14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Corsica
With its stunning seaside scenery and snowcapped mountains, Corsica lives up to the label, "Island of Beauty." The ancient Greeks referred to the island as "Kalliste," which means the "Fair One." Along the coast are many lovely port towns, and the hillsides are dotted with picturesque villages. Corsica is a paradise for beach lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts. The island boasts more than 2,000 kilometers of nature trails and 1,000 kilometers of shoreline. The rugged landscape inspires hikers, while the sandy beaches are prized by sunbathers, and the translucent waters are perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving.
Although Corsica has been part of France since 1769, the island has its own culture. Donkeys and pigs roam the countryside, the music is unique, and the cuisine spotlights specialties such as wild boar, charcuterie, and chestnut cookies. Corsica's most famous native son is Napoleon Bonaparte, born in the capital city, Ajaccio, which is a great place to begin a tour.
The natural beauty of Ajaccio enchants visitors. The town has a majestic seaside setting with snowcapped mountain peaks in the distance and sandy beaches nearby. Ajaccio is the largest town and the capital of Corsica but still enjoys a relaxed way of life. The city's most famous tourist attraction is the Maison Bonaparte on Rue Saint-Charles, the house where Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769. The house is now a museum that displays furniture of the period, weapons, portraits, and family documents. There is also a gallery devoted to Napoleon at the Palais Fesch (Musée des Beaux-Arts) in Ajaccio. The gallery contains mementos of the Bonaparte family, including pictures and a collection of orders and medals. The city of Ajaccio has an interesting cultural heritage dating back to 1492 when it was founded by the Genoese. In the old town, there is a bustling port and a historic section with charming narrow streets. The 16th-century Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Miséricorde displays a painting by Eugène Delacroix Du Sacré Côur. At the center of Ajaccio is the Place de Gaulle, a grand square with an equestrian statue of Napoleon (created in 1865 by Viollet le-Duc). From the terrace of the square, there are exceptional views.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ajaccio
In a picturesque location on a limestone cliff, surrounded by its ancient walls, Bonifacio is a well-preserved fortified town that dates back to the 9th century when it was founded by Bonifazio, the Marquis of Tuscany. Bonifacio has a wonderful Old World ambience; the town is a charming maze of medieval lanes flanked by old houses. The Eglise Sainte-Marie-Majeure stands at the heart of this historic town. Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, the church has a simple exterior distinguished by its loggia, an arcaded covered porch with classical lines. The interior awes visitors with its serene Romanesque architecture of columns and arches. One of the highlights of the sanctuary is its 15th-century marble tabernacle. Another important tourist attraction in Bonifacio is the Eglise Saint-Dominique dating back to the 12th-13th centuries. This Gothic church has an impressive 15th-century tower and contains interesting groups of carved wooden figures, which are carried through the town during religious processions. Near the town are numerous beautiful beaches. Bonifacio is only 11 kilometers away from Sardinia, which is a 30-minute ferry ride from the port. Bonifacio is also near Corsica's largest nature reserve: The Bouches de Bonifacio.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bonifacio
This lively town boasts a spectacular setting on a crag projecting into the Bay of Calvi.
With a picturesque marina and five kilometers of beautiful beaches along the bay, Calvi is a popular holiday destination. Sunbathing and swimming are favorite tourist activities. The town also has many sites of cultural interest, such as an ancient citadel with its impressive protective walls that extend down to the sea. During the Middle Ages, Calvi was its own republic, and during the Genoese period, it was the island's most important city. The upper part of the town was fortified by the Genoese in the late 15th century, and in this area stands the Cathedral of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, founded in the 13th century and rebuilt in 1553. The cathedral contains a famous crucifix and other fine examples of woodcarving. Another one of the town's historic attractions is the 17th-century Church of Santa Maria near the harbor. The Maison Colomb on Rue Colombo, is said to be the birthplace of Columbus, although this hasn't been authenticated. Calvi is also renowned for its summertime jazz festival that draws top musical talent. Concerts are held at venues throughout the town as well as in the surroundings of Calvi.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Calvi
4 Gulf of Porto UNESCO Nature Sites
The beautiful Gulf of Porto is a protected nature reserve that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The seaside resort of Porto lies on the bay at the foot of a promontory, crowned by an old Genoese watch tower. Between the town of Porto and the village of Piana is a scenic coastal drive through the Calanques de Piana, which form part of the Regional Natural Park. The Calanques are spectacular red granite cliffs with stunning pinnacles that tower 300 meters above the sea. This rugged landscape features typical Mediterranean vegetation and impressive bird life. The cliffs drop off into sparkling blue waters that beckon from the distance. Another UNESCO-listed nature site in this area is Scandola Nature Reserve. The Scandola Peninsula is a mountainous region of steep cliffs overlooking the sea and offshore islands. Crystal-clear turquoise waters lap against the cliffs and hidden coves. This area is only accessible by boat and has amazing marine life because of its remoteness. Scandola Nature Reserve offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Corsica.
