Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Shaped like a bunch of vine-ripened grapes, Corsica (Corse) ripples with mountain ranges covered in vivid green chestnut and pine forests, pastures and fragrant maquis scrubland. Grape cultivation dates back over 3000 years, with exceptional vineyards on the island. Bastia, in the north, is famed for its laidback feel and lively spirit, without being heavy on tourism.
Corsica’s coastline curls around 1000km of chic seaside towns like Ajaccio, plunging cliffs at Golfe de Porto and glistening beaches and bays at Calvi. The silhouette of Bonifacio's cliff-top citadel morphs seamlessly into the serrated limestone cliffs rising up from the sea. But until the early 19th century, the coast was considered worthless, susceptible to invasion. Corsicans took shelter in the mountains, and even today it’s Centru di Corsica, encompassing the town of Corte (Corti), that defines the culture. Typical Corsican cuisine consists of inland victuals like cured sausages, cheeses and lamb seasoned with wild herbs. Fishing traditionally took place around Cap Corse (the rugged ‘stem’ in the northeast). Away from the coastal resorts and bustling ports, the interior – which often stays snow-capped until July – is still where you’re most likely to encounter Corsica’s language, Corsu, as well as its distinctive customs and festivals.
The mountains make for exhilarating hikes, the most famous and challenging of which is the legendary GR20. (The death-defying switchback roads make for some dizzying driving, too.)
Pick your timing carefully – Corsica swells to bursting with summer visitors; all but withering in winter when many activities, accommodation and transport services slow or cease. The wildflower-filled spring and red-hued autumn months let you experience this Île de beauté (island of beauty) at its best.
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