Is Corsica French or independent? And according to who? However, it is not the shared language or culture with the mainland that attracts as much as the rugged nature, the mountains, forests, beaches and tiny little roads leading to nowhere. Corsica lies barely five hours by ferry from Nice and if you put your mind to it you could conceivably drive around the whole island in a day or two, it is that small.
This was our first time visiting the island, and we had no idea what to expect. We hadn’t made any bookings either, just a rough idea to do a lap around the island and see what we could find.
The first stop on the tour is the ferry terminal in Bastia on the north-eastern side of the island. This is a fairly small port but quite busy with half a dozen ferries docked, it would seem Corsica is popular. But on the other hand, everything has to be imported either by air or by sea anyway, so shipping is a big deal. It has to be said that the experience is fairly painless getting here. The biggest challenge is finding the port in Nice and checking in before waiting for the boat to actually arrive and dock. Something similar to catching a flight at the airport.
U Sole Marinu
The five-hour trip has us chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of the Land Rovers and we decide to cross over onto the western side of the narrow Cap Corse to Golfe de Saint Florent. This is a short drive across the narrow width of this area, but the twisty road made us work for it. The goal was to catch the sunset and, despite not being very well signposted, we found a haven in the U Sole Marinu campsite.
Once again it needs to be mentioned that September is the best time to visit a country (if you can swing it with work and school commitments). The weather is still very good, but there are far fewer people around, and most campsites will have more than enough room – sometimes only a couple of pitches are occupied.
This camping has various bungalows and pitches available, but the big draw was the possibility of parking right on the pebble beach. With a setting sun on the horizon, water lapping your feet as you park your deck chair in the water and a cold brew at hand, what’s not to like? And pretty chilled neighbours too, with a giant hippy truck parked up of which the whole side wall opened up.
A quick reconnaissance drive to the nearest bakery in the morning served up a challenge. The Land Rover had a broken front wheel bearing so we weren’t going anywhere fast. What a drag to stay another day languishing in the warm waters as we sourced a spare part at the garage in the next village.
U Paradisu and Cap Corse
Then we were off again on a lap around the northern (most narrow) part of the island. Narrow roads and steep cliff sides are the order of the day, it is a backdrop of hills and mountains on one side, and the incredibly blue sea to our left. The route loops back around on the eastern side and past Bastia once again (you can’t really get lost here). At Biguglia we headed back inland to cross over to try and find a campsite on the recommendation of some fellow intrepid campers.
This area had whole hillsides with a lot of wild forest fire damage, and we were told in the strictest terms that wild camping was ‘strictement interdit’! Here you will also travel down a narrow road clinging to the cliffs with a deep gorge just a metre away. Pay attention or it could be a bad day…
This camping is called ‘paradise’ – U Paradisu, and lies at the far end of a dirt road leading from the D81 to the Plage de Saleccia. It is a lovely and rugged area, with many hills and no sign of any settlements.
The campsite is pretty rustic and very packed – this is where everyone seems to be hanging out! Space is at a premium and we manage to squeeze into a spot amongst a load of surfers and bohemian laid-back types. The showers are basic and there was no hot water, but that was okay since it was still pretty warm. Perhaps paradise is a misnomer, ‘ el rustico’ might have suited a little better.
Our next mission was to travel further south following the coastal road past Calvi, which is quite a large town. It would seem there isn’t a straight road on the whole island. And for such a small island there is a lot of open space, each corner bringing a new vista to behold.
In the village of Porto, you will find dozens of little boats for rent, from speedboats of all sizes to kayaks and even a couple of sailing yachts thrown in. The harbour is quite large in proportion to the size of the town which indicates a good proximity to the gulf, allowing some protection from the open waters and opportunities to explore the rocky coastline from the water. Luck was not on our side however, as the wind was far too strong for the rental guys to send out a boat, despite us spending an extra day in the hope of better weather.
Luckily there are great restaurants in town, especially the one on the beach. The municipal campsite did not have any grass-covered pitches on offer, but a lot of open space, and during this time of year you have the run of the place. The beach has fine pebble sand, offering good swimming – weather permitting. It will be a different proposition in the high season, I imagine.
Scenic Drive to Corte
We head up out from the beaches into the highlands. Long climbs mean you can reach over 1500 metres within an hour, with fantastic views of the mountains in every direction. It really is a beautiful place, this. You drive along rivers, through rocky areas and forests, across the plains and tackle some steep hills.
We avoided Ajaccio, the biggest town/city on Corsica. It is apparently a nice place to visit, but our mission this time was to see the smaller, out-of-the-way places, so we bypassed the urban sprawl and took the D27 to the general bay area of Ajaccio.
This road is another one that just didn’t stop surprising us, with tyre marks on the tarmac indicating it could be part of the Corsica Rally. This is an extremely narrow two-lane road with extremely steep drop-offs and no barriers to aid in the event of a mistake. And look out for the wild goats as well! We didn’t quite match the speed of the Group B racers, but ultimately found shelter for the night a Camping u Prunelli.
This came as a bit of a shock. A four-star camping with grass and shade as well! All very neat and clean with a pool to boot. Far too civilised for our liking, although it did have sounds of trickling water from the river nearby. If you’re looking for interesting campsites, then this one may not be very high on the list.
