Corsica has many attractions. It is uncommercialised, unspoilt and breathtakingly beautiful. Less than two hours from the UK, with gentle shelving beaches, it appeals to families looking for a traditional summer holiday but Corsica has far greater appeal thanks to its numerous sporting opportunities, cultural activities and festivals and relaxed pace of life.
On the west coast of Corsica, Ajaccio has wood covered mountains circling it to the rear, and the port and citadelle towards the sea on the Gulf of Ajaccio. This combination means that Ajaccio remains mild even during the winter month, hence the town is popular with tourists for much of the year around.
The main centre of the town of interest to visitors is the 16th century citadel, and the region just to the west and north of the citadel. This region includes the Place Bonaparte and the renaissance cathedral, and continues up to Place Foch a little to the north. Note that it was in this cathedral, the Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Misericorde, that Bonaparte was baptised (you can still see the marble font where it happened).
The centre of Ajaccio is based around the 16th century citadel (still in military use, so not open to the public), and spreads west and north of the citadel into the town.
There are a large number of cafes, bars and restaurants around Ajaccio, and it is in these that you will find the true town - the laid-back casual approach to life that Ajaccio seems to adopt so well. Place Foch especially is a very popular place to sit under shady trees and do some people-watching.
Bastia is a commercial port town (the most important on the island) found to the north-east of Corsica, in a fine location with the hills and Cap Corse behind the town. There are three sections of particular interest to visitors to Bastia: the old town, the citadel, and the old harbour.
It is to the old town that you will be drawn with its faded charm, narrow streets and alleys lined with tall, crumbling buildings, dating largely from the 18th century, culminating at the port where the neglected buildings contrast dramatically with the yachts moored in the harbour. Exploring this part of town you might give a thought to Victor Hugo, who lived here as a child.
There are two ports in Bastia. The original traditional one, and the more recent port where Corsica Feries arrive with passengers from Italy and France.
The old harbour is the 'in' place to spend your evenings in Bastia, in the many bars and restaurants, or simply promenading along the front - be sure to walk out along the Quai des Martyrs de la Liberation for the best views of the harbour. The other main part of Bastia to explore is the other side of the old harbour around the substantial citadel. This part of the town is much trendier if slightly less impressive than its old town neighbour. The walk to the citadel passes through the gardens and passed the once-very-posh houses of the Terra Nova district.
The medieval old town of Bonifacio is the oldest town in Corsica, based above a natural harbour on the site of a 9th century citadel with many of the tall sturdy houses along cobbled streets in a spectacular setting along the top of the cliffs.
The town is at the southern tip of Corsica (just 12km from Sardinia) which helps give Bonifacio and its harbour a rather exclusive, sophisticated Italian feel - very elegant, with palm trees and expensive restaurants lining the quay.
Several notable sites can be seen in the town, including the 'Staircase of the King of Aragon' cut into the stone to reach the old town, the monument to the dead and a sprinkling of attractive churches among the medieval buildings. The town is a major centre for sea based leisure activities sich as yachting and diving. The success of the yachting is partly due to the fact that Bonifacio is one of the windiest places in France.
The port town of Calvi boasts the intrigue of traditional Corsican culture while effortlessly maintaining the comforts of a modern resort area. Picturesque views of nature’s scenic beauty are seemingly everywhere you turn, and there are many enjoyable places to spend time.
Travelling to Calvi by ferry will allow you to get the full effect of the gorgeous port, the towering Citadel, the rugged mountains, and the forest of pines. The Port de Plaisance is a friendly marina, and an enjoyable place to view the many luxury boats and bright fishing boats as they arrive and depart.
Calvi’s local beach is a long, narrow strip of white sand and serene, shallow water that stretches nearly 6 km (4 mi) along the length of the bay. It offers lifeguards and very good facilities, such as picnic areas and snack bars. Popular activities at this site include windsurfing, waterskiing, jet skiing and paragliding. For those who prefer a quieter place to soak in the sun, a less populated and wider strip of beach can be found at plage de l’Alga, near Revellata point.
Ile-Rousse (translation: red island) is found on the noth-west coast of Corsica, about 20 kilometres north-east of Calvi, at the northern edge of the Balagne region.
With a fine beach to the south at Plage de Rindara, and small rocky islands to the north, Ile-Rousse is in a splendid setting, which not surprisingly now attracts many visitors resulting in tourism surpassing the port as the key activity for the town. The architecture of the town, which includes some very attractive buildings, largely dates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Perhaps less 'Corsican' than many towns in Corsica, L'Ile-Rousse has a planned layout of straight streets, lined with expensive boutiques and restaurants, and exudes sophistication.
Porto is ideally placed for exploring many of the highlights of this region of Corsica - Scandola, Spelunca, the Calanches de Piana and the Foret d'Aitone. This region of Corsica is of such great beauty and interest that it has been designated a UNESCO World heritage Site.
The coastline around Porto is also memorable, and has several attractive beaches, and there are also various boat trips that can be taken out to sea and to admire the spectacular coastline in the region.
The main site of historical interest in Porto is the 16th century watchtower - above all for the magnificent views that it provides, from its dramatic location on top of the red cliffs.
On the south-eastern coast of Corsica, Porto-Vecchio is a very popular place with tourists. It is a town built on salt marshes and salt continues to play an important role in the town.
It was the marshes that prevented earlier development of the town, because they were infested with mosquitoes and malaria until well into the 20th century. More recently the marshes have been drained and improved communication links have enabled the town to develop its role as seaside resort - a role to which it is admirably suited, given its location overlooking a lovely harbour.
Porto-Vecchio is largely the renowned beaches and coastline to the south of the town that are the big attraction, but the town itself also merits investigation. After a period of prosperity due to cork production, the town has in recent decades given way to tourism.
Sartene is found in south-west Corsica a few kilometres into the mountains south-east of Propriano. The town has a long history of piracy, banditry and gangsters, now happily largely given to more peaceful occupations.
The wealth of the town is founded on the highly rated Sartene wine. The tall buildings, in the same rock as the steep hill on which they stand, look almost unnaturally solid and permanent.
The centre of Sartene is around the Place de la Liberation, previously and commonly still known as Place Porta, and with nice views across the valley. The old Governor's Palace is also in the square.The guillotine that once found service in the Place has given way to tourists!