Things to do in Corsica: a guide to the perfect day out.
With so many wonderful things to do in Corsica, we've put together a helpful north to south guide of the best days out on the stunning Ile de Beauté.
Days out in Northern Corsica
The north of Corsica is much less talked about than the shimmering south, but with beautiful beaches, sophisticated towns, ancient villages and stunning countryside, there's a huge variety of things to do in Calvi & The Balagne.
Enjoy the town built to rule them all
Towering above a glittering Mediterranean, the citadel of Calvi (1) was made to last, and it’s an iconic image of the island; a defiant bastion of honey-coloured stone. It’s the base for the Foreign Legion’s parachute regiment, and a lively nightlife and cultural scene prevails below the citadel’s walls, along with quirky boutiques, buzzing pavement cafés, exceptional restaurants and a pretty palm-edged harbour. Your holiday to Corsica wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit to the arc of perfect sand (one of the longest beaches in the area) wrapped around an idyllic bay.
If you’re interested in catching a performance of the chants polyphoniques, the haunting vocal performances that form a core part of Corsican national identity, Calvi is a great place to do it. Listen to a few numbers in the magnificent surroundings of the citadel and then finish your evening with a walk round the ramparts, overlooking the harbour lights, one of the best things to do in Corsica.
This historic town is also a starting point for boat trips to the Scandola Nature Reserve (2), a thousand hectares of otherworldly rock formations, sculpted by wind and sea and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Take the little train to Île Rousse
From Calvi, you also can hop on board the two-car Trinichellu and experience one of the world’s most scenic railway journeys, with plenty of small coastal villages en route if you’d like to stop off for a glass of something cold or a swim. Your final destination is Île Rousse (3), a lively town named after the russet-coloured rocks that separate it from silver sand beaches.
Have a stylish day by the seaside
Île-Rousse has something to appeal to everyone – sun worshippers will appreciate the warmest micro-climate in Corsica, or you could simply install yourself in the café-lined village square, pastis in hand, and watch the world go by. The cobbled streets of the Old Town are packed with places to eat, drink and shop for traditional local produce, and if you need to work off a substantial beach-side lunch, take a stroll to the lighthouse above the town for wonderful views and great photos, especially at sunset.
Exploring the Balagne
The Balagne is a quietly beautiful corner of Corsica, characterized by golden hilltop villages, pink-tinged cliffs and beaches washed by a minty green sea. The gently rolling countryside is a walkers’ paradise, and between its picturesque villages, the undulating landscape is carpeted with vineyards, olive trees and citrus groves. There are myriad marked walking trails to explore, or you could also work up an appetite for those hearty Corsican meals with a pony trek through the Balagne hills. The village of Monticello (7) – is a good place to start. Believed to have been home to the mother of Christopher Columbus, its main attraction now is the Complexe St François, the island’s most comprehensive sporting resort. It has pools, football pitches, a gym, an equestrian centre, pony club, shooting range, mini golf and floodlit tennis courts. Or if a gentle stroll is more your thing, the botanical gardens of Parc de Saleccia, also in Monticello, are worth a visit.
To the south of the Balagne you’ll find the island’s highest point: Monte Cinto (8), 2,706 metres above sea level. This is a challenging climb more suited to experienced mountaineers, but the views of its impressive peak are free for everyone to enjoy.
Follow the Route des Artisans
The idyllic beauty of the Balagne, the Garden of Corsica, remains an inspiration for jewellers, tanners, potters and musicians, many of whom open their workshops for visitors to discover the secrets of their art. The Artisans’ Route wends its way through the countryside above Île Rousse and the numerous fortified hilltop villages each have their own unique treasures. Lumio (4) is home to the famous winery of Domaine Clos Culombu and a good spot for some sophisticated dining, or if you're after something a little more rustic, try Sant’ Antonino (5), the highest and oldest inhabited village in the region. The pretty streets offer many opportunities to linger and explore its artisan shops and restaurants: don’t leave without trying the local citronade. Pigna is the honorary capital of the Artisan Trail, a blue-shuttered village where you can hear local music performed in cafés, visit workshops and even buy typical traditional musical instruments as souvenirs.
Feed your appetite for local food
Its fertile fields have led the Balagne to be labelled the ‘breadbasket of Corsica’ and cheese and wine shops, as well as stalls selling local specialities, are found in abundance. Visit Cateri (9), with its 17th-century baroque church and a wide selection of cheese outlets or make your way to Île Rousse’s covered markets, where maquis-infused honey and chestnut-flavoured delights can be sampled from 7am to 12pm every day.