Corsica's principal port, Bastia, lies at the base of the Cap Corse peninsula. Founded by the Genoese in 1380 and protected by a mighty bastion, Bastia was capital of Corsica until 1811 when Napoleon relocated the capital to his birthplace, Ajaccio. Bastia centers around a beautiful central main square, the Place Saint-Nicolas, shaded by plane-trees and palms with a marble statue of Napoleon. The town has a picturesque old harbor and a quaint old town, which was the old fishing village, the Terra Vecchia, with a maze of narrow lanes and tightly packed houses. The 16th-century Cathedral of Saint-Jean-Baptiste dominates the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville. Two noteworthy Baroque churches include the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and the Chapel of Saint-Roch; both built in the early 17th century and sumptuously decorated. On a spur of rock to the south of the old harbor is the Genoese Citadel, dating back to 1378. Inside the citadel are the Palace of the Genoese Governor, the Church of Sainte-Marie, and the Chapel of Sainte-Croix built to house the Christ des Miracles crucifix.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bastia
6 Bouches de Bonifacio Nature Reserve
Covering an impressive expanse of land, the Bouches de Bonifacio is the largest nature reserve in France. This unspoiled wilderness is in southern Corsica, and the terrain has a distinct North African influence. Corsica boasts the most varied vegetation of all the Mediterranean islands, and this landscape exemplifies the incredible biodiversity with more than 300 varieties of plants, along with amazing birdlife and rich marine life. Many rare, protected species of birds and fish thrive in this environment.
One of the highlights of the Bouches de Bonifacio is the Lavezzi Islands Marine Reserve, a top snorkeling and scuba diving destination in Corsica. This pristine environment in the Mediterranean Sea lies off the coast of Bonifacio. Protected as a nature reserve since 1982, the marine reserve is the site of many scientific studies because of its abundant marine life. Beneath the translucent turquoise waters, a magical underwater world awaits deep-sea divers. Sightings include colorful and exotic fish such as the rainbow wrasse and the silver bream. The Lavezzi Islands are rugged and remote; there are no tourist or toilet facilities. Snorkeling and scuba expeditions arrive by boat, and advanced booked is recommended. There are also half-day sailing tours that leave from the port of Bonifacio.
In a beautiful location above the Rizzanèse Valley in the fertile Sartenais region, Sartène prides itself on being the "most Corsican" of Corsica's old cities. This quintessential Corsican town is known as a "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History) and has a history dating back to the Middle Ages. The old town is entered through an arched medieval gateway, and remains of the 15th-century ramparts are still visible. Must-see attractions include the Eglise Santa-Maria-Assunta, the Town Hall (housed in the former Palais des Gouverneurs Génois), and the Musée de la Préhistoire (Museum of Prehistory). Every year in May, the town of Sartène celebrates the Carnival of Corsica. This four-day festival includes Corsican music concerts in theaters and in the streets, local markets, and nighttime shopping. Sartène also hosts an annual religious procession on Good Friday called the "Catenacciu," which is one of the oldest and most famous religious traditions in Corsica. The Catenacciu is a procession that reenacts the events of the Passion of Christ. One of the "Penitents" carries a heavy cross and a chain, and the procession lasts for around three hours. This event attracts many pilgrims from all over Corsica.
8 Beaches near Porto Vecchio
Some of Corsica's most popular beaches are around Porto Vecchio, the port town on a lovely bay. The town was established by the Genoese and still has remains of the protective walls and an 18th-century citadel. Most tourists come to Porto Vecchio to enjoy an escape to nature at one of the beautiful sandy beaches nearby. The most famous beach is the Plage de Palombaggia, renowned for its wide sandy shore and calm crystal-clear waters. Another excellent beach is the Plage de Santa Giulia with fine white sand and turquoise blue waters. Both of these beaches are in lagoons, which provides a protected environment that is ideal for swimming.
