunities for some of the best diving on the island. They’re the perfect destination for a day of blissful relaxation and are relatively easy to access by boat from Bonifacio.
Corsica Culture and History
History of Corsica
Corsica is an island with a turbulent and fascinating past. Most famous as Napoléon Bonaparte's birthplace, its strategic position has meant invasion and resistance have been recurring themes in the island's history.
The earliest Corsican inhabitants date from around 3000BC; they left impressive menhirs or standing stones, carved with staring faces, which can still be seen at Filitosa. Centuries later in 540BC the Greeks colonised the island, they were succeeded by the Romans and it was then that the pattern of conflict and battle began with waves of invaders and raiders to the shores.
The island suffered under harsh rule by successive Mediterranean kingdoms, with Genoa gaining undisputed control from around 1500. Genoa sought French help when rebellion flared in 1729 and French troops pacified the island. The rebellion continued, however, and in 1755 the Corsican patriot Pascal Paoli was proclaimed General of the Corsican Nation. Before being forced out by the French in 1769, Paoli founded a university, and introduced a democratic constitution, with all men over 25 eligible to vote.
Paoli returned in 1790 and, with British backing, declared independence from France; Nelson lost his eye at the siege of Calvi and British forces captured a number of coastal towns. Independence was short-lived though; the British withdrew in 1796, Paoli departed to live in London and Napoléon (who was born in Ajaccio) moved in his army. Corsica has been a department of France ever since.
Compared with mainland France, Corsica is very sparsely populated. None of the towns on the island is large; even the capital of Corsica, Ajaccio, has a population of only 65,000. Corsican families retain close links to their land, which is the main reason why the island has escaped mass exploitation despite some recent building; many people will never sell their inheritance for development.
Corsicans are proud of their heritage. Mainland France is referred to as "le continent," and attempts by outsiders to make a fast buck out of the island are resented. Nationalist sentiment is rooted in a deep personal love for Corsica and is expressed, at different levels, through the teaching of Corsican language (Corsu) in schools, or through daubing FLNC (Front de la Libération Nationale de la Corse) slogans on public signs and buildings.
Many Corsicans of all ages speak Corsican, a language whose history is obscure. Written, it looks rather like Italian, though it sounds different to the ear. Many names are Italian in form, with some pronounced the Italian way, some the French way. Corsican music is also resurgent; in recent years musicians have fused modern melodies with traditional vernacular songs or church chants to create an evocative, contemporary folk music.
The Moor's Head
The Moors Head has become the emblem of Corsica and can be seen on flags throughout the island. Any locally produced goods, official buildings, Corsican owned boats, properties and aircraft carry this symbol and all Corsican political parties (whatever the strength of their Nationalist tendencies) also use the emblem. In some specific cases it may represent a stronger Nationalist/Autonomist leaning, but is generally a simple statement of pride in their country.
The symbol dates back to the 13th century, when the Aragonese were given rights over Corsica by the Pope after their victory over the Saracens. They portrayed their acquisition by the Moor's Head. It was however, forgotten in Corsica during the subsequent Genoese occupation when the Virgin Mary (the patron Saint of Corsica) was used to symbolize Corsica.
In the 18th century the German adventurer, Theodor Von Neuhof (who became king of Corsica for 6 months in 1736) chose the forgotten Moor's Head as the National flag. Twenty years later it was re-established as the official Corsican flag by the great Corsican patriot, Pascal Paoli who insisted that the bandana was moved from its original position covering the eyes (to the forehead) in order to symbolize the liberation of Corsica
Culture, Language & Religion
Corsicans are a proud people, generous and free spirited and you will not find more hospitable hosts; do take the time to read up on and explore their fascinating past.
Corsicans are generally laid-back and easy going, they appreciate friendliness and patience: be sure to greet people with “Monsieur”, “Madame” or “Mademoiselle” and try not to get irritated by any hold ups you may have such as roads being blocked by two drivers having a chat.
Corsica is an island of culture with an abundance of music, art and cultural festivals which are organized by volunteers passionate about their chosen interest. Many of the island’s villages also hold a fete or festival to celebrate its local crafts and produce as well as religious or historical events. For more details see ‘Festivals and Events’.
Corsica’s unique polyphonic music is haunting and has undergone a revival in recent years. Groups of three or four perform either a cappella or accompanied by percussion, flutes or stringed instruments. Each of the singers performs with a hand over one ear to prevent them from being distracted by the singer next to them as each voice has a distinct role: the first provides the melody, the second the bass and the third has greater freedom to improvise but is much higher pitched.
The rich and chequered history of Corsica manifests itself around every corner with some fascinating architecture. Monuments, citadels, watchtowers and museums scattered all over the island bear witness to the ever-changing and often turbulent past of this multi-cultural island. Of particular note are the Baroque style churches in la Balagne region and the 60 Genoese watchtowers that punctuate the coastline.
