This city guide to Corsica is very close to my heart because, I mean, as you may already know, Corsica is the place where I was born.
So I asked my sister Laetitia to do it. Actually, we kind of did this as a family thing because I couldn’t help but toss in my two cents, as you’ll see. When you see anything [in brackets], that’s me.
What I’m going for with my City Guides is to do something different than any other guides by asking friends who live in a given place about what they do with their daily lives. So they’re always very personal and never meant to cover the whole spectrum, but it’s all tested and approved and feel free to say hello from us (well, almost everywhere ;-)
I receive e-mails all the time asking me where to go on my native island and I’m getting the impression that Corsica is getting a lot of love right now, which is awesome because I’m really, really, terribly proud of my homeland! Okay, let’s get started.
(The pictures illustrating this story where taken during my Corsica trip last summer, you can find them all here.)
Sis, how would you describe Corsica to someone who has never been?
If I had to describe Corsica, I’d say it’s a land of passions, violent and peaceful at the same time, much like the landscape itself…
It’s filled with rare emotion. It’s a small island so the variety of different landscapes surprises and fascinates.
Where is a must to visit in Corsica?
The extreme south is just spectacular. Visit Balagne, with its three hundred year old olive trees and the small village of Pigna. Go to Nonza and Cap Corse, to Corbara, to Erbalunga… There are so many tiny villages and so many of them are little treasures. Take a break, have a coffee, and look for the church, a lot of them are just sublime…
[Hiya, Garance here in brackets][I'm adding in the GR20 if you like hiking (I love it), the landscape is breathtaking. There's not a
man-made sound around, lakes, rivers, goat farms and incredible mountain peaks... Yeah, wonderful scenery you can imagine.]
What’s the prettiest beach?
Seleccia in the Agriates desert is a rare beauty since it’s totally wild (no commercial anything) and the maquis (our endemic, very deliciously scented vegetation) shrubs to gently lie on the whitest and finest sand you’ll ever see. But also the harshness of all the little coves you find in the Scandola Reserve, its blue burgundy volcanic rocks that open up to let little coral plants sneak through, it all makes my heart flutter.
I feel like I’m back at the origin of the volcano and feel so lucky to have this place classified and protected.
[I'll add in here that the Capo Di Feno beach in Ajaccio is beautiful, wild, and it's where all the surfers go!]
What do you wear to the beach?
I like to be super comfortable because you have to trudge through the maquis brush so a nice short short, and definitely a big light shirt with lots of breathing room to protect me from the sun, some flip flops just to make everything easy, and a big woven straw hat.
Your favorite shops?
I’m crazy about antiques and Corsica is honestly the best place in the world for them. You can easily find true collector’s items. And that’s everywhere in Corsica. Just stop in any of the markets or antique shops wherever you are.
Another thing to bring back is objects made of olive wood. They’re beautiful and you can actually get them for a good price in the markets.
[I should add here that our aunt has a really beautiful antique shop called À L'Ancien Temps on the rue Fesch in Ajaccio. But for true antiquers, ask around where ever you are! You can find some real treasures.]
[Oh and something else to look into is the Carioca (A Corsican brand) bathing suits. They're really cool and ingenious. And all the Donna E products which manage to capture the maquis scent. I love them. Oh and the shoes at M. Bis in the rue Fesch in Ajaccio, always the chic choice if you're feeling far away from the fashion capitals!]
Somewhere to go dancing?
From my sister Sacha who’s 18: La Via Notte in Porto Vecchio. They’ve got the best DJs in town.
Also the Camargue and Chez Tao in the Calvi fort, very very well known and famous place.
Oh and Calvi On The Rocks, and electronic music festival that literally takes place on the beach and where clubbers of the whole world meet up [I can't believe I've never been there!!!]
A perfect place for a date?
I would say Murtoli for the striking beauty of the South of Corsica and the perfect and very discreet service.
How to go around Corsica?
To discover the island and the littoral, nothing is better than a boat because you can access the wildest and most beautiful places and creeks. If you’re on a boat, don’t miss Rocapina, Scandola and Bodri.
