South Corsica, where mountains meet the sea
Bonifacio - At the very top of the slopes of Saint-Roch, a sudden wind catches us and doesn’t abate. The limestone cliffs gleam in the sun. Junipers creep on the ground and, a hundred metres beneath our feet, the turquoise waters are tempting. We feel like we are reeling, perched precariously on these cliffs, a bit like the town of Bonifacio, with its houses and ramparts which stand out against the clear blue sky.
Mother nature is in command of any holiday in Corsica. She is sometimes wise, often wild. Any walk through the citadel’s cool and dark back alleys will take you back to the sea. In the distance, boats pass the lighthouse of Madonnetta. They are setting off to conquer the Strait of Bonifacio. In this immense marine natural park, the quiet, white, sandy beaches nestle between a gigantic chaos of rocks.
For swimming and nature at its kindest, Porto-Vecchio and its beaches are the place to go. Each has its own character. There is Rondinara, a near-perfect bay with its maquis descending towards a huge beach and clear water. Then Santa-Giulia, a slice of the Seychelles with blocks of granite rising out of the sea. It is Palombaggia that is the most dazzling at the end of the day, as the setting sun sets its red rocks aflame.
In Southern Corsica, however, the untamed mountains are never far away. From Porto-Vecchio, a winding road weaves its way towards the peaks of Bavella. After two hours of ascent, the col: a magical place, exceptional… The mountains, battered and broken by the rain, ice and wind, are a snarl of heaped rocks. From this mineral exuberance spring forth peaks of red granite. Two thousand metres high, the summit of Punta di u Furnellu indifferently keeps watch.
At the feet of the mountains, walking paths wind through twisted Corsican pines. It is at these heights that Corsican identity was forged. Traces of the past can be found on the road to Sartène, in the prehistoric sites of Palaggiu, Stantari and Cauria. The anthropomorphic monoliths and dolmens are nestled under trees, sometimes even under brambles. The trail takes us towards the hilltop villages of the Alta Rocca. Here, the origins of Corsican mountain cooking can be found. A cuisine of cold meats and chestnut flour, a world away from a sea that was too often synonymous with invasion.
When to go?
It is in the Autumn, from mid-September to mid-November, that Corsica is at its most beautiful. The island has rediscovered its calm, locals’ lives return to normal. The roads have emptied, as have the beaches and the sea’s temperature still hovers around 20°. The chestnut groves of Castagniccia and Sartenais have donned their most beautiful colours: shades of yellow, orange and brown. The forests resound to the sound of chestnuts falling to the ground, bouncing off branches.
How to get there?
The island is served throughout the year by ferry companies (Corsica Ferries, La Méridionale, Corsica Linea, Moby), sailing from Marseilles, Nice, Toulon (France), Genoa, Livorno or Savona (Italy), as well as by several airlines flying from Paris and London.
At the Ceccaldi forge, blades are reddening in the flames. Others are being struck with great hammer blows, bent, struck again. They will become magnificent Damascus blades. In the workshops next-door, handles are being crafted from olive wood or horn. All the complexities of making these knives, true works of art, are unveiled.
A cappella at home
As the singers’ voices fill the house, nothing else matters, not time, nor the surroundings. The polyphonic Corsican songs (“A pulifunia Corsa”) are captivating in their power and beauty. Songs sung long ago in remote valleys by shepherds, in your home, brought to you by singers and musicians, passionate about the culture of their island.
Dishes with character
As a starter, Nicole serves copa and lonzu, the two staples of Corsican charcuterie. “Home-made”, she says simply, nodding towards her husband Paul. Tonight, at their isolated farm near the Bavella mountains, brocciu cannelloni and lemon fiadone are on the menu, all helped down with a good Corsican wine and short stories told by the couple, Corsican, always and forever. A delight.
Our address book
Dishes with altitude
Located inside a former schoolhouse, l’Eternisula is an unpretentious establishment with delicious food, perfect for walkers and lovers of good local produce. A no-frills charcuterie platter, hearty salads and pleasing finds such as the chestnut cream tiramisu.
Road to Quenza, 20124 Zonza
Tel. : +33 (0)4 95 27 44 71
The gourmet citadel
Ciccio isn’t a new discovery but the restaurant’s reputation has not been dimmed by the passage of time. Dining on its terrace is as pleasant as ever and the Corsican cuisine, modernised, still seduces.
6 rue Saint Jean-Baptiste, 20169 Bonifacio
Tel. : +33 (0)6 16 98 81 68
A Cantina di l'Orriu
With its hams hanging from the roof and its shelves weighed down with jars, the boutique de l‘Orriu has become an institution thanks to the quality of its products. A restaurant completes your introduction to the local cuisine. You just want to try everything… and buy everything!
5 Cours Napoléon, 20137 Porto-Vecchio
Tel. : +33 (0)4 95 70 26 21
Music on the waves
The Beach, owned by Julien and Florent Santarelli, is an irresistible temptation from those beautiful summer nights. Tizzano, the little port in the commune of Sartène is worth it. Once you are there, sink your feet into the sand and go with the flow of the music, different every night.
Open mid-June to the end of August.
D48, hamlet of Tizzano, 15 km from Sartène
Tel. : +33 (0)4 95 77 07 25
Just a few steps away from Propriano beach, Alta Rocca is a clever mixture of wine bar, tapas bar and live music. We recommend the Alta Rocca cocktail: champagne, cognac and cane sugar.
Closed from November to April.
Marina Viva, 20166 Porticcio
Tel. : +33 (0) 4 95 25 13 87
Grand Café Napoléon
With its large Second Empire room and its emblem depicting the emperor, le Grand Café Napoléon is the place to drink a coffee whilst listening to the noisy and good-humoured conversation and clamour of the locals.
10 cours Napoléon, 20000 Ajaccio
Tel. : + 33 (0) 4 95 21 42 54
History in uppercase stones
This prehistoric site is a fortress village dating from the Bronze Age. It impresses with the size of its stones, piled on top of each other to construct the outer wall which protected the first occupants. From here, the views of the Bavella mountains are splendid. The neighbouring site of Capula dates from the Middle Ages. Don’t miss the Alta Rocca museum in Levie, which houses exhibits found during the excavations.
Tel. : +33 (0)4 95 78 48 21
At Yves Canarelli’s, near to Figari, the aromas of wines mix with those of the maquis which surrounds the vines. M. Canarelli made the risky bet of redeveloping and using organic methods to grow Corsican grape varieties. He has since been recognised as one of the best winemakers on the Island of Beauty and his wines pick up numerous distinctions, particularly his intense, refined and powerful reds.
Tarabucetta Village (20114)
Tel. : + 33 (0) 4 95 71 07 55
L’Uomo di Cagna
A fantastical rock
This lovely walk starting from the village of Giannuccio takes us to the heart of the chaos of rocks nestled in the midst of heather and green oaks. All around, strange, twisted rocks capture your imagination. The most astonishing of them is, of course, the head-shaped Uomo di Cagna, which you will spy after just an hour of walking in the maquis.
Starting from the village of Giannuccio