Cor­sica

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - BY GI­U­LIA PINES

Cor­sica isn’t ex­actly easy to reach, but that’s just part of its charm. A laid-back jaunt through this not-quite-french is­land.

WE PULLED OVER IN A TINY VIL­LAGE AND FOL­LOW­ING A SIGN THAT, SIM­PLY AND WITH­OUT FAN­FARE, POINTED UP.

“BONI­FA­CIO IS A TAN­GLE OF PEACH AND WHITE HOUSES, COB­BLE­STONE STREETS AND EROD­ING TRAILS BUILT ATOP DRA­MATIC LIME­STONE CLIFFS.”

You only need to look at a map to

un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult it is to reach Cor­sica, but even that doesn’t truly get at the heart of its iso­lated charm. Only once you’re on a tiny plane, bear­ing down on a nar­row val­ley be­tween rocky slopes, eye­ing a pa­per-thin run­way as the plane bucks wildly to get into po­si­tion, do you ap­pre­ci­ate just how un­likely it is that you would end up here.

When a friend and I ze­roed in on the is­land last sum­mer, it seemed about as re­mote as the South Pa­cific. As it turns out, that’s the best thing about Cor­sica, which may be­long to France, but prob­a­bly wouldn’t call it­self French. It’s been hap­pily ex­ist­ing in un­of­fi­cial semi­au­ton­omy, with its own dialect and writ­ten lan­guage, since long be­fore its most fa­mous son Napoleon Bon­a­parte was born.

It’s worth a day trip to check out one of the diminu­tive French leader’s old haunts: the dra­matic city of Boni­fa­cio, its tan­gle of peach and white houses, cob­ble­stone streets and erod­ing trails built atop lime­stone cliffs. But if you want to see the best of Cor­sica, bet­ter stay out of town.

Luck­ily, a grow­ing list of rental web­sites has made it eas­ier for small-time prop­erty own­ers to con­nect with vis­i­tors look­ing for pri­vacy, the thrill of driv­ing up a twist­ing gravel road to your very own se­cluded stone cot­tage. (Gites de France is ideal if you un­der­stand French; for every­one else, there’s Bou­tique Homes.)

We found our own slice of rugged par­adise 15-min­utes’ drive from the near­est town – a bi-level, three-bed­room cot­tage cling­ing to the hill­side in a vil­lage so small it barely had a name. Stone steps led up to a swim­ming pool with panoramic views of what ap­peared to be three sep­a­rate moun­tain ranges, lay­ered like vol­umes on a book­shelf, each mist­ier and more mys­te­ri­ous as it re­ceded into the dis­tance.

We ar­rived just in time for Sun­day’s open-air mar­ket in Porto-vec­chio. Ven­dors fanned out from the town’s main square, hawk­ing lo­cally pressed olive oil and home­dis­tilled liqueurs, jars of lus­cious pre­served lemons in golden brine, jams and chut­neys and heaps of pro­duce.

Weighed down with our finds, we found our­selves hun­gry, and begged one of the ven­dors for a tip. He informed us that he was about to make a de­liv­ery of lemons to a lo­cal restau­rant, and we were more than wel­come to fol­low. A short while later, a tiny pro­ces­sion formed: we three with our bags of pro­duce, and he at the front, balanc­ing a crate of cit­rus on one shoul­der as he

guided us away from the mar­ket’s bus­tle. He led us to the courtyard of a tiny es­tab­lish­ment, where car­tons of del­i­cate squash blos­soms rested on a ta­ble, await­ing their chef. That day, we dined on calf’s liver in rich tomato sauce and grilled sum­mer veg­eta­bles with sea salt.

This was only a small hint of what we would en­joy at home. Cor­si­can cuisine is com­fort food – homey ver­sions of French and Ital­ian clas­sics with freshly caught seafood and semi-feral lo­cal pork. Our near­est su­per­mar­ket – de­scribed as “some­what sparse” by our villa owner was, in fact, over­flow­ing with a bounty of rich­ness we’d be hard pressed to find on the main­land. Adding to our green­mar­ket haul, we came away with steaks, char­cu­terie and bot­tles of Cor­si­can wine. With its unique mix of soils and cli­mates, the grapes grown on this sunny Mediter­ranean isle are like noth­ing else in the world.

The days be­came a blur of cook­ing, swim­ming and hik­ing – plough­ing through our is­land del­i­ca­cies while in­vent­ing new ways of work­ing off the calo­rie count.

One af­ter­noon we nav­i­gated hair­pin turns into the nearby moun­tains, pulling over in a tiny vil­lage and fol­low­ing a sign that, sim­ply and with­out fan­fare, pointed up. Two hours later we sat over­look­ing those misty peaks we had ad­mired from our own ter­race, shar­ing a sand­wich of paté on crusty bread, ex­chang­ing sat­is­fied looks with other day-trip­pers a few boul­ders over.

An­other morn­ing we parked by the side of the road when a glimpse of azure called to us through flow­er­ing shrubs, march­ing down nubby stone steps to a beach where we were the only non-euro­peans, our English pierc­ing the chat­ter of French and Ital­ian but ap­pear­ing to bother no­body. Many had been com­ing to Cor­sica for years, un­able to re­sist the is­land’s firm hold on their imag­i­na­tion. But they were more than happy to wel­come new­com­ers to their semi-kept se­cret.

And that’s the thing about Cor­sica, with its quiet con­tem­pla­tion, its beauty unglam­orous but un­re­strained. Once there, you of­ten find your­self ex­chang­ing sly, know­ing looks with other trav­ellers - tacit ac­knowl­edge­ments that you’ve dis­cov­ered some­thing quite spe­cial.

“WE FOUND OUR OWN SLICE OF RUGGED PAR­ADISE CLING­ING TO THE HILL­SIDE IN A VIL­LAGE SO SMALL IT BARELY HAD A NAME.”

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