Corsica Explorer, May 28 - June 8, 2018
With Jeremy Woodhouse
(12 days – 11 nights), to ensure an intimate and personal experience max group size 6 plus your leader
Jutting out of the Med like an impregnable fortress, Corsica resembles a miniature continent, with astounding geographical diversity. Within half an hour, the landscape morphs from glittering bays, glitzy coastal cities and fabulous beaches to sawtooth peaks, breathtaking valleys, dense forests and enigmatic hilltop villages. Holidays in Corsica will therefore be incredibly varied: from hiking and canyoning to working your tan, enjoying a leisurely cruise, delving into the island’s rich history and sampling local specialities.
Though Corsica has officially been part of France for more than 200 years, it feels different from the mainland in everything from customs and cuisine to language and character, and that’s part of its appeal. Locals love talking about their Corsican identity so plenty of engaging evenings await, especially if the holy trilogy of food, wine and melodious Corsican music are involved.
Day 1: Mon, 28 May—Arrive Ajaccio O/N
Ajaccio is all class and seduction. Commanding a lovely sweep of bay, the city breathes confidence and has more than a whiff of the Côte d’Azur. Everyone from solo travellers to romance-seeking couples and families will love moseying around the centre, replete with mellow-toned buildings and buzzing cafes – not to mention its large marina and the trendy rte des Sanguinaires area, a few kilometres to the west.
The spectre of Corsica’s general looms over Ajaccio. Napoléon Bonaparte was born here in 1769, and the city is dotted with sites relating to the diminutive dictator, from his childhood home to seafront statues, museums and street names.
O/N Best Western Plus Ajaccio Amirauté B
Day 2: Tue, 29 May—Drive to Bonifacio O/N
With its glittering harbour, dramatic perch atop creamy white cliffs, and stout citadel above the cornflower-blue waters of the Bouches de Bonifacio, this dazzling port is an essential stop. Just a short hop from Sardinia, Bonifacio has a distinctly Italianate feel: sun-bleached town houses, dangling washing lines and murky chapels cram the web of alleyways of the old citadel; down below on the harbourside, brasseries and boat kiosks tout their wares to the droves of day trippers. Bonifacio’s also perfectly positioned for exploring the island’s southerly beaches and the Îles Lavezzi.
Campomoro--Situated on the south coast of the Golfe de Valencio, the small village of Campomoro is a peaceful place to relax. A 10-minute walk along the well-marked path dotted with informative signs leads to the door of the Tour de Campomoro, built in th16th century by the Genoese. This fortress, the largest in Corsica, allows visitors to explore the interior of a typical defensive tower and offers magnificent views of the gulf. Experienced hikers can also explore another splendid coastal path that runs south from Campomoro to Tizzano.
DK Eyewitness Travel
Filitosa—Corsica's most important prehistoric site is Filitosa, northwest of Propriano, where a collection of extraordinary carved Bronze Age menhirs were discovered in 1946. The Filitosa menhirs are highly unusual: several have detailed faces, anatomical features (such as ribcages) and even swords and armour, suggesting that they may commemorate specific warriors or chieftains. Allow an hour to explore the main hilltop site and its pastoral surrounds, including a 1000-year-old olive tree, an ancient quarry and a museum, newly expanded in 2017.
Sartène--With its grey granite houses, secretive dead-end alleys and sombre, introspective air, Sartène has long been said to encapsulate Corsica’s rugged spirit (French novelist Prosper Mérimée dubbed it the ‘most Corsican of Corsican towns’). There’s no doubt that Sartène feels a long way from the glitter of the Corsican coast; the hillside houses are endearingly ramshackle, the streets are shady and scruffy, and life still crawls along at a traditional tilt. It offers a much more convincing glimpse of how life was once lived in rural Corsica than any of the island’s more well-heeled towns.
HOURS: 9am-sunset Apr-Oct
O/N Hotel L’Escale B
Day 3: Wed, 30 May—Bonifacio O/N
Citadel Much of Bonifacio’s charm comes from strolling the citadel’s shady streets, several spanned by arched aqueducts designed to collect rainwater to fill the communal cistern opposite Église Ste-Marie Majeure. From the marina, the paved steps of montée du Rastello and montée St-Roch bring you up to the citadel’s old gateway, Porte de Gênes, complete with an original 16th-century drawbridge.
