17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Corsica
With its stunning seaside scenery, expanses of pristine forests, and soaring snowcapped mountains, Corsica lives up to the label, "Island of Beauty." Along the coast are attractive port towns, and the hillsides are dotted with picturesque villages.
Corsica offers no shortage of things to do. It is a paradise for beach lovers, hikers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts. The island boasts some of Europe's most inspiring rugged landscapes and a 1,000-kilometer shoreline with translucent waters perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving.
Although Corsica has been part of France since 1769, the island has its own culture. Donkeys still roam the countryside, the music is unique, and the cuisine features distinctive specialties, such as strong spicy cheeses, chestnut polenta, and chestnut cookies. Discover the best places to visit on this enchanting island with our list of the top tourist attractions in Corsica.
Corsica's most famous native son, Napoleon Bonaparte, was born in this bustling capital city, pleasantly situated on the Gulf of Ajaccio. Sensational views of the sea can be admired from various spots throughout the town. 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). Also on the Napoleon trail are the Maison Bonaparte, the birthplace of Napoleon, which displays portraits, memorabilia, and family documents, and a gallery devoted to Napoleon (including a collection of medallions and coins that depict Napoleon) at the Palais Fesch (Musée des Beaux-Arts).
The old town of Ajaccio is also worth exploring to discover the historic charm within its maze of winding, narrow streets. A must-see sight is the 16th-century Cathédrale d'Ajaccio, where Napoleon was baptized in 1771. The cathedral's most noteworthy work of art is the La Vierge au Sacré Côur painting by Eugène Delacroix.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ajaccio
Bonifacio is a well-preserved fortified town perched on a steep limestone cliff. Brimming with old-world ambience, the town is a jumble of medieval lanes, and at its heart is the 12th- to 13th-century Eglise Sainte-Marie-Majeure, a Romanesque church with early Gothic elements. Also worth visiting is the 13th-century Eglise Saint-Dominique, which has an austere facade and a simple interior.
Bonifacio is found within Corsica's largest nature reserve, the Réserve Naturelle des Bouches de Bonifacio, which encompasses limestone cliffs, seaside grottos, and the Lavezzi Islands. Near the town are numerous beautiful beaches. Another destination within easy reach of Bonifacio is the port of Santa Teresa di Gallura in Sardini, just a one-hour ferry ride away.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bonifacio
In an unbelievable Mediterranean setting with snowcapped mountains as a backdrop, Calvi delights visitors with its sun-drenched marina and long expanse of beautiful beaches along the Bay of Calvi. Besides sunbathing, swimming, and spending time at outdoor cafés, a top attraction of Calvi is its ancient citadel. Crowning a crag that overlooks the sea and surrounded by imposing fortifications, the citadel is a little enclosed world of atmospheric cobblestone streets, narrow lanes, pedestrian staircases, and historic buildings. Within the citadel, the Cathédrale of Saint-Jean-Baptiste exemplifies Corsican Baroque architecture. Calvi is also renowned for its summertime jazz festival, which draws top musical talent.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Calvi
For travelers who want to experience the real Corsica, this lively seaside city is the place to go. Bastia has a picturesque harbor and a quaint old town (Terra Vecchia) bursting with narrow lanes and tightly packed houses. Within the Terra Vecchia are several noteworthy churches: the 17th-century Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the largest church in Corsica; the Baroque Chapelle de l'Immaculée Conception; and the Chapelle Saint-Roch, which overlooks the mesmerizing Mediterranean waters. On a rocky spur to the south of the harbor is the ancient citadel, dating back to 1378.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bastia
5. Cap Corse
At the northernmost tip of Corsica, the Cap Corse peninsula is one of the prettiest areas of the island. The peninsula is covered by a range of foothills and fertile valleys where vines, fruit, and olives grow. Dotting the landscape are medieval perched villages such as Pino on a wooded hilltop; Nonza clinging to a cliffside; and Rogliano, which is a collection of hamlets and old fishing ports. Rogliano encompasses Erbalunga near Bastia; Macinaggio, with a yacht marina; and Centuri, a working harbor.
One of the top attractions on the Cap Corse peninsula is the Plage de Farinole. This splendid sandy beach boasts an expansive shore with plenty of space for sunbathers. The beach is not great for swimming because of the undercurrent, but the waves are appreciated by surfers. Surfboards are available for rent, and instruction courses are offered. Another highlight of the Plage de Farinole is the restaurant on the beach.
