Corsica - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Corsica


The island of Corsica is France's 'little bit of Italy', it being close to that neighbouring country and therefore long influenced by the language, architecture and cuisine of the Italian mainland. The local language, for example, is Tuscan-inspired. Corsica has been under French rule for only 200 years after being sold by Genoa to Paris in 1768. Before that happened, this island that rises majestically out of the Mediterranean, belonged by turns to the Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Moors and Lombards, each conquering nation leaving their mark and influence to be added to the Corsican melting pot. Corsicans today tolerate French rule unwillingly, but radicals are tempered by the realisation that the island economy is heavily subsidised and islanders enjoy generous tax concessions.

Today the invaders of this island, which gave birth to Napoleon and Columbus, are thousands of holidaymakers who flock particularly to the east coast, with its long sandy beaches and pretty fishing villages, for activities like scuba diving, sailing, kite-surfing and hiking. The west coast has awe-inspiring scenery with cliffs and rocky inlets, while the mountainous interior remains largely wild, in between cultivated groves of olives, pine plantations and cork forests.

Corsicans maintain their independent ways, and you'll find a strange mixture of French and Italian culture that is both and yet neither. In Corsica you'll find local beers and soft drinks not found anywhere else, and unique cuisine including locally-produced chestnuts, olive oil, pastries, and boar meat.

Information & Facts


Corsica features a Mediterranean climate which is characterised by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters with the north of the island being hotter than the south, and the east wetter than the west. The weather is influenced by the winds and the temperature is moderated by the mountains. Average summer daytime temperatures reach around 77°F (25°C) and can climb to as high as 95°F (35°C) in July and August.

French is the official language.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

The inland area along the northwest coast of Corsica has been renowned since Roman times as an orchard of olive, fig and orange trees and the breadbasket of the island, crisscrossed by a network of narrow, winding roads. Tiny villages such as Sant'Antonino and Speloncato perch high above the countryside built around rocky outcrops, while others along the Artisan's Route, like Pigna, proudly display their traditional crafts such as pottery and stringed instruments. Set beneath a wall of imposing jagged mountains that remain snow-capped until July, the rocky coastline of the Balagne area shelters a string of stunning white sand beaches and an old fishing settlement, now turned into one of the island's most popular holiday resort towns, at Calvi. In the shadow of its citadel, built by the Genoese, Calvi bathes in the legend of Christopher Columbus whose birthplace it is said to be. It was during an attack on Calvi that another famous mariner, Lord Nelson, lost his eye. Not far away from this historic and compact gem can be found another port town, Ile Rousse, founded by Pascal Paoli in direct contrast to Calvi, which he felt was too Genoese. Many of the settlements along the Balagne coast have been developed into busy holiday villages, however the stunning scenery and idyllic beaches more than compensate for the crowds. Trains connect Calvi and Ile Rousse with Ajaccio and Bastia. Buses are also available.

Situated in the northeast of Corsica, Bastia is the island's major commercial centre. Despite this the old town has retained its charms as a holiday destination; and opulent Baroque churches and crumbling pastel houses line the maze of tightly packed streets and alleyways. The Vieux Port is the most photogenic part of town, where old houses tower above the harbour and the reflections from colourful fishing vessels ripple on the water. The citadel perched high on the headland of Bastia dominates the other side. The Bastia harbour comes alive in the evening when tourists on holiday here fill the waterside bars and restaurants. The pebble beaches below Bastia town tend to be very crowded in summer and sun seekers are advised to head further south where a sandy shore extends for miles down the east coast of the island.

The ancient town of Bonifacio, at the very southern tip of Corsica, dates from 833AD but there is nothing old-fashioned about the tourist trappings and commercialisation of this buzzing haven that attracts huge holiday crowds, particularly in summer. The visitors come on holiday here for the magnificent setting; Bonifacio sits on a narrow limestone peninsula, the bright white cliffs plunging into the Bouches de Bonifacio strait, between Corsica and Sardinia.

The most scenic way to approach Bonifacio is by boat through the channel, almost a mile long, that protects the town's beautiful natural harbour. No wonder that the buzzing marina attracts yachts from all over the world, as well as ferries and passenger boats packed with tourists arriving on holiday from Sardinia and elsewhere. Alternatively you can fly in to Bonifacio from Marseille or bus from the other Corsican towns.