Inside the gateway is the 13th-century Bastion de l’Étendard, home to a small history museum. Stroll the ramparts to place du Marché and place de la Manichella for jaw-dropping views over the Bouches de Bonifacio.
On the other side of the citadel, the Escalier du Roi d’Aragon cuts down the southern cliff-face.
West along the limestone headland is the Église Ste-Dominique, one of Corsica’s few Gothic churches and, a little further, Bonifacio’s eerily quiet but beautiful marine cemetery. At the western tip of the peninsula, an underground passage dug by hand during WWII leads to the Gouvernail de la Corse, a rudder-shaped rock about 12m from the shore.
Escalier du Roi d’Aragon This impressive staircase cuts down the southern cliff-face of Bonifacio. Legend says its 187 steep steps were carved in a single night by Aragonese troops during the siege of 1420, only for troops to be rebuffed by retaliating Bonifacio residents at the top. In reality the steps served as an access path to an underground freshwater well.
PRICE: adult/child €2.50/free, incl Bastion de l’Étendard €3.50/free
HOURS: 9am-sunset Apr-Oct
Bastion de l’Étendard Inside the citadel’s old gateway, the Porte de Gênes, is the 13th-century Bastion de l’Étendard, which houses a small historical museum exploring Bonifacio’s past.
PRICE: adult/child €2.50/free, incl Escalier du Roi d'Aragon €3.50/free
HOURS: 9am-8pm mid-Apr–Sep, 10am-5pm rest of year
O/N Hotel L’Escale B
Day 4: Thu, 31 May—Bastia
Plage de Palombaggia When it comes to wishing for the archetypal 'idyllic beach', it's impossible to think past the immense Plage de Palombaggia. This is the Corsican paradise you've been daydreaming about: sparkling turquoise waters, long stretches of sand edged with pine trees and splendiferous views over the Îles Cerbicale.
Aiguilles de Bavella—The Col de Bavella (Bavella Pass; 1218m) is overlooked by the imposing silhouette of one of southern Corsica's most striking and beautiful landscape features: the sharp points of the Aiguilles de Bavella (Bavella Needles). If you're lucky you may spot a few of the mouflons (wild mountain sheep) that sashay around the area.
The peaks, which rise to a height of more than 1600m and which are also known as the Cornes d'Asinao (Asinao Horns), are jagged points whose colour ranges from grey to ochre to golden depending on the position of the sun in the sky. Behind these stone 'needles' looms the profile of Monte Incudine (2134m), which the GR20 links to the Col de Bavella. From the pass you can see the statue of Notre Dame des Neiges (Our Lady of the Snows). The Bavella massif is a wonderful place for climbing, canyoning and walking. There is a high-mountain spur of the GR20 that splits off north beyond Notre Dame des Neiges and allows you to approach the peaks. Alternatively, follow the red-marked trail one hour south to the Trou de la Bombe, a giant hole in the rock accessed mostly by a wide dirt road, with a last-minute scramble up the rocks.
Bastia and Cap Corse—Seen on the map, Bastia and Cap Corse may look like an insignificant fraction of the island, yet Corsica's second city and the enchanting peninsula next door pack in an amazing variety of attractions. You could easily spend a week here, hiking Cap Corse's trails, gawking at the spectacular coastal scenery, exploring small towns such as Nonza, Centuri and Erbalunga, and rubbing elbows with locals in the markets and narrow lanes of Bastia's Terra Vecchia neigbourhood.
Erbalunga—From Bastia, the coast unfurls through seaside resorts and tiny beaches towards this quaint harbour village, 9km to the north. Wander down to Erbalunga’s cute village square and quayside, casually strewn with well-used fishing boats and tempting restaurant terraces. Narrow alleys lead through shady courtyards to a romantic, 16th-century Genoese tower by the water
O/N Best Western Bastia Center B
Day 5: Fri, 1 June—Bastia
Terra Nova Above Jardin Romieu looms Bastia’s amber-hued citadel, built from the 15th to 17th centuries as a stronghold for the city’s Genoese masters. Inside, the Palais des Gouverneurs houses the Musée de Bastia, which retraces the city’s history. A few streets south, don’t miss the majestic Cathédrale Ste-Marie and nearby Église Ste-Croix, featuring gilded ceilings and a mysterious black-oak crucifix found in the sea in 1428.
Cathédrale Ste-Marie--Bastia's cathedral dates back to the 17th century and is one of the most richly ornate churches in the city.
Église Ste-Croix—The Église Ste-Croix features gilded ceilings and a mysterious black-oak crucifix, which was found in the sea in 1428.