Perched like an eagle's nest on a granite hilltop at almost 500 meters, the ancient walled town of Sant'Antonino offers superb views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. In the lush Balagne region, Sant'Antonino is one of the oldest villages in Corsica, with a Moorish heritage dating back to the 9th century. Thanks to its old-world charm, Sant'Antonino has earned a place on France's "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages) list. Visitors will be delighted by the village's medieval tangle of winding cobblestone streets, alleyways, and covered passageways.
About seven kilometers from Sant'Antonino, in between snow-peaked mountains and the sea, the Couvent Saint-Dominique de Corbara is a haven of tranquility, nestled on a lush hillside with astounding vistas. The convent is open to visitors for spiritual retreats.
Sartène prides itself on being the "most Corsican" city. This characteristic medieval hilltop town is listed as a "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History) because of its exceptional heritage. Must-see tourist attractions include the Eglise Santa-Maria-Assunta, with a simple facade typical of Corsican churches; the former Palais des Gouverneurs Génois, now the Town Hall; L'Echauguette (tower), which affords sweeping views of the Vallée de Rizzanese; the Musée de la Préhistoire (Museum of Prehistory); and Place du Maghju, a hub of artisan boutiques. About 15 kilometers away from Sartène is the Domaine Rosa de Caldane, a pampering thermal bath facility with a hotel and restaurant.
Every year in the spring, the town celebrates the Carnaval de Sartène. This fun-loving carnival festival features parades, musical entertainment, and masked balls. Sartène also hosts an annual religious procession on Good Friday called the "Catenacciu," which reenacts the events of the Passion of Christ. One of the "Penitents" carries a heavy cross and a chain during a somber procession, beginning at the Eglise Sainte-Marie continuing through the steep alleyways of Sartene, stopping inside the Chapelle Saint Sébastien, and concluding at the altar of Sainte-Marie church. The oldest religious tradition in southern Corsica, this event attracts pilgrims from near and far.
8. Beaches near Porto Vecchio
Some of Corsica's dreamiest sandy beaches are around Porto Vecchio, which has become a busy summertime resort. The most famous beach is the Plage de Palombaggia, renowned for its wide sandy shore and calm turquoise waters. Another excellent sandy beach is the Plage de Santa Giulia. Both of these beaches are in lagoons, which provides a protected environment ideal for swimming.
Slightly farther away and less crowded is the Plage de Rondinara, an absolutely gorgeous sandy beach on the Rondinara Bay. The crystal-clear waters at Rondinara Beach have an almost tropical quality.
The old port town of Porto Vecchio is also worth visiting to see its impressive ancient citadel. In the 16th century, the Genoese built this impregnable citadel with sturdy fortifications that remain intact. Within the citadel are many atmospheric narrow alleyways, covered passageways, and quiet squares. Many restaurants and shops are found around the Place de la République.
9. Village of Piana and Calanques de Piana
From its spectacular hilltop vantage point, Piana overlooks the mesmerizing blue waters of the Gulf of Porto. Wandering around at leisure allows for a delightful discovery of the village (one of France's Plus Beaux Villages) from its quaint, narrow streets to the pleasant shady squares. Piana has many pastel-colored houses and an exquisite Italian Baroque church, the Eglise Sainte-Marie.
More awe-inspiring panoramas are found in the hamlet of Vistale, which has an ancient chapel, the Chapelle Saint-Lucie (open in July and August) adorned with Byzantine-style frescoes created by 20th-century Russian artists.
Between the village of Piana and the seaside resort of Porto is a scenic (and challenging) coastal drive on windy roads through the Calanques de Piana. This UNESCO-listed nature site is a distinctive landscape, an inlet surrounded by rose-colored granite cliffs and rock formations that drop off into the dreamy deep-blue Mediterranean. Some of the granite pinnacles soar to 300 meters above the sea. The area has several hiking trails with viewpoints to admire the amazing panoramas.
10. Castagniccia Region
About 50 kilometers (a one-hour drive) 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 wooded countryside is dotted with ancient hilltop villages, small hamlets, and magnificent churches. Many of the churches, such as the ornately adorned Baroque Eglise Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul in Piedicroce and the 18th-century Eglise Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel in Stoppia Nova, are listed as Historical Monuments.
In a sublime natural setting, the serene Couvent d'Alesani in Piazzali is another Historical Monument worth visiting. On the convent's property is a 31-kilometer nature trail through the verdant landscape.
Adventurous hikers can climb to the summit of Monte San-Petrone (1,767-meter altitude) from the starting point of Piedicroce or from the Col de Prato; either way the six-kilometer ascent takes about five or six hours. The trail leads through rocky mountain ridges, above chestnut-tree forests, valleys, and little hamlets. From the summit, incredible panoramic vistas extend all the way across the Mediterranean Sea to the coastline of Italy.