For a truly traditional and rustic experience, fermes auberges (farmhouse inns) serve the most authentic Corsican food, 70% of which must be home produced, or at least grown or reared very locally. Expect a set menu, communal tables and a thoroughly enjoyable time.
Days out in Southern Corsica
On those days when you want to broaden your horizons beyond your swimming pool, southern Corsica offers a plentiful supply of shortcuts for rediscovering your joie de vivre and uncovering its many charms.
Explore Porto Vecchio Old Town
Meander your way through the grid of cobbled streets to the main square for an early evening aperitif (1). You can walk around the walls and ramparts of the Old Town, pausing to study the menus outside restaurants tucked invitingly into the ancient stone fortifications, with precarious terraces opening onto breathtaking views of the sea below. In high season the centre buzzes with trendy shops, tempting ice-cream parlours and smart bars all open late into the warm summer evenings.
Take a Bonifacio boat trip
You can opt for a day trip, including snorkelling in the warm waters around the Iles Lavezzi (2), diving a 19th-century shipwreck or sailing around Cavallo (3), the private island retreat. If you're time-limited by little ones, or several hours at sea aren’t your cup of tea, even just an hour’s boat trip includes free parking all day, so take the opportunity to explore Bonifacio’s ancient citadel (4), artisan shops, fascinating cemetery and harbour restaurants to watch the luxury yachts glide by. The tourist information centre also provides audio guides sharing the town’s turbulent history and, if you’re feeling brave (and ideally at a time when the sun isn’t at its height), you could tackle the Escalier du Roi d’Aragon, 187 steps cut directly into the limestone cliff face.
Go wine tasting
Corsica has over 30 different varieties of grape and is cutting a bit of a dash in the wine world. If you want to make up your own mind about the virtues of red versus rose, visit the Clos Canarelli vineyard (5) or the Fior di Lecci Vineyard and Winery (6), north of Porto Vecchio.
Drive into the mountains
The mountains are where you'll find the heart and soul of Corsica. If it's too hot to hike or walking's just not your idea of fun, head for the Col de Bavella (Pass of Bavella) (7) where you can admire the majesty of the scenery from the air-conditioned comfort of your car. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, there are countless walking and biking routes, plus rock climbing and canyoning for the young and fearless!
While you’re up there, why not pay your respects to the serene white statue of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Snow. Stay on her good side – legend has it she can grant you safe passage through the mountains.
Experience a little pre-historic civilisation
West of Lecci is Levie (8). There you’ll find an archaeological museum in the Town Hall, famous for its exhibit of the Lady of Bonifacio, human remains believed to be 8,500 years old. There are also various excavated sites nearby, including Cucuruzzu, a fortified Bronze Age settlement.
Dip into the thermal baths
Open from sun-up to sunset, Les Bains de Caldane (9) are still used regularly by locals for their healing properties and people have been relying on these natural sulphur baths to cure various ailments since Roman times. There are changing rooms and a café there too.
Time slip at the Corsican 'Stone Henge'
Arrow heads and pottery dating back to 3,300BC have been found there, but it’s the ‘Menhirs’ that the Megalithic site of Filitosa (10) is known for – two to three-metre high statues that seem to represent soldiers carved out of stone and were intended to ward off invasion. You’ll find the site by taking a path through an ancient olive grove near the little hamlet of Filitosa; sunset is particularly magical.
Hike up to Pisca di Gallu (11)
Drive out of Porto Vecchio, passing the lake of Ospedale. The circular walk begins just beyond there and takes about two hours, with the reward of waterfalls en route. It’s not an easy walk – proper walking boots are best – but the scenery, including some impressive giant rock formations, makes it worth the effort. The walking trail can get busy so an early start makes sense.
Play a round
Views from the 12th hole of the Spérone golf course (12) have been described as some of the most beautiful in the world. Although it’s one of two golf courses in the area, it’s the island’s only 18-hole option.
Visit the most Corsican of Corsican towns
Sartène (13) may have a bloody history, but it’s a fine example of traditional architecture and unexpectedly tall buildings. From a café in the shady Place de Liberation there are lovely views across the surrounding valley and pleasure to be found in exploring the labyrinth of the Old Town. Try some Sartène wine while you’re there.
Head to the beach
From Palombaggia to Pinarellu, La Rondinara to Roccapina, Southern Corsica's beaches star in some of the most iconic images of the entire island Find out more about the coastline with Caribbean charisma in our Best beaches in Corsica blog.