Camping L’Araguina Bonifacio
The southernmost point was now beckoning. And, once again, the roads did not disappoint. Steep hillsides and precarious depths bracket the narrow roads and huge vistas of rocky mountains alternate tall trees as we cut through forests. You are also constantly being presented with another view of the sea, it really is all very compact and there’s a lot to take in everywhere you look.
Bonifacio was a great surprise to visit. It is very old and the city hangs off the steep cliffs lining one side of the river inlet. It is very touristy but worth a stroll along the streets and the harbour. The fortress on the hill dominates and looks out onto Sardinia. A very picturesque place to visit.
Within a twenty-minute walk of the centre of town is Camping L’Araguina. Very tight, has small pitches and is quite full as well. It is compact and you don’t have an awful lot of room to stretch out in, neighbours are almost sitting at your table enjoying your dinner with you. But there’s a nice pizza joint there and it is very convenient when visiting the port.
We’ve done it. We’ve reached the south point and now loop back up the east coast. A very different proposition. Very developed with a of housing, hotels and apartments. Large, expensive-looking villas and tourist hotspots, the contrast is very noticeable.
We decide to head quite far north with the aim of heading back inland into the mountains. Camping Sole d’Oru is roughly halfway up the coast between Bonifacio and Bastia, a distance of merely seventy kilometres from last night’s campsite, giving an indication of how small the island is.
This camping was great and terrible at the same time. Great because you can park on the beach with what seems to be a private beach stretching for hundreds of metres each way. Terrible because the mother of all wind storms passed through during our second night, threatening to pull the roof tent off the roof! It tried to clamshell us twice, with us inside! So in the middle of the night, one Land Rover made for the shelter of the trees and in the other we decided to pack the tent away and sleep inside the car.
We awoke to a genuinely jaw-dropping, fiery orange, red sunrise. Beautifully calm after the night’s ordeal. Simply great!
With a tight schedule of twelve days to see the whole island, it was time to move on again if we wanted to see as much as we could. I wanted to see Monte Cinto in the interior, so at Aleria we took the T50 main road through Corte and up to Ponte Castirla where you head west towards what is one of the highest peaks. The contrast between the coastal plains and the tight mountain roads was once again noticeable, along with the everpresent cows and goats herding themselves. Another narrow road with very steep drop-offs and no barriers (reminds us of Africa) followed the river into the ever-ascending highlands.
A navigation error landed us at Asco, where we found a campsite in the pine trees, and realised that we couldn’t actually reach Monte Cinto by car… The closest point is a ski station and then you will have to walk it. And you will have to turn around and drive back the way you came to get out of the area (no through road).
Camping E Canicce
This is quite a distance back down the mountain near the village of Cabanella overlooking the valley of Moltifao. A pleasant place with big pitches and some shade, a restaurant and a pool (which was cold). All of our campsite experiences (bar one) have been aided by the post-season tranquillity, so I can’t speak to how the camping are during peak season, of course..
Camping de Bravone
The ferry at Bastia was in the back of our minds as we headed a little further north following the ever-present squiggly lines on the Garmin. Lookout points made for amazing views over the valleys and the green and remote regions were incredible to drive through. The D39 is particularly lovely to drive along, a tight road with endless green hillsides and random cows in the road looking on bemusedly as we passed by. There are also small dirt road tracks here, which are listed on your navigation as main roads. Lovely little remote tracks that take you into secret little forested areas with small huts scattered about, maybe for the shepherds who we can’t see.
Coming off the hills we entered a farmland area with fruit trees and maize cultivated in the river delta. We came across the main coastal road and drove right over it to Camping de Bravone. A campsite that needs a little more in the way of presentation skills with rubbish bins lining the entrance and old abandoned tractors, machinery and rusted trucks parked up.
But inside you’ll find the real gold, where you can park on the sea sand hidden away in the bamboo with a river next door. It was very calm, with a chilled atmosphere and you had the feeling of being all on your own. Very pleasant indeed.
What you need to try and do, if heading up to Bastia is take the D330 from Cervione. This road sort of parallels the coast but from about ten to twenty kilometres inland. The little road is quite high up, at roughly five hundred metres, and you have lovely views of the coast, giving a very different perspective. A very nice ‘detour’ that will still get you up north, but with a load more charm.
At Biguglia we veer off the main road and take the little road hugging the beaches all the way to Camping Sables Rouges (Red Sands) which is in south Bastia. Camping is a generous word as this is something that can only be described as a parking lot at the beach. But there is a restaurant right there with good food and this is your last chance to swim in the Med.
This is a perfect stop because you’re just ten or fifteen minutes from the ferry port. This makes sense when you’re packing away your tent in the dark to try and be at the ferry just at the break of dawn.
And that ferry gives you about five hours to think back on the last week-and-a-half. Mountains, gorges, valleys, rivers, beaches, forests, remote and dramatic scenery. Corsica has got it all! I can recommend coming here at least once, and I think we didn’t even give it long enough to experience it all.
I hope I have, at the very least, given some inspiration to visit this fascinating island. On a personal level we took it very chilled and relaxed with no hurry to get anywhere – which was part of the fun and gives us more than enough reason to come back, methinks!