Take a Wild-Island Road Trip in the Med

Indulge yourself and explore the ancient coastal towns of Corsica.

My foot hovers over the brake of my little black Peugeot rental car as yet another hairpin bend comes into view. There’s a sharp intake of breath from my front-seat passenger, who is clinging to her seat as she tries not to look out her window at the steep cliff edge. By contrast, my back-seat passenger is furiously taking photos of the stunning scenery below us. This is Corsica’s infamous D81B road… and it perfectly sums up all that this Mediterranean island is: wild, beautiful, and awe-inspiring.

Located  between France and Italy, Corsica is an intriguing mix of all things European with a little of Africa thrown in—the food has a heavy Italian influence, the attitude is distinctly French, and the Corsican flag with the Moor’s head is proudly displayed everywhere.

The best way to get around the island is by car. My Corsican road trip started in the northeastern port of Bastia. Visitors often overlook Bastia, an industrial town. But it’s worth your while to head away from the bustling port and wander around the old town. There, family fishing boats bob in a small, quiet harbor and you’ll find dozens of seafood restaurants to choose from. Further up the hill from the harbor, the town’s citadel stands guard. Painted yellow, orange, and red, it dates back to the 14th century. And it’s a great place to stop for a café au lait and a delicious lemon macaroon and to admire the view of the town below.

Leaving Bastia, head southwest. Inland Corsica spreads out before you, a landscape of mountains, deep gorges, and rolling pastures. You could be in the west of Ireland or on New Zealand’s North Island. The rich green landscape is not what you’d expect of an island where summer lasts well into October.

Driving out of the mountainous interior you have a bird’s-eye view of Corsica’s perfect white-sand beaches… the prettiest of which is right in the town of Île Rousse. The central square here is lined with outdoor cafés and is quintessentially French. But the beach looks as though it could be in the Caribbean. The sand is soft and warm. Lapping up onto it is impossibly clear, turquoise water. And as backdrop you have the pink cliffs for which the town is named (Île Rousse means “Pink Island”).

Just 16 miles farther south along this west coast is Calvi. Famous as the town where Christopher Columbus once lived, it retains a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere despite its obvious popularity. It’s a small, pedestrian-friendly place full of long, narrow streets running parallel to the waterfront with restaurants, bakeries, craft shops, and cafés.

A delicious dinner for two, including a bottle of the local white wine, comes to around $60 (make sure you try the small pieces of potato fried in garlic–a local specialty. Your taste buds will thank you; your friends may not).

The waterfront itself is lined with even more restaurants serving everything from fresh fish to pizza and burgers. Try the Havana Bar for an after-dinner champagne mojito and watch the French Foreign Legionnaires strut up and down the promenade in their uniforms (the base is just a couple of miles outside of town).

If you prefer things a little quieter, head for this town’s citadel. Perched on a hill overlooking the harbor and the red-tile roofs of the town below, this is Calvi’s most spectacular site. During the day you’ll find stalls selling colorful local pottery. But for a truly magical experience, visit the citadel at night. In the dark, the dimly-lit cobblestone streets can lead you to a dark dead end or to a quiet little restaurant of simple wooden tables and twinkling fairy lights. I stumbled across a small church that was hosting a concert of Corsica’s unique polyphonic music (a mixture of chanting and musical choir).

The Hotel Revellata is a good place to stay at $90 per person (See: It’s about a five-minute walk from the citadel, with a pool, a bar, and large comfortable rooms. It also has parking, a rarity in Calvi.

We headed last for the island’s capital of Ajaccio to catch a ferry to France—and it was on this stretch my friend was gripping her passenger-side door. Between Calvi and the tiny town of Porto, the D81B hugs the coastline with just enough room for two small cars to pass one another. Twisting and turning like a roller-coaster ride, this is a driving experience like no other, particularly when you factor in wild goats, big potholes, and locals passing on corners.

But the natural beauty of this island makes the drive worthwhile…sheer cliffs that drop down to the glistening Mediterranean sea below, the small coastal towns tucked into the hills, the wildness and ruggedness…

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)


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