This summer, head to this chic island where the french go to escape.
Europeans have long known the natural beauty of Corsica. When the Greeks first saw the mountainous island amid sparkling blue seas, they called it Kallisté: the most beautiful. Henri Matisse responded to the French island’s loveliness as a painter, where “all is color, all is light.”
While the French have vacationed in Corsica for ages, many Americans have largely yet to discover this enchanting place. As the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, Corsica has it all—delightful port towns; rugged mountains and ribbons of shoreline with soft sandy beaches; medieval towns and sweet hillside villages. Corsica also has a fascinating history, with its mash-up of cultural influences from Italy, North Africa, and France. Many locals speak an Italian dialect, though the island is French, and religious processions still take place through the cobblestone streets.
So bring your hiking boots, a bathing suit, and a dress for evenings in Corsica’s lively harbors. And don’t forget to ask locals about the witches and the Moors.
Here, the can’t-miss spots.
Perched on limestone cliffs above the Mediterranean, the ancient fortress is one of Corsica’s most captivating places. (It could easily be a setting in Game of Thrones.) Founded in the 9th century by Boniface II of Tuscany, the town is a delightful maze of cobblestone streets lined with old stone houses, outdoor cafés, and shops peddling honey, cheese, wine, and other Corsican specialties. Acclaimed French actress Marie-José Nat lives in a two-story house right on the edge of the cliffs.
PHOTO: ALAMY / BONIFACIO AT DAWN IN CORSICA, FRANCE
Église Saint-Dominique de Bonifacio
This beautiful Gothic cathedral dates to the 13th century and is the largest church on Corsica. Corsica is enjoying a renaissance in the island’s Old World polyphonic singing style, and the spacious, high-ceiling church regularly holds concerts featuring the region’s best performers.
Escalier du Roi d’Aragon (King Aragon Steps)
Caved into the chalky white cliffs, this magnificent diagonal stairway runs from the top of Bonifacio to a hidden well. According to legend, in a vain effort to capture the town, Aragonese soldiers supposedly carved the 187 steps in a single night. But like many stories in fable-rich Corsica, it’s hard to know if it’s true.
PHOTO: VOGUE.COM/GETTY IMAGES / KING OF ARAGON STEPS
Gulf of Porto
This stunning nature reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is world-famous for its Calanques de Piana—dramatic red granite formations that jut out of the sea and change color with the sun. You can tell the spot by the Genoese watchtower atop the cliffs. The seaside town of Porto offers daily boat tours to the area, but you can also explore the landscape on foot. Also in the area is the Scandola reserve, one of the most pristine spots in Corsica. Because of its isolation, the UNESCO site features an amazing array of marine life, offering some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Corsica.
PHOTO: VOGUE.COM / ALAMY / THE SCANDOLA NATURE RESERVE
Nestled in the mountains and overlooking the shimmering Gulf of Porto, Piana is one of France’s “plus beaux villages”—or most beautiful villages. The picturesque village borders the Calanques, and its pretty pastel-color houses, narrow streets, and town square make it a charming place to wander or stop for lunch.
PHOTO: VOGUE.COM / ALAMY / PIANA VILLAGE
Located off the coast of Bonifacio, these remote islands are something of a paradise. With their abundant marine life, the islands are a top snorkeling and scuba diving spot in Corsica. For sunbathers, there are secluded beaches. You can only get to Lavezzi by boat, but tours leave daily from the harbor in Bonifacio.
This stylish resort is popular with Italian tourists and has some of Corsica’s most stunning beaches, including Palombaggia, Tamaricciu, and Santa Giulia. If you want an entirely different experience, travel inland to explore the mountainous region of Alta Rocca, with its gorges, rivers, and waterfalls.
PHOTO: VOGUE.COM / ALAMY / PALOMBAGGIA BEACH IN PORTO VECCHIO
The GR 20
One of the best-known hiking trails in Europe, the GR 20 winds more than 100 miles along Corsica’s granite spine. Although it’s a difficult hike, it leads you through a wilderness of glacial lakes and dense forests with glimpses of the Mediterranean that few tourists ever see. There are huts for hikers along the trail or you can also go with a guide.
Where to Eat and Stay
Da Passano, Bonifacio
The bustling marina in Bonifacio has a variety of outdoor cafés and great restaurants, but this cozy night spot is one of the best—a bar and restaurant with terrific cocktails where you can savor tapas and listen to live music.
Cala di Greco Hotel, Bonifacio
This pretty hotel overlooks the town and harbor of Bonifacio. The rooms are modern and stylish with private gardens. A tranquil infinity pool offers stunning views of the bay.
PHOTO: BRITANNICA.COM / MOUNTAINS SURROUNDING THE CLIFF-TOP TOWN OF MONTEMAGGIORE, CORSICA, FRANCE.
PHOTO: MARTIN SOLVEIG & LAFAILLE SMASH @ VIA NOTTE, PORTO VECCHIO
Great holiday means fun nightlife and dance until dawn with the music of famous national and international DJs. Will Corsica be your next destination? Well, these are the 5 best nightclubs of the Island of beauty:
- Le Blue Moon. It’s in Porticcio, a small and picturesque village near Ajaccio, the Corsican capital city (just thirty minutes by car).
Official website: Bluemooncorsica.fr.
- Le Midnight. Open from 11:30pm to 5pm. It’s in Propriano, easy to reach from Bonifacio, on the south coast of the island of beauty: just one hour by car.
Official website: Midnightclub-2a.skyrock.com.
- La Via Notte. Welcome to one of the most famous nightclubs in Corsica. Famous not only for the international DJs but even for the location: it’s near Porto Vecchio, renowned places for its beaches.
Official website: Vianotte.com.
- Le Raffaello. In Bastia, on the north cost. Le Raffaello is open from Thursday to Saturday, from 11pm to 5 am.
Official website: Lerafaello.com.
- La Camargue. One of the must-see nightclubs if you want to live the Corsica nightlife. It’s in Calvi, on the northwestern coast of the island.
Official website: Discothequecamargue.com.
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