Terra Vecchio--A spiderweb of narrow lanes, Terra Vecchia is Bastia’s heart and soul. Shady place de l’Hôtel de Ville hosts a lively morning market on Saturday and Sunday. One block west, baroque Chapelle de l’Immaculée Conception, with its elaborately painted barrel-vaulted ceiling, briefly served as the seat of the short-lived Anglo-Corsican parliament in 1795. Further north is Chapelle St-Roch, with an 18th-century organ and trompe l’œil roof.
Vieux Port--Bastia’s Vieux Port is ringed by pastel-coloured tenements and buzzy brasseries, as well as the twin-towered Église St-Jean Baptiste. The best views of the harbour are from the Citadelle or from the hillside park of Jardin Romieu, reached via a gorgeous old stately staircase that twists uphill from the waterfront.
Église St-Jean Baptiste--This dramatic twin-towered church rises majestically above the Vieux Port waterfront. Viewed from the Citadelle above, it makes for one of Bastia's most iconic photo ops.
Place St-Nicolas--Bastia’s buzzing focal point is 19th-century place St-Nicolas, a gigantic asphalt-covered square that sprawls along the seafront between the ferry port and the harbour. Named after the patron saint of sailors – a nod to Corsica’s seagoing heritage – the square is lined with plane trees and a string of attractive terrace cafes along its western edge, as well as a statue of Napoléon Bonaparte.
Chapelle de l’Immaculée Conception—Don’t miss the baroque Chapelle de l’Immaculée Conception, with its elaborately painted barrel-vaulted ceiling; it briefly served as the seat of the short-lived Anglo-Corsican parliament in 1795.
Chapelle St-Roch--The Chapelle St-Roch is known for its 18th-century organ and trompe l’œil roof.
O/N Best Western Bastia Center B
Day 6: Sat, 2 June—Calvi
Tour de Nonza From the village church, weave your way up between rocks and sun-warmed cacti to the Tour de Nonza. The old Genoese watchtower, one of Corsica’s best-kept, boasts staggering coastal views (and, unfortunately, a ticky-tacky souvenir shop inside its thick stone walls).
Basking between the fiery orange bastions of its 15th-century citadel and the glittering waters of a moon-shaped bay, Calvi feels closer to the chichi sophistication of a French Riviera resort than a historic Corsican port. Palatial yachts and private cruisers jostle for space along its harbourside, lined with upmarket brasseries and cafes, while high above the quay the watchtowers and battlements of the town’s Genoese stronghold stand guard, proffering sweeping views inland to Monte Cinto (2706m). Unsurprisingly, Calvi is one of Corsica’s most popular tourist spots and in summer it’s crammed to bursting.
O/N Hotel Sole Mare B
Day 7: Sun, 3 June—Calvi
Citadel Crowning a lofty promontory, Calvi’s massive fortified citadel offers superb wraparound views from its five bastions. Built by the town’s Genoese governors, it has fended off everyone from Franco-Turkish raiders to Anglo-Corsican armies. Inside the battlements, don’t miss the well-proportioned Caserne Sampiero, a military barracks that once served as the Genoese administration's seat of power, and the 13th-century Cathédrale St-Jean Baptiste, whose most celebrated relic is the ebony Christ des Miracles, credited with saving Calvi from Saracen invasion in 1553.
Plage de Calvi Calvi’s stellar 4km-long sandy beach has some of the best views of Calvi’s citadel. It begins at the marina and runs east around the Golfe de Calvi. Rent kayaks and windsurfing sailboards on the sand, and hook up with local diving schools by the tourist office at the marina.
O/N Hotel Sole Mare B
Day 8: Mon, 4 June—Corte O/N
Secretive. Inward looking. Staunchly Corsican. In many ways, the mountain town of Corte feels different from other Corsican cities. This is the heart and soul of Corsica. It has been at the centre of the island’s fortunes since Pascal Paoli made it the capital of his short-lived Corsican republic in 1755, and it remains a nationalist stronghold. It is also Corsica's only university town, with a youthful energy that sets it apart. In summer it’s a popular base for those eager to canyon, hike, rock climb and mountain bike in the nearby Restonica and Tavignano valleys.
