Not true, but my well-traveled friend’s mistake is typical. Few North Americans know much about
1. It’s mostly mountains, and the coastline is rocky. It has dramatic vistas but nature here is austere.
Totally false. No Mediterranean island is as gorgeous, lush and varied. On the thousand kilometre coastline are secluded rocky coves and white sandy beaches with the most alluring colors of the
Some of the best beaches are on the half hour drive from the Southern
There are farms, orchards, citrus and olive groves, each producing essential parts of the robust local cuisine. There is a town named for chestnut trees, and their fruit is made into everything from flour to feed chestnut creme brulee. The early Greeks and Romans planted vineyards, and today there are Appellations Controllees and winetasting.
Magisterially towering above everything are the mountains - 100 km of them, with 117 peaks over 2,000 meters high. Just as astounding are the houses vertically implanted into the walls of mountains and hilltop villages that were once accessible only by donkey. The mountains come in striking varieties. Along the west coast are the Calenches, burnt orange coloured rocks that seem sculpted by a divine hand. You can see them close up because they impose themselves on each side of the narrow, winding roads. In the centre of the island, near Corte, the former capital, are pine forests, mountain lakes and rivers, along with waterfalls and natural gorges.
At the Hotel Colonna, facing the Restonica Gorge, rooms look out on the rushing river; at the restaurant next door, you eat local trout.
The island’s limestone and granite peaks have shaped the very soul of Corsicans. They lived in theses mountain fortresses for hundreds of years because it was too dangerous to live by the sea.
2. It’s a violent place, of bandits and separatist terrorists.
Bandits, no. Not even the pickpockets who prey on tourists in so many parts of
“There are rackets and protection money, yet we live in a laid back environment,”, says Tamara Antonini, a tour guide and singer of traditional Corsican music. “The old idealistic revolutionaries retired decades ago; now they’re involved in culture, things like teaching traditional songs, or the crafts movement”, she explains. We are sitting outdoors in a cliffside café in the tiny hilltop
3. The people are stubborn and suspicious. Certainly, if you encounter only hotel clerks and waiters anywhere, you’re going to find some who are rude. But talk to the people, and you find wit and a certain sophistication. Many have traveled, especially to “le continent”, as they call mainland
“We are basically Mediterranean”, says Tamara Antonini. “We are not Italians but we feel close to them. We are an island with a complicated history”. No kidding. After being attacked by one regional power after another - the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Goths, then pulled into the
During WWII, the Corsicans fought bravely, and their island was the first part of
Today, I wonder if perhaps the 750 years of French and Italian influence accounts for some of the innate style and good taste that I see everywhere. There’s the food - fresh fish and vegetables, prosciutto and other smoked ham products, goat and sheep cheese. It’s country cuisine that combines the best of French and Italian cooking. And there’s the way women dress - not so different from St. Tropez or
4. Most people speak Corsican, a form of Italian.
Not any more. The Corsican language was all but wiped out by the French government. In l991 the Frrance did an about face, and now Corsican is taught in the schools. Everyone speaks good French but there’s not a lot of English on the island; not surprisingly, most of the tourists are from
5. Napoleon is the favorite son. Yes and no. He’s the island’s superstar, its eternal claim to fame, and his home, which is now a museum, draws crowds of Bonaparte worshipers to the capital city,
There is one thing people say about