Sitting plumb in the centre of the Mediterranean Corsica has long been a favourite with European travellers, offering a mixture of sunkissed beaches, quality diving, stunning hiking and a raft of cultural attractions.
Here Breaking Travel News’ reporter Alice McKeown explores its glitzy coastal cities, azure bays and quaint hilltop villages in a special report.
Holiday in Corsica
First stop on our tour of Corsica was Hotel Artemisia described by owner Christophe as “integrated into the ways of the village and the shapes of the landscape”.
Built in 2010, the minimalist design seems rather at odds with this statement, but his vision is clear once you step inside.
A glass wall stretches the length of the open-plan ground floor, through which snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests rise above the rustic Bastelica in the foreground.
This space serves the reception, salon, library and the restaurant.
As a Bastelican, born and raised, Cristophe has lovingly curated the library to cover much about the local area and history.
In the salon (complete with hanging fireplace) one can enjoy an aperitif as the light fades on the mountains.
The design is both chic and authentic; it rejects the typically kitsch rustic stylings of alpine retreats but still immerses the guest into the culture and landscape of the valley.
As such, it’s no surprise that the restaurant doesn’t look far for inspiration.
Presentation is modern and tasteful, while the single menu each evening is traditional Corsican fare (with a few imaginative twists).
All ingredients are locally sourced and organic, while a truly impressive number of ingredients and condiments are home-made.
Situated along the top floor, the ten bedrooms (from €100 per night) are simple and elegant.
Each has a large double, with a full height window at its foot and bath by the bed.
Again, the views are stunning.
Upon drawing the curtains at dawn, even the most fatigued of limbs are re-energised to explore.
A good thing too; the region offers many activities for the more adventurous traveller; hiking, climbing, canyoning and equestrianism can be arranged by Artemisia on request.
For the colder months the Ese ski station is only ten kilometres away, and the hotel mainly hosts coastal Corsicans seeking the slopes.
For those into more leisurely pastimes, try sampling some of the local produce, especially charcuterie.
The Corsicans call Bastelica “ham country” and walkers will encounter one or two stray piglets, whichever route they take.
Wine tasting is also available at nearby vineyards.
There are no cash machines in Bastelica, and while Artemisia takes credit cards, few other venues in the village will. Stock up on cash in Porticchio before you start the winding road up into the mountains.
Rising from a grove of Mediterranean pine trees on an idyllic stretch of Porto-Vecchio bay, Grand Hotel Cala Rossa’s organic adobe architecture, rounded corridors and botanical courtyards are nostalgic of the boutique resorts of the 70s and 80s.
This is no bad thing.
Cala Rossa exudes class, and is hard to beat for indulgence. Boasting a Clarins spa, the sauna, steam room, indoor pool and countless wellness treatments available provide some sheltered luxuries for those visiting either side of the sunny season.
There is a boutique store for those looking to indulge in a few choice items.
In peak season, the private, white-sand beach and jetty provide a peaceful place to relax and enjoy the crystal waters of Southern Corsica.
With only 40 rooms in the hotel, you’re guaranteed to find a quiet spot to yourself.
The rooms are all generously proportioned with walk-in showers and king-sized beds.
Those on the ground floor have small private gardens with sun loungers and direct access to the hotel gardens.
For the ultimate luxury, couples can book the beach house; a wooden lodge perched on stilts and amongst palm trees.
It is the only room in the hotel with a sea view, as it’s effectively on the beach!
The bar and restaurant is one of the best in the region.
The kitchen, which is recognised with a Michelin Star, serves immaculately prepared and presented French cuisine at around €100 per head excluding wine.
The dining room is grand and elegant, but resists any air of stuffiness.
The hotel has its own boat which runs a relaxed tour of the local coastline each morning at 11:00.
Nearby Sperone has a picturesque golf course, sessions on which can be booked through reception.
More adrenaline-filled pursuits abound in the area for those over-indulged at the spa.
Wild boar hunting is a popular seasonal pastime in the region, while high-octane water-sports and scuba diving are available April-November.
An enduring memory of Hotel Mouettes will be the sun setting on the mountains across the Golfe d’Ajaccio with waves crashing on their private beach.
The hotel is traditional in design but exceptional in location.
On an exposed corner jutting out from the Routes des Sanguinaires, Mouettes’ private beach is a natural break point for the currents in the Golfe and a popular spot for surfers.
