Fifty minutes by air from Nice or Marseille, Corsica is one of the most scenic islands in the Mediterranean and a logical complement to a vacation in Provence or the Côte d’Azur.
The island, 114 miles long and 52 miles wide, has an astonishing variety of landscapes and ecosystems. The thick pine forests in parts of the interior are almost alpine, while much of the coastline is subtropical. The island’s food and wines are superb, and each of the towns has an intriguingly different personality.
Ajaccio, its capital — and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte — is a delightful small city; Bonifacio, on the southern coast, boasts a spectacular clifftop setting and a dramatic citadel; and Calvi, in the northwest, has the charming atmosphere of the 1960s Riviera, with seafood restaurants overlooking an attractive marina.
This itinerary incorporates new discoveries I made on my road trip there earlier this year, as well as some old favorites. Certainly, completing the whole of the itinerary would make for a sensational vacation, but even doing just one section as part of a longer European trip would also be most enjoyable.
Read the full trip report in the October 2018 issue of the Hideaway Report.
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Arrive in Bastia, either by air or by ferry. If you would like to overnight in town, the 26-room sea-view Hotel des Gouverneurs is the best available option, but note that taxis have difficulty reaching the front door because of its location on a narrow lane on the edge of the citadel.
Rent a car and drive about an hour north to the rural Cap Corse. Check into the 29-room Misincu hotel in Cagnano, set above a white-sand beach. Spend the rest of the day settling in and relaxing by the pool. Dine in one of Misincu’s two restaurants, both of which are excellent.
Make an excursion around the Cap Corse. First, cross the peninsula to the west coast. Explore the charming village of Pino, with its Genoese towers and baroque Église Sainte-Marie. Continue north to the Col de la Serra and Cap Corse’s best-known landmark, the Moulin Mattei. The terrace surrounding this stumpy former windmill offers some of the most operatically gorgeous views on the island.
Turn inland toward the beautiful village of Rogliano, known for “maisons d’Américains,” colonial-style houses that were built by Corsicans returning home after having made a fortune in the New World. Stop at the well-marked viewpoint nearby, from which, on a clear day, you can see as far as the island of Elba.
A little farther on is the seaside town of Macinaggio. Have lunch at Vela d’Oro on the port before returning to Misincu.
The hotel can arrange an activity in the afternoon, such as hiking or horseback-riding, or (my recommendation) take the rest of the day to relax.
Depart Misincu and head two and a half hours to Calvi on the northwest coast, home to my longtime recommendation of La Villa. This 51-room hotel overlooks the citadel, golden beach and yacht-speckled sea, and it has a Michelin-star restaurant and no fewer than five swimming pools. It’s a wonderful base from which to explore Calvi and the surrounding coast.
If your time is short (as mine was on this occasion, alas), skip Calvi and drive through the center of Corsica along the T20 to Ajaccio. Well-maintained and -signed, it’s a great road for anyone who loves to drive, because it zigs and zags just enough to keep the route interesting and traverses some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery in Europe. The average driving time between the two cities is three hours, but it’s best to allow a day for this trip so you can stop in Corte, the central town that was the island’s first capital. The citadel, built by the viceroy of Aragon in 1419, today houses the fascinating Musée de la Corse, a visit to which greatly aids an understanding of the island’s history.
Continue on to Ajaccio, where I had a very pleasant stay at the 28-room Hôtel Les Mouettes, housed within a 19th-century villa in a park at the edge of the Gulf of Ajaccio. It’s the best place to stay if you prefer to be within walking or easy biking distance of the city’s center. If you don’t mind being on the far side of the bay, 20 minutes from downtown Ajaccio by car, then the 25-room Le Maquis is a superior property. Both have swimming pools and beaches, though Le Maquis has a larger stretch of sand.
Spend the morning exploring Ajaccio, perhaps visiting the Maison Bonaparte, where Napoleon was born, and the Chapelle des Grecs, a place of worship for Ajaccio’s Greek Orthodox community when Napoleon was a boy. Alternatively, or in addition, visit the city’s wonderful market and the superb Musée Fesch, which contains one of France’s finest collections of Italian old masters.
Spend the afternoon relaxing by your hotel’s pool or on its beach.
Today consider making a day trip from Ajaccio to learn about some of Corsica’s excellent wines. Start with Clos d’Alzeto, about an hour north of Ajaccio, where I had the standout bottle of my most recent trip (a Moretelle). Closer to town is the highly regarded Domaine Comte Peraldi. If you plan to visit either or both, contact the wineries in advance to reserve a tour and tasting.
Overnight in Ajaccio.
Depart Ajaccio and head south. Make a short detour to Domaine Comte Abbatucci, where you can do a wine tasting followed by an alfresco lunch in the adjacent restaurant, La Frère.
Continue south to my favorite property on Corsica, the 19-villa Domaine de Murtoli. Check in, and spend the rest of the day enjoying this magnificent 6,100-acre beach-fringed private estate and working farm.
Take two full days to relax at Domaine de Murtoli. It’s possible to spend just one, of course, but the property is so lovely, staying two days is certainly worthwhile. Overall, Domaine de Murtoli offers one of the most remarkable Mediterranean settings I’ve ever experienced and is an exceptionally well-run and charming hotel.
Check out of Domaine de Murtoli and drive about 40 minutes to Bonifacio. This striking little place has managed to preserve an appealing atmosphere of unselfconscious authenticity. It’s a pleasure to wander its shady lanes, to shop for locally made coral jewelry and to visit the cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure. I recommend then returning to the port for a lunch of Corsican charcuterie and spaghetti with baby clams at Le Voilier.
Check into U Capu Biancu, which has a rather late 4 p.m. check-in time, and have dinner at the hotel.
You could easily spend an entire day simply enjoying the terrace if you book a Sea View Deluxe Suite. But U Capu Biancu also has two fine private beaches and an excellent spa. At the latter, I had an invigorating massage using Corsican clementine and myrtle essential oils. Pilates and yoga are also available; other activities include kitesurfing, scuba diving and catamaran expeditions.
Service at U Capu Biancu is earnest and friendly, if not always completely polished. But overall, this is a memorably peaceful and private seaside hotel in a magnificent setting, which makes it an ideal place to far niente, “do nothing,” as the Italians say.
Return your rental car at Bonifacio’s airport and depart Corsica.
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