O/N Hotel HR B
Day 9: Tue, 5 June—Corte
Citadel Jutting out above the Tavignano and Restonica Rivers, and the cobbled alleyways of the Haute Ville, the citadel’s oldest part is the château – known as the Nid d’Aigle, meaning ‘Eagle’s Nest’ – built in 1419. The 19th-century barracks now houses the tourist office and the Museu di a Corsica, a must-see for Corsica culture buffs. It’s a joint admission for the museum and citadel.
PRICE: adult/child incl Museu di a Corsica €5.30/1.50
HOURS: 10am-5pm Tue-Sun Apr-Jun & Oct, to 7pm daily late Jun-late Sep, shorter hours in winter
Belvedere--For stunning views of the city, the citadel and surrounding valleys without paying the citadel/museum admission charge, head to the belvédère (viewing platform) south of the citadel, reached via a signposted staircase just outside the ramparts.
Place Gaffory--From the citadel, meander downhill to place Gaffory, a lively square lined with restaurants and cafes and dominated by the 15th-century Église de l’Annonciation. The walls of nearby houses are pock-marked with bullet holes, reputedly from Corsica’s war of independence.
Cours Paoli--A gentle wander along the main strip makes a pleasant prelude to an aperitif or a fine meal at one of the town’s good restaurants. Start from place Paoli, Corte’s focal point, which is dominated by a statue of Pascal Paoli, and stroll down the cours.
O/N Hotel HR B
Day 10: Wed, 6 June—Porto/Piana
The overwhelming proximity of the mountains, combined with the pervasive eucalyptus and spicy scent of the maquis, give Porto, 30km south of Calvi, a uniquely intense atmosphere that makes it one of the most interesting places to stay on the west coast. Except for a watchtower erected here by the Genoese in the second half of the sixteenth century, the site was only built upon with the onset of tourism since the 1950s; today the village is still so small that it can become claustrophobic in July and August, when overcrowding is no joke. Off season, the place becomes eerily deserted, so you’d do well to choose your times carefully; the best months are May, June and September.
The crowds and traffic jams tend to be most oppressive passing the famous Calanches, a huge mass of weirdly eroded pink rock just southwest of Porto, but you can easily sidestep the tourist deluge in picturesque Piana, which overlooks the gulf from its southern shore, or by heading inland from Porto through the Gorges de Spelunca. Forming a ravine running from the sea to the watershed of the island, this spectacular gorge gives access to the equally grandiose Forêt d’Aïtone, site of Corsica’s most ancient Laricio pine trees and a deservedly popular hiking area. Throughout the forest, the river and its tributaries are punctuated by strings of piscines naturelles (natural swimming pools) – a refreshing alternative to the beaches hereabouts. If you’re travelling between Porto and Ajaccio, a worthwhile place to break the journey is the clifftop village of Cargèse where the two main attractions are the Greek church and spectacular beach.
Genoese Tower--Climb the russet-coloured rocks from the harbour to this impressive Genoese tower, which commands dramatic views of the town, the seacoast and the surrounding mountains.
HOURS: 9am-6pm mid-Apr–mid-Oct
Piana--Teetering above the Golfe de Porto, the village of Piana (www.otpiana.com) makes for a less-frenzied base than nearby Porto in the high season, and is a useful launching pad for exploring Les Calanques (Calanche) de Piana. The town's landmark is Église Ste-Marie, focal point of the annual Good Friday procession La Granitola
O/N Hotel Bella Vista B
Day 11: Thu, 7 June—Arrive Ajaccio
Palais Fesch – Musée des Beaux-Arts--One of the island’s must-sees, this superb museum established by Napoléon’s uncle has France’s largest collection of Italian paintings outside the Louvre. Mostly the works of minor or anonymous 14th- to 19th-century artists, there are also canvases by Titian, Fra Bartolomeo, Veronese, Botticelli and Bellini. Look out for La Vierge à l’Enfant Soutenu par un Ange (Mother and Child Supported by an Angel), one of Botticelli’s masterpieces. The museum also houses temporary exhibitions
PRICE: adult/child €8/5
HOURS: 10.30am-6pm Mon, Wed & Sat, noon-6pm Thu, Fri & Sun May-Sep, to 5pm Oct-Apr.
O/N Best Western Plus Ajaccio Amirauté B
Day 12: Fri, 8 June—Return Home
Tour dates: May 28 - June 8, 2018
Single Supplement: $450
Max Group Size: 6 (a small-group supplement will apply for a group of 5)
TRIP FULL—WAITLIST ONLY
Driver, Guide & Photographer: Jeremy Woodhouse
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