The Italian-flavoured town boasts quaint medieval architecture, offset with the requisite cafés, restaurants and boutiques catering to the tourist trade. Bonifacio's old town and citadel, built in the 12th century by the Genoese conquerors, is an interesting holiday attraction and reached up a long, steep flight of steps. The citadel has been put to use in modern times as headquarters for the French Foreign Legion, which was based here between 1963 and 1983.

There are diversions aplenty to enjoy on holiday in Bonifacio and surrounds, ranging from watersports of all sorts at the nearby Plage de Piantarella to some splendid golf courses, as well as boat trips to the offshore Archipel des Lavezzi island group.

North of Bastia is the holiday destination of Cap Corse, a 25-mile (40km) peninsula edged with quiet and quaint fishing villages. The peninsula is divided by a narrow spine of mountains, which rise over 3,000 feet (914m) above sea level. On the east side of the Cap Corse mountain spine are a series of small villages cuddle into coves, while on the west coast the settlements cling precariously to rugged cliffs battered by wild waves. The peninsula's best stretch of sandy beach to enjoy on holiday is Plage de Tamarone, near Macinaggio. A favourite with holiday visitors in Cap Corse is the picturesque village of Centuri, while hikers head for the many walking trails like the well-known Sentier des Douaniers. Make sure the camera is loaded for visits to the panoramic viewpoints of Capo Grosso, Moulin Mattei and the Tour de Seneque, above Pino. The vineyards of Patrimonio are renowned, particularly for their muscat, and most wineries welcome holiday visitors for wine tasting. The Cap Corse wine route, or 'route des vins', is signposted from St-Florent.

For a change of pace on your island holiday, pack some hiking boots along with your swimsuit and head for the dramatic Corsican hinterland. Corte lies marooned in the centre of Corsica, surrounded by dramatic granite mountains. This independent and proud town has long epitomised Corsican nationalism - for a short time in the 18th century it was the capital of Pascal Paoli's short-lived Corsican state. Now a university town, it remains dominated by the Haute Ville (upper town) and its forbidding citadel, site of the Musée de la Corse, the island's premier museum. While on holiday in Corte, it's easy to spend a morning wandering around the narrow cobbled streets or soaking up the atmosphere in one of the many bars and cafés that line the main street. Corte is an excellent base for exploring the island's wonderful mountain scenery. A few miles to the southwest, near Bergeries de Grotelle, walkers will find a number of glacial lakes and around Valée de la Restonica are a series of stunning natural gorges and basins with refreshing swimming spots. Buses and trains connect Corte with Ajaccio, Bastia and other holiday towns on the island.

The mass of intriguing red rock formations along the coastal road between Porto and Piana are known as Les Calanques, and are a highlight of a visit to Corsica. The narrow, twisting road reveals a landscape of spectacular vistas and panoramas that outdo each other at every turn, where wind and sea have eroded the pink granite rock into pillars, huge boulders and weird shapes. The scenery is most spectacular at sunset, when the setting sun highlights the natural red and pink colours of the rock, and the drive is best appreciated in the direction from Piana to Porto.

The small seaside holiday resort of Porto is watched over by the 16th-century Genoese Tower standing guard over the fishing harbour, and although crowded in summer, retains a certain charm. While on holiday, Porto is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding countryside and spectacular coastline. The Gorges de Spelunca, a spectacular ravine, is popular for its rocky pools, Genoese bridges and hiking opportunities, while the Forêt d'Aïtone is one of the island's most beautiful forests, with waterfalls and numerous walking trails.

The Cape Girolata peninsula is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and encompasses the Scandola Nature Reserve, an ecological treasure covering 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of scrub and sea. The promontory is marked by incredible rock formations that were formed by Monte Cinto's volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The subsequent erosion has fashioned caves and grottoes deep into the rock. The headland and its surrounding waters support significant colonies of seabirds, dolphins and seals, as well as 450 types of seaweed and some remarkable fish such as the grouper, a species more commonly found in the Caribbean. Scandola is off-limits to walkers and can be viewed only by boat; trips can be arranged from both Calvi and Porto.

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