French is Corsica's official and working language, although many Corsicans are bilingual or trilingual, speaking Italian and the native Corsican language (Corsu), which you will regularly hear in Corsica's more rural areas.
Corsica is predominantly Roman Catholic but like much of France, church attendance is fairly low with only about 8% attending regularly. Religious events and festivals are taken seriously though, the highlight being the Holy Week processions which take place in towns such as Bonifacio, Sartène and Calvi in the week leading up to Easter.
You will see carvings, symbols, paintings and emblems of the Virgin Mary all across the island and the hymn Dio vi salvi Regina is regarded by nationalists as the island’s anthem. In Cargèse, on the west coast, there is a small Orthodox community.
Corsica’s religious beliefs coexist with traditional rituals, superstitions and magic. One unusual example is the belief that the first eggs laid on Ascension Day are magic. They are kept for the year and many say they never rot. Throughout the year they will be used to cure the ill, keep away lightening and the wives of sailors put them in the window during storms to protect their husbands.
Festivals & Events
Corsica is an island of culture with an abundance of music, art and cultural festivals. Many of the villages also hold fetes to celebrate its local crafts and produce, as well as religious or historical events.
Whenever you travel there is likely to be something happening close by, however if you would like to plan your trip around a specific event or festival.
Corsica has many rural fairs and festivals that celebrate local produce and they are a fantastic insight into the Corsican people and their love for the island.
A Fiera di U Casgiu in Venaco - 29th & 30th April 2017
A Fiera di U Casgiu is a rural cheese and local produce fair in Venaco, as seen on Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes.
Fiera di U Vinu in Luri - 11th & 12th July 2017
For those who love wine, in the heart of the village of Luri, the Fiera di U Vinu invites the public to taste wines from across Corsica and is a major gathering for the island’s wine producers.
Fiera di l’Alivu in Montegrosso - 16th and 17th July 2016
Around 10,000 visitors honour the olive in a delightful olive grove setting with exhibitions demonstrating olive production over the years and artisans selling refreshments and local produce.
Foire de l’Amandier in Aregno - 5th - 6th August 2017
Just along the coast from Calvi, in the Balagne village of Aregno, the Foire de l’Amandier includes tastings, painting exhibitions, events for children and cooking contests all based around the almond and its trees.
The island hosts a wide range of musical events throughout the year. For more information on any of these events, recommendations of where to stay and how to buy tickets please contact us.
Jazz Festival in Aiacciu - 27th June - 1st July 2017
Ajaccio hosts a jazz festival every year, showcasing some of the most exciting artists of the international and French jazz scene today.
Fête de la Musique - 21st June 2017
Numerous free live music events are held each year across the island.
Rock' Inseme in Biguglia - June
A rock and pop music festival bringing together recognized artists and up-and-coming bands.
Festival du Tango in Bonifacio - 5th - 9th September 2017
A week long event attracting some of the finest tango dancers and guitarists, with street performers as well as shows in bars, restaurants and in the old Citadel.
Calvi on the Rocks - 30th June to 5th July 2017
Youthful electronic music and digital arts festival with nightly concert in the Citadel.
Les Nuits de la Guitare in Patrimonio - 18th to 25th July 2017
The amphitheatre in the village of Patrimonio is the setting for the Nuits de la Guitare, this popular festival that takes place every July and draws stars from the world of guitar, be it jazz, flamenco, blues or rock. Recent guest performers include Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, George Benson and Simple Minds.
Estivoce in Pigna - July 2017
A traditional celebration in and around Pigna of Corsican music and arts with concerts of polyphonic music from June to September with many of the celebrations being in July.
Porto Latino in St Florent - 4th to 7th August 2017
A hot Latin festival with nughtly open-air concerts held in the St Florent Citadel.
Festival de la Musique in Erbalunga - 10th to 13th August 2017
An established music festival in Erbalunga showing off some of the greatest national and local talents.
Rencontres Polyphoniques de Calvi - September 2017
Polyphonic singing is at the heart of Corsican culture and singers from around the world perform in the Citadel at the Rencontres Polyphoniques de Calvi.
Labour Day - 1st May
Victoire 1945 (VE) Day - 8th May
Ascension Day - 25th May
Pentecost - 4th & 5th June
Bastille Day - 14th July 2017
A nationwide celebration to commemorate the French Revolution and the end of the 'Ancien Regime' with various parades, night time animations and firework displays.
A Notte di a Memoria - the Relève du Gouverneur in Bastia - July
A Notte di a Memoria - the Relève du Gouverneur is a re-enactment of the arrival of the French governor with the Citadel in Bastia cloaked in light-and a drum parade through the streets.
Les Fêtes Napoléoniennes in Ajaccio - 13th to 15th August 2017
Ajaccio celebrates the August birthday of Corsica's most famous son (on 15th) with period processions and a fireworks display.
- Location: Corsica France
- Duration: 4,5 hours (approx.)