Corsica Itinerary: What To See & Do
The ancient Greeks sailed into Corsica’s dazzling turquoise bays and declared the island ‘Kalliste’: the Most Beautiful. Henri Matisse found it to be a “marvelous land,” where “all is color, all is light.” Blessed with seaside cliffs and grottoes, jagged mountains, sublime gorges, and sun-baked white beaches, the island bursts with landscapes that could melt a photographer’s lens.
Corsica is an island of many micro-regions, and over the course of a half-day you can travel from lush and forested mountains, to rocky gorges, to coves of sparkling sea and soft sand. It can be your Alps, your Adirondacks and your Aruba.
Part of France, but still harboring a fierce sense of independence, Corsica has sometimes seemed isolated. But these days, rising tides of European vacationers and the jet-setters that the French call “Les Beautiful People” are washing up in the medieval harbor towns and modem beach bars.
Take note: Crime in Corsica is the worst in France. Here’s what you need to know.
Arrival in Corsica
If you arrive via ferry, you’ll want to book a ticket to Porto-Vecchio . Here’s more information about the Corsica Ferries and other ways to get to Corsica.
From Porto-Vecchio, drive 30 minutes to Bonifacio for lunch. You may want to stop at a winery along the way. The wine district of Porto-Vecchio mingles with landscapes of beach and pine forests, and shouldn’t be missed.
It’s said that Ulysses and his men took shelter in the cliff-lined port town of Bonifacio , at Corsica’s southern tip. Take in the scenes of its centuries-old citadel, dramatic harbor, and have lunch on the restaurant-filled quay.
Immense chalk-white cliffs, horizontally grooved like a geological mille-feuille, will dwarf the boat as it cuts through water the color of Curacao liqueur. At sea level, enormous grottoes open darkly in the cliff walls and wind-eroded rock formations sprout mysteriously from the sea. To view the spectacular cliffs and grottoes nearby, buy tickets at one of the kiosks here and, if you’re not already bored of being on a boat, spend an hour on a tour boat, perhaps the Gina or the Corsaire.
Afterward, drive north up the coast about 20 minutes to stop in at the Tahitiesque beaches of Santa Giulia and Palombaggia , where leisurely travelers go to be bronzed.
The nexus of VIP action is the beach town of Porto-Vecchio . The picturesque old port was built in the days when Corsica was ruled by Genoa, and long rhapsodized over for its rustic 16th-century buildings. Now summer evenings transform the town into Corsica’s night-life mecca.
On cafe terraces, air kisses flutter like fireflies –“Ciao!” “Bonsoir!” “Hola!”– and glasses fill with rose from the nearby Domaine de Torraccia vineyard or Corsican Pietra beer, flavored with chestnut.
If you can get a reservation, have dinner at one of the Belvedere’s outdoor tables, and then follow the beat to one of the pre-club bars where outdoor D.J.’s spin.
If night clubs are your thing, head to La Via Notte the island’s nocturnal temple. The scale is enormous, bombastic, as if Napoleon himself had ordered it. Five bars and a restaurant spread over multiple levels and pavilions. Inside the D.J. booth, three men operate long flashing control panels as if trying to pilot a rock and funk and fusion hip-hop spaceship. Go-go dancers grind on platforms as streaks of laser light shoot past. The club is a favorite of French soccer stars and film personalities, and to woo them, it flies in big names from the international D.J. circuit.
Inland Mountains & Corte
After breakfast, drive about 1 hour and 45 minutes up the coast and then inland to Corte and discover inland Corsica.
When Americans think of Corsica, they probably picture what it and other Mediterranean islands are known for most: seaside resort towns. And yes, Corsica owes much of its reputation to postcard-perfect beaches that seem almost Caribbean with their white sand and sapphire water. Towns like Bonifacio, with its towering citadel and buzzing waterfront cafes, or Porto-Vecchio, with its yacht-filled harbor and night club scene, have become Corsica’s better-known destinations.
But another Corsica lies tucked behind the mountains that many visitors only glimpse from their beach towels. This is wild Corsica. Soaring mountain ranges with peaks as craggy as a set of broken teeth scrape the sky. Streams of rushing river water slice through deep gorges where boulders the size of cars rim the shores of perfectly still lakes. It’s the perfect place to spend a few hours hiking amung the roaming sheep and wild pigs.
As you drive, you’ll pass several wineries and vineyards. In fact, vineyards occupy virtually the entire circumference of Corsica.
When you arrive in Corte, you’ll notice that shop windows beckon with traditional delicacies –cheese, honey, wine– and more than a few walls drip with graffiti, shouting slogans for Corsican independence. In the cafes, old men chat in the native Corsican language.
Corte was the island’s capital during its lone flicker of independence, from 1755 to 1769. Its leader then, Pascal Paoli, is a local deity. His name adorns the university he founded (the only one on the island), the main street, and even the sweet shop on the main square, as well as Place Paoli , the square itself. In its center he lives on in statue form, a well-dressed Enlightenment gentleman with an intense gaze.
In Gaffory square you will discover the birth house of Jean-Pierre Gaffory, the leader of the Nationalist Government of Corsica in the middle of the 18th century. He led a successful revolution against the Genoese before being assassinated. On his house’s facade, you can see many holes, attributed to bullets fired during the revolution. In front of the house, you can also find a statue of Gaffory, built to honor his memory.
On the square, you will discover a few bars and restaurants as well as the Church of the Annunciation . It was built in the 15th century, and has a huge bell tower dominating the whole town.
