NEW DIRECT FLIGHTS HAVE IMPROVED ACCESS TO THE WILD AND SCENIC MEDITERRANEAN ISLAND. BEVERLEY ROUSE DISCOVERS ITS APPEAL
CORSICA may be the birthplace of French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, but there is so much more to this beautiful, laid-back island.
Its capital, Ajaccio, is the location of the Bonaparte family home, where Napoleon was born in 1769 and which is now a museum.
The port city, situated on the west of the island, is one of the destinations for Air Corsica’s new direct seasonal flights from London Stansted.
A mountainous Mediterranean island off the west coast of Italy and the south-east coast of France, Corsica has been governed by the French since it was handed over by the Republic of Genoa to pay debts in 1768.
But what can you expect from a trip to this dynamite destination?
ON THE ROAD
AFTER flying into Ajaccio, we take a scenic two-and-a-half-hour drive from west to east to the Sunelia Perla Di Mare resort, near Ghisonaccia.
The route takes us along quiet, winding mountain roads and through green countryside and dense pine forests. Traffic lights are few and far between, so if you’ve never driven abroad, Corsica is an ideal place to start – as long as you can hold your nerve when a coach comes the opposite way, when you’re on a narrow road next to a steep drop.
The island is home to the GR20 – said to be one of the most difficult hiking trails in Europe – and is popular with cyclists, although e-bikes are available to hire for those whose legs need a little help.
I decide to give my legs an easier challenge with a cycle round the bumpy paths of the pine forest near my family-friendly lodge (bike hire is €12/£10 a day for adults or €50/£45 per week).
The resort is right on the beach and there is a kids’ club to keep children entertained.
There is also a beautiful spa (€60/£53 for a 50-minute massage), and yoga takes place on a quiet decked area within the spa complex.
Evening entertainment near the bar area is great for parents who want to dine while their children are happily occupied by karaoke or a conga led by Sunny, Sunelia’s ladybird mascot.
EXPLORING THE ISLAND
CORSICA has plenty more to offer for those who hire a car and leave the site. The medieval town of Bonifacio, on the southern tip of the island, is a must-see, with a breathtaking view from the restaurant-lined harbour of the Bastion d’Etendard.
This formed the most important part of fortifications which date back to 1195, and were built to defend the city.
Walk up the steep hill for a closer look or, like me, take the Petit Train de Bonifacio (€5/£4.50) and save your legs for the walk back down.
A 30-MINUTE boat trip with SPMB Promenades en Mer (€35/£30) from Bonifacio to the nature reserve at Lavezzu – part of the archipelago Iles Lavezzi – is one of the highlights of my stay and shows how close the French island of Corsica is to Sardinia, its Italian neighbour which is just eight miles away.
We have a picnic lunch on Lavezzu, an unspoilt island of granite rocks where there is little but an abandoned shepherd’s hut and a cemetery housing the remains of 700 sailors who died in a shipwreck in 1855.
On the hour-long journey back, it’s fascinating to see the sheer white cliffs and caves, one of which locals say is the shape of Napoleon’s hat.
The boat even goes inside one cave to see a hole to the sky, which is said to be shaped like Corsica. It’s an impressive feat when they turn the boat around to get it out again! There is also a fantastic view of the King of Aragon’s Stairway, 187 steps which were said to have been cut into the cliff by invading soldiers in 1420, although the less dramatic truth is that it was created by locals in a natural rift in the cliff to access drinking water. For those staying longer, Delphine – who has been a tour guide for nine years – recommends a trip to see the spectacular rocky red granite needleshaped peaks of the Aiguilles de Bavella in the south of the island.
DELVING INTO HISTORY
WHILE we don’t manage that, we do squeeze in a visit to the Aleria Museum (€2/£1.70) where fascinating objects from the history of Corsica include fertility symbols and drinking vessels in the shape of animals’ heads.
The ticket price includes a look around the remains of the ancient town of Aleria, built between the first and second century BC, with parts of the forum, shops, temples and baths visible following excavation.
A chalet at the Sunelia Perla di Mare resort
The pool at Sunelia Perla di Mare
Beverley on a cycle trail in Corsica