11. Réserve Naturelle des Bouches de Bonifacio
The UNESCO-listed Bouches de Bonifacio Nature Reserve is a protected marine environment that includes all of the waters in French territory, from the tip of southern Corsica extending to the French Riviera and Italian coastline. Covering 80,000 hectares, the reserve also includes marshland, lagoons, and other coastal areas. Many rare, protected species of birds and fish thrive in this ecosystem.
A highlight of the Bouches de Bonifacio is the Lavezzi Islands marine reserve, a top snorkeling and scuba diving destination in Corsica. 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. Many companies organize snorkeling and scuba-diving expeditions; advanced booked is recommended. Boat tours and dinner cruises (departing from Bonifacio or Porte Vecchio) are available for those who prefer to simply relax and enjoy the scenery.
In the Balagne region, the fortified medieval village of Belgodère sits on the slopes of a hill near the coast. The crag of the hill is crowned by the ruins of a 13th-century castle that overlooks the landscape. Exceptional panoramic views of the sea and the Vallée du Reginu are also found in other spots of the village.
Visitors will enjoy wandering the Belgodère's winding streets, relaxing at an outdoor café terrace, and discovering the village's historic monuments including lovely little chapels. The Baroque-style Eglise Saint-Thomas has a noteworthy 16th-century Virgin and Child painting.
13. Réserve Naturelle de Scandola
Within the Gulf of Porto UNESCO-listed nature reserve is a surreal coastal landscape. Only accessible by boat, the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola encompasses a remote mountainous peninsula and offshore islands formed from an ancient volcano. Crystal-clear turquoise waters lap against cliffs and hidden coves.
The Scandola Nature Reserve has some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Corsica. Marine life spotted here includes dolphins, seals, moray eels, swordfish, and corral reefs. Shuttle boats depart frequently from Calvi and less frequently from Porto and Galéria. Many companies offer organized tours, for an easier way to visit.
14. Désert des Agriates
The Désert des Agriates is a vast protected wilderness of scrubland, agricultural plains, craggy coastline, and cream-colored sandy shores. Many tourists visit the Agriates Desert to sunbathe at pristine sandy beaches. Two favorite beaches are the Plage de Lotu and the Plage de Saleccia, prized for their soft white sand and transparent waters; both beaches are ideal for sunbathing and swimming.
The Plage de l'Ostriconi, tucked away behind sand dunes, feels like a secret spot because of its secluded quality. Other things to do in the Désert des Agriates include hiking, nature walks, and fishing.
15. Extreme Hiking on the GR20 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 wild and remote hillsides and deep 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 and dramatic. Those who are sufficiently conditioned to attempt the hike will ultimately be rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramas.
16. Col de Bavella
For those touring Corsica by car, the scenic drive through the Col de Bavella is highly recommended. The road travels through majestic 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.
17. Forêt de Valdo Niello
The Valdo-Niello Forest is an unspoiled environment of shady Corsican pine trees that can reach heights of 50 meters. The specific variety of tree, the Laricio Pine, is emblematic of Corsica. These marvelous trees create a dense woodland that is an ideal habitat for a diversity of plants, as well as bird species such as the Corsican Nuthatch.
Also within the forest is Corsica's highest mountain, Monte Cinto, which soars to 2,706 meters and is snowcapped even in summer. A variety of walking paths and hiking trails wind through the forest, allowing visitors a chance to breathe in the fresh air and admire the natural beauty.
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Dreamy Island Destinations in Italy: In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the island of Corsica offers easy access by ferry boat to two dreamy Italian islands. Just 20 kilometers south of Corsica is the island of Sardinia (considered one of the best places to visit in Italy). The shortest ferry route from Corsica departs from Bonifacio and takes about one hour to arrive at the port of Santa Teresa in Sardinia. From Bastia, it's a 4.5-hour ferry ride to the island of Elbe in Italy's Tuscany region, where Napoleon was exiled. No longer a prison, today the island is a paradise of secluded beaches, alluring seaports, and sumptuous Mediterranean scenery.
Sunny Seaports and Stylish Towns in France: Several destinations in the south of France could be combined with a visit to Corsica. From Bastia in Corsica, travelers can reach the fashionable city of Nice on the glamorous French Riviera in about five hours by ferry. The port of Ajaccio in Corsica offers a six-hour ferry ride to the atmospheric port town of Toulon, which is near Provence's glitzy beach resort of Saint-Tropez (a one-hour drive from Toulon) and the quintessentially Provençal town of Aix-en-Provence (also about a one-hour drive from Toulon).