Classic Corsican wines and foods are on sale at La Vieille Cave , and you could pick up some gourmet goodies and have a picnic. If you feel like being served, have lunch at the terrace restaurant U San Teofalu and order a three-course Corsican menu, which includes a charcuterie and cheese plate, grilled trout, and dessert. Oysters are also a (more sustainable) specialty of the area and make a great snack with a glass of French white wine.
Corsican History Museum
For a crash course in the history and cultural traditions of Corsica, visit the Musee de la Corse on the high point above town occupied by the city’s old citadel. The museum, in a modern building, tells the story of Corsica’s unique culture-its folk traditions, crafts, and history.
A row of soundproof booths allows visitors to listen to the unusual native music, group singing in an Old World polyphonic style. The songs, in the Corsican language, sound somewhere between Gregorian chant and folk ballads. Behind the museum, a viewing platform looks out over a mountain valley.
Back in the car, drive about 50 miles on a good highway to the city of Calvi on the northwest coast. On the way, stop at Vava’u Chez Tate for a seaside snack.
In Calvi, a medieval hilltop citadel shoots up from the sea and old streets are a warren of cobbled lanes. Take a walk before dark and get a sense of the multifaceted beauty of the setting. The town sits on a high point at the end of a curving bay, the Gulf of Calvi. Pleasure boats are anchored in its marina, and a long sand beach hugs the translucent turquoise sea. Just a dozen miles inland, snow-capped mountains rise against the sky.
Explore Calvi’s streets, where exiles, explorers, and renegades seem to lurk around every bend. One old house on the Rue de Fil, now a ruin, is thought by some to be the real birthplace of Christopher Columbus (in his day, Calvi was part of the Republic of Genoa). Tucked away nearby, near the Church of St. John the Baptist, is Maison Pacciola, a small building where Napoleon hid from Corsican nationalists during the French Revolution.
The town of Calvi has become a music destination, sponsoring international festivals celebrating “Calvi on the Rocks” electronic music in July, and polyphonic vocal music in September. If you’re not attending the festivals, you’ll want to avoid the town during these dates. You can check our Events Calendar for the dates.
Dinner & DJ’s
For fashionable beachside dining, the white villa-like Octopussy restaurant does jazzy riffs on Corsican ingredients, like melon with Corsican ham and baked cod with artichokes. It’s attached to the Octopussy beach club, where sunbathers bask and D.J.’s sometimes spin.
Another option is Chez Tao , a nightclub founded in 1935 by a former Russian military officer named Tao Kerefoff. He escaped the Russian Revolution and fled to New York, where he was persuaded by Prince Felix Yusupov, one of the conspirators against Rasputin, to go to Calvi. His club still fills nightly with stylish seasonal refugees from Paris, London, and other capitals.
In the morning, have breakfast on the beach, then decide if you’re in the mood for a seaside walk or an inland hike.
Bonifatu Forest (Serious Hiking)
Put on your hiking boots and grab your backpack, water bottle, hat, and sunscreen.
If you want to enjoy Corsica’s beautiful natural landscapes, you should go to the 3000-hectare forest of Bonifatu , in Calvi’s surroundings. It’s a hiker’s paradise.
From Calvi, drive for about 30 minutes (20 km) to reach the forest. There, park your car in the parking lot (in the summer it costs €4 for a car and €7.50 for a camper van), next to the Auberge de la Fôret , a small restaurant and Bed & Breakfast.
From the car park, there is also a path taking you to the river in less than 5 minutes. It’s a great place to swim in big natural pools, or to enjoy a family picnic in the shade of big trees.
There are 7 marked trails starting from the Auberge de la Fôret:
- Calatoghju: An easy 2.6 km walk lasting about 1 hour.
- Ficaghjola: Walk for 2 hours and enjoy relaxing swimming breaks in the river! It’s an ideal walk if you’re with children.
- Candia: This trail is more difficult than the 2 previous ones. Count about 2 hours and 30 minutes for 4.1 km.
- Finochi: This 4-hour long trail is quite steep, but it offers a panoramic view of the forest of Bonifatu.
- Erbaghjolu: A 5-hour walk, reserved for experienced hikers!
- Ortu di U Piobbu refuge: You can reach it in 3 hours and 30 minutes. It’s the first stage of the GR20.
- Carozzu hut: Count about 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach it.
Alternative: Ravellata Peninsula (Easy Coastal Walk)
The Revellata peninsula, located a 5 minute car ride or 20 minute walk from Calvi, is another place you should visit during your itinerary in Corsica. This wild peninsula offers beautiful remote coves and a white sandy beach. It’s an ideal place to spend an afternoon sunbathing and swimming.
There, you will also discover a lighthouse , as well as the STARESO Oceanographic Center , studying Corsica’s marine biodiversity. They are also organizing diving excursions during summer.
The walk to get there is really beautiful and easy, and is part of the customs officer’s path. During your hike, you will discover splendid viewpoints over Calvi and the coast. There are 2 different starting points for this walk:
- Park in the parking lot at the top of the Revellata, walk down to Alga beach and follow the coastal path to the lighthouse .
- From Calvi, leave your car at the citadel and take the customs officer’s path to the Revellata peninsula.
Back to the Mainland
Drive to the port of L’Île-Rousse (about 45 minutes drive from Auberge de la Fôret, or 30 minutes from Calvi) and get on a ferry back to Nice or another city on the mainland.