And then in a car to go to the mountains, the small villages, the mountains and the rivers.
[I mean I did go around Corsica in a scooter, it's amaaazing as long as you're very much in love!]
What’s your favorite hotel?
The Roches Rouges, in Piana, is definitely my favorite for its old style intoxicating charm.
It’s old walls from the 30s, full of history, it’s canned armchairs and frescoes, so far from fashionable hangouts make it such a unique place. Don’t expect 4 stars for comfort, but more to totally fall in love with the atmosphere.
Its restaurant is like a glass house between hearth and skies, of impossible sweetness, with a magic view over the beautiful red mountains that hug the Porto gulf. And the best sunset in the world.
It’s a unique, fascinating view on the Calanches the Piana, a feeling of timelessness that will stay with you forever and that I’ve only ever felt there.
Few places carry as much intensity.
What about food? What would you recommend?
What’s to definitely try is charcuterie, if you pick it well it tastes like something you’ve never tasted before.
Real charcuterie in made in Castagniccia (our chesnut tree forest) where pigs live freely and eat the chesnuts that fall on the ground. Then you have the savoir-faire of the local artisans – and right there you understand what is the real taste of charcuterie.
An adress, Paul Marie Raffalli in Piedicroce.
And of course the cheese, if you buy directly at the shepherd’s.
An adress for that, in Palasca, ask for Fortuné Savelli.
[Let me tell you about my favorite specialties, the falculelle, little cheececakes baked on a chestnut tree leaf. Buy them in Corte (it's a specialty from the north of Corsica) at Casanova. And the finuchietti crunchy and with anise. You can find them everywhere but the best in Ajaccio are at the Galeani bakery. Love them. Also on the markets don't miss the incivulate, with onions or swiss chard, it's amazing for lunch with just a side of green salad.]
Your favorite restaurants?
The restaurant of the Domaine de Murtoli in the South, it’s magic [my favorite too].
The restaurant of Domaine de Cala Rossa in Porto Vecchio.
The Signoria in Balagne..
The Auberge de Murato, in the Cap Corse.
Chez Jean Jean (Le Bilboq’) in Ajaccio, for it’s unique and delicious red lobster pasta dish.
Chez Jacqueline at the Pont De Castirla, unique dish once again, a real Corsican experience!
And then for aperitif, Pierre Tou (the Pirate) à the Capo Di Feno beach in Ajaccio, great atmosphere at the end of the day.
[Little extreme South insert by my friend Laure Heriard-Dubreuil who spends her summers in Porto-Vecchio and who made me discover some really cool places last summer...
For a very cool beach restaurant, the Cabanon Bleu, with a very cute store to buy swimsuits and beach articles.
For the evening in Porto-Vecchio, Chez Anna.
For good pizzas on the beach, Chez Marco on the "Rancho Beach"
For a dance in a fun atmosphere, the Rancho Club]
[Oh and a new one, onwed by my great friend Anne, the Brasserie of the San Carlu in Ajaccio. Tell her I say hello if you go there!]
The Fesch museum in Ajaccio for its extraordinary collections of italian paintings, with exceptional primitifs (it’s the largest italian collection after the Louvre!), a big part of it comes for Cardinal Fesch, who was the uncle of Napoleon.
A touristy place you still like to go to?
Girolata, the place where we grew up, in the Reserve Of Scandola. No road to go there – you’ll have to take a boat or walk for two hours !
Best season to discover Corsica?
September and June.
[I love May. Even if it's too early to jump in the water (I love the very warm waters of August) Corsica is all covered in flowers, it's not too hot and there are not too many tourists, it's paradise!]
An ideal day with the kids?
It would be to jump on a boat to go to my village, Girolata, and on the way to fish and dive and bathe, then to stop have lunch there at out brother Nicola’s, at the Terrasse. Buy some bastelles (another specialty) at Pascal and Maga on the beach (they are delicious). Take a stroll through the small red rock streets and say hello to everyone in that place that is the most beautiful in the world and where kids can enjoy a complete freedom as it’s a place where there are no cars.
Then quietly get back on the boat after a day of emotion and beauty…