Corsica: The Best of France and Italy in One Enchanting Island

Corsica: The Best of France and Italy in One Enchanting Island

Fresh air, fish stew, red wine. I’ll sleep. Tonight’s lullaby is the murmur of waves and the tinkle of masts in Macinaggio’s harbor.

Earlier I’d walked the village’s Sentier Douane, a seashore footpath once used by customs officers hunting for smugglers. Views are spectacular: the turquoise Mediterranean, a crumbling Genoese watchtower, the tiny trio of Finocchiarola islets.

Cap Corse is Corsica’s northern promontory. Maps show it as a finger gesturing rudely to the mainland. Maybe that’s appropriate given the island’s history of conquest. French in name and rule, Corsica’s soul and traditions remind me more of Sardinia, its Italian island neighbor.

Balzac called Corsica a “French island basking in the Italian sun.” This isn’t Parisian weather. Even in late October, afternoon temperatures often hit 73F—still warm enough to sunbathe and swim.

No large scale resorts, no over-development. Instead, its 600 miles of coastline are necklaced with silver beaches, crescent moon coves, stone towers and tiny fishing villages.

The interior is wild—a hiker’s idyll of shepherd tracks, sparkly rivers and granite mountains contorted into needles and spires. Below the crags are orchards, vineyards and stone villages half as old as time.

Goats spill across spaghetti-thin roads, red kites hover overhead, wild boar rummage in forests of oak, pine and sweet chestnut. Everywhere is perfumed with the scent of the maquis—Corsica’s dense shrubland of myrtle, rosemary, eucalyptus and numerous other herbs and flowers.

France, yes—games of boules are definitely French. So are croissants, pastis, and the tricolor flying above town halls.

But there’s also pasta and pizza from wood-fired ovens. Churches often have campanile bell towers straight off a Tuscan postcard. While vineyards flank the Route des Vins, the Balagne’s crafts trail is signposted as an Italian-sounding Strada di Artigiani.

Five centuries of Genoese rule helps explain the culture collision. Genoa only sold it to the French in 1768. Corsicans weave France and Italy together, but with a distinct warp and weft to the fabric.

Corsica’s own flag, a sinister-looking Moor’s Head, adorns car number-plates—my rented Citroen included. Its language combines French with old Genoese. And the past is studded with everything from prehistoric megaliths to pirate kidnappings, village witchcraft and bloody vendettas.

Although it’s not a bargain hotspot, prices are still less than on the Riviera. So, 165,000 euro ($220,000) for a 645-square-foot apartment in Ajaccio’s historic castle quarter isn’t considered expensive by local standards. After all, Ajaccio is Corsica’s capital as well as Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthplace.

But you can get a foothold for less than 100,000 euro. Or you can rent. I’ll tell you more in IL magazine’s February issue—subscribe now to make sure you get my full Corsica report on February 1st.

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