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A Jewel in the Med: Opening up to Corsica

Featured — By Josh Steinitz on October 7, 2011 at 10:58 am
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NileGuide CEO Josh Steinitz recently returned from an incredible trip to Corsica. Read on for his itinerary, highlights and stunning photos. 

Walking along a narrow foot track, we could see miles in every direction. Beneath our feet was a soft mixture of pincushion-like grass, surrounded by low shrubs, granite boulders, and peaks towering in the distance. Our only neighbors were some occasional black-coated pigs that foraged amidst the wild heath. Here, after many days of memorable experiences around the island, in this out of the way spot, we felt like we were experiencing the real off-the-beaten-path Corsica of legend.

As an American, when you tell your friends you’re traveling to Corsica, you usually get a series of messages like “have fun in Italy!” or “oh, I love the coast of Spain!” More than a lesson in the geographic ignorance of most of us, it’s a strong indicator of how unknown this incredible place, known as “L’Île de Beauté,” is among even the savviest U.S. travelers

Sunrise at the Hotel les Mouettes, Ajaccio

On our 10-day trip, my fiancée Sylvia and I followed a counter-clockwise route around the island, starting in Ajaccio, the capital (and birthplace of Napolean). The port city, a legitimate destination in its own right, makes a good base for exploring both the southwest coast as well as some destinations in the notoriously rugged interior, since the main cross-island road runs from Ajaccio to Bastia in the northeast. Basing ourselves out of the friendly and welcoming Hotel Les Mouettes, with an enviable location right on the water just outside of downtown, we spent several days exploring the region, making days trips south along the coast to Propriano and Campomoro, and north into the mountains around Corte.

View of Ajaccio from Hotel le Mouettes

Propriano is just one gulf south of Ajaccio, but takes roughly 90 minutes to reach by car given the famously winding nature of even the main roads in Corsica. It has a pretty little waterfront harbor and the requisite open-air terrace restaurants along the quay, and merits an hour or two of exploration. It’s also within striking distance of Campomoro, a small village at the end of the road. There we found a white sand beach, clear, warm waters, a historic restored Genoese lookout tower (of which there are many around the island’s coast), and a walking path down a pristine undeveloped stretch of coastline, surrounded by granite boulders tumbling into the blue sea.

The clear waters around Campomoro

After a seaside day, we were ready to get an up-close view of Corsica’s rugged interior mountains, so we drove to the historic university town of Corte, and then on the ultra-narrow road up the Restonica Valley. The scenery became more and more jaw-dropping as we climbed up the valley, and we periodically slowed to a crawl to pass cars going in the opposite direction, with the driver on the outside trying to avoid the certain death of plunging over the edge. From the end of the road, we hiked up to the famous Melo and Capitello Lakes, set in a stunning glacial cirque surrounded by granite spires. The terrain was reminiscent of Yosemite or the Wind River Range in Wyoming, and felt incredibly far removed from the coastal beach towns. It was just one of many experiences that highlighted the incredible diversity of the island. Many destinations lay claim to the clichéd notion of being a region of “contrasts,” but on this score, Corsica really delivered. And, while we found plenty of people just about everywhere we went, we almost never heard a word of English spoken.

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Tags: Bonifacio, Calvi, Campomoro, corsica, Monte Cinto, Porto, Restonica Valley

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