Sea access isn’t ideal; rough water and rocks mean many guests stick to the pool and Jacuzzi, though the beach itself is perfect for admiring the beauty of the Golfe from a sunlounger.
The rooms at Mouettes are simple and tasteful.
The heavy old oak doors give some separation from poolside, but allow the crashing of the waves to trickle through and lull.
The front door is locked from 23:00, but the room key allows for re-entry at any time.
Ajaccio is well worth exploring; famous for being the birthplace of Napoleon, you can visit his childhood home here.
Likewise the old Jesuit temple is a fascinating example of the ancient riches the island has to offer.
If it’s not too hot, at the tip of the Route des Sanguinaires is a short and pleasant walk around the peninsula and its Genoese tower, overlooking the bird sanctuaries of the Isles des Sanguinaires.
There are countless excellent restaurants in Ajaccio, but for a traditional taste of Corsica (and extravagance regarding portion size) try the quirky 20123.
The dolls and décor are hideous and bizarre (in that order), but the quality of the cuisine and service are excellent for the price.
Make sure you’re hungry!
The locals of Calvi will tell you that the town is the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
If you venture towards the towering citadel, you can still visit the purported remains of his house, which was reduced to rubble by Nelson in 1794, in his attack of the French Garrison.
Calvi’s strategic position right on the northwest coast of Corsica has ensured a colourful wartime history.
Today, it’s a beautifully picturesque town which has worked hard to reinvent itself as Corsica’s ‘capital of culture’.
There is the bustling promenade, lined with excellent restaurants full of traditional Corsican fare, and you can take the winding cobbled backstreets up to the citadel, which holds an art exhibition from June to September every year.
If you have the opportunity, a stay at La Villa Calvi is highly recommended.
The hotel has seamlessly blended luxury service with elegant simplicity of design.
The rooms don’t come cheap - they start at €450 a night in peak season - but the grounds of La Villa command a stunning view; guests can enjoy their breakfast while feasting their eyes on the snow-topped mountains of Balagne and the bay beneath.
It’s worth noting the hotel’s excellent restaurant, which again comes with a Michelin star.
A true five-star hotel, La Villa offers a faultless first-class service to guests.
The hotel has a high number of luxury facilities, including a spa and five swimming pools, elegantly positioned to give swimmers full advantage of the mountain view.
What sets La Villa apart is its immersion in modern art; the hotel holds a number of modern art exhibitions throughout the year, and there are distinguished pieces displayed throughout the hotel grounds; the bronze ducks in the infinity pool being one example .
Close to the village of Piana is Les Calanches - a geological highlight of the whole island.
The deep-red jagged rocks jut into the ocean, and the waves froth furiously as they crash in at the base.
Les Roches Rouges hotel in Piana offers up this stunning view to all their guests as standard.
The view from the terrace is so phenomenal, it attracts visitors who are not guests of the hotel; they stay for a glass of wine as the superb sunset illuminates the cliffs.
Les Roches Rouge (aptly translating as ‘the red rocks’) was built before World War One, and still retains the charm of a building which has been subtly restored.
Rooms are available from €140 per night for a sea-view; excellent value for the service.
A short drive from Piana is the Gulf of Porto, from which you can have fantastic days out via boat.
Hire a small motor boat and explore the stunningly craggy coastline right across to the Scandola coastal wildlife reserve.
You’ll be able to explore caves and beaches only accessible by boat, and claim them as your own for a few hours.
The rocky peninsula of Cap Corse has exceptionally beautiful stretches of unspoilt beaches.
The small medieval fishing port of Erbalunga on the eastern side is often described as one of the beautiful spots on the island, and it is home to many excellent restaurants which are very reasonably priced.
The Castel Brando hotel in Erbalunga has a fantastically rich history, and is a wonderful retreat for visitors.
The hotel itself began as a mansion built in 1853 by a Napoleonic doctor, and was faithfully restored in the Pieri family in 1989, in keeping with the original style.
Further villas were added to create the hotel as it now stands, which still retains the elegance and beauty of a patrician mansion.
The walls are thick stone, and there is plenty of antique furniture typical of 19th century Corsica.
All the rooms have a refreshingly unique feel to them; no two pictures hanging on the walls are the same, and each bookcase is home to a different set of authors.
There is a large outdoor swimming pool which offers a stunning view of the mountains, and guests can unwind in the Jacuzzi.
Rates for Castel Brando start from €175 per night.