9 Castagniccia Region
About 20 kilometers south of Bastia is the hilly region of Castagniccia, which takes its name from the chestnut trees that grow abundantly here. The traditional stone-roofed houses all have chestnut-drying rooms. This peaceful area of dense forests is dotted with quaint hilltop villages, small hamlets, and magnificent churches. Many of the churches, such as Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul in Piedicroce and Notre-Dame-du Mont Carmel in Stoppia Nova, have beautiful ornate interiors and are listed as historic monuments. The Alesani convent is also worth visiting. The main town in Castagniccia is Piedicroce d'Orezza, which is a good place to begin a climb of Monte San-Pietro. The climb takes about two and a half hours.
10 Désert des Agriates
The Désert des Agriates is a vast protected wilderness of 15,000 hectares with a diversity of landscapes. The micro-regions include shrub lands and rugged coastline; the arid landscape extends to agricultural plains and cream-colored sandy shores. There are also some meadows and fields used for herding animals. Many tourists visit the Désert des Agriates because of the pristine sandy beaches. Two favorite beaches are the Plage de Lotu and the Plage de Saleccia, which are prized for their soft white sand and transparent water-perfect for sunbathing and swimming. Other picturesque beaches are the Plage de l'Ostriconi and the Plage de Malfalcu. The scenery here is wild and beautiful. Hiking, nature walks, and fishing are also popular activities in the area.
11 GR20 Hiking Trail
Extreme outdoor-adventure enthusiasts and advanced hikers hold this trail in high esteem. Corsica's GR20 trail traverses the island of Corsica from north to south, covering an inspiring landscape of rugged hillsides and wild gorges. The trail is considered to be the most difficult long-distance hike in Europe. Not only is the trail extremely long, the terrain is rugged, remote, and dramatic. Those who are sufficiently conditioned to attempt the hike will ultimately be rewarded with breathtaking natural scenery and exceptional panoramic views.
In an idyllic mountain setting, the little village of Piana definitely merits its title as one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages). The village is at the entrance to a stunning rose-colored granite "calanche" (rocky inlet); the area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because the landscape is so distinctive. From its spectacular vantage point, Piana overlooks the mesmerizing blue waters of the Golfe de Porto. Wandering around at leisure allows for a delightful discovery of the old village-from its quaint narrow streets to the pleasant town square. The village has many lovely pastel-colored houses and the beautiful Church of Sainte-Marie is built in the Italian Baroque style.
Perched like an eagle's nest on a picturesque hilltop, the ancient walled town of Sant'Antonino, at almost 500 meters, offers sensational views of the surrounding landscape and the sea. In the Balagne region, the historic village is designated as one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages) because of its splendid setting and charming architecture that seems to blend in with the granite rock backdrop. Sant'Antonino delights visitors with its beautiful old houses, quaint alleys, and covered passageways. From the old castle, there are exceptional panoramic views. To the north of Sant'Antonino is the 15th-century Dominican monastery of Corbara.
14 Cap Corse
At the northernmost tip of Corsica, the Cap Corse peninsula is one of the most picturesque areas of the island. The peninsula is covered by a range of foothills and fertile valleys where vines, fruit, and olives are grown. One of the top attractions on the Cap Corse peninsula is the Plage de Farinole. This gorgeous sandy beach boasts an expansive 100 meters of shore with plenty of space for sunbathers. The beach is also popular with surfers because of the waves. Surfboards are available for rent and instruction courses are offered. Another highlight of the Plage de Farinole is the restaurant right on the beach.
Other Places of Interest
The little village of Belgodère in the Balagne region sits on the slopes of a hill near the coast. The crag of the hill is crowned by a 13th-century castle. Traveling farther inland by car, visitors will reach the Forêt de Tartagine, one of the finest forests in Corsica.
Col de Bavella
For those traveling by car, the scenic drive through the Col de Bavella is highly recommended. The road travels through stunning scenery and along the path of an ancient Roman road, continuing up to the mountain pass at 1,243 meters. From that point, there are breathtaking views of the forests and plains, the mountains, and the sea.
Forêt de Valdo Niello (Valdo-Niello Forest)
The Valdo-Niello Forest is a pristine environment of shady Corsican pine trees. In the Niello basin, Calacuccia is an ideal starting point to climb Corsica's highest mountain, Monte Cinto, which soars to 2,710 meters and affords magnificent panoramic views. The summit of Monte Cinto is snowcapped even in summer.