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Corse (Corsica)

Corse (Corsica)

Corse, famous as the birth-place of Napoleon, is one of the 27 regions of France although it is actually closer to Italy than the French mainland. The island is situated in the Mediterranean to the north of Sardinia, from which it is separated by the Strait of Bonifacio. It has been under French control since the conquest in 1769.

The region has strong nationalistic tendencies and over the years there have been several demands for greater autonomy. The Corsican language, which is still spoken by a small percentage of the population, is officially recognised by the French government. However, the majority speak French.

Corse is composed of two departments: Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud. Geographically the island can be divided into three distinct regions determined by their altitude. The coastal zone is the lowest and is an area comprised of evergreen oak woodland and agricultural land. Between 600 and 1800 metres is a low mountainous area with forests of pine and oak, vegetation that has more in common with northern Europe. The highest zone is an uninhabited alpine area of sparse vegetation.

Corse is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean. A mountain range formed by volcanic activity covers two thirds of the island. The highest peak is Monte Cino at 2706 metres. In this mountainous region is to be found the nature reserve, Parc Naturel Regional de Corse. The park, a UNESCO world heritage site, was created in 1972. It provides protection for rare plants and animals such as the endangered species, Corsican red deer and is a haven for birdlife.

The cuisine of Corse includes several delightful elements. The natural environment provides wild boar from the forests and fish such as trout from the rivers. The region produces six types of honey and is home to the world’s largest chestnut forest at Castagniccia. Chestnuts are used to make a type of bread and are an ingredient in the rustic dish, pulenta. Other local food products include ham made from home reared pork and a wide range of goat’s and sheep’s cheese such as brocciu and casgiu merzu.

You will also find some appealing alcoholic drinks on offer. There is a locally produced brandy (aqua vita), Muscat and the aperitif, Cap Corse. The region produces several types of wine, both red and white. You can sample these wines by visiting one of the many vineyards that offer tastings, such as the one in the village of Patrimonio.

Located as it is in the Mediterranean, the Corse region enjoys the typical climate of hot dry summers and mild rainy winters. This feature, along with the island’s stunning scenery, provides a big draw for tourists. In fact, the region’s economy depends heavily on the tourism industry. There has been little development so the island is relatively unspoilt compared to the rest of the Mediterranean. The main holiday resorts are Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio in the south and Calvi in the north of the island.

Throughout the island you will find attractive coastlines and many fine sandy beaches. The clear waters around the coast are ideal for viewing the sea-life beneath. The mountainous areas provide an excellent base for hiking and include the GR20 Trek. For train enthusiasts there is 144 miles of narrow gauge railway. The main line will take you from Bastia to Ajaccio and a branch line runs from Ponte-Leccia to Calvi.

With low-cost flights from airlines like easyJet, Corsica is within easy reach of the UK. The island’s attractions can be roughly divided into those of the north and south. In the far north, one of the most popular areas is Cap Corse, with its beautiful sandy beaches. Boat hire is possible and is a great way to explore the coast – whether it be by motor boat or, for the more adventurous, kayak.

Certainly worth trying is the Osteria du u Portu in Macinaggio which is a family-run restaurant specialising in fresh seasonal produce and with menus based on the catch of the day.

In this area you will also find authentic fishing villages and quaint harbours. Erbalunga and Centuri are both worth a visit. Sight-seeing trips could include the Genoese Towers, built originally as coastal defences and the Nebbio Cathedral in St. Florent which dates back to the 12th century.

The main resort of southern Corsica is the lively harbour town of Ajaccio, the regional capital. The emperor Napoleon was born here in 1796 and his home – Casa Buonparte – now houses a museum of his life. Within the town you will find a trendy area of bars and boutiques and some of the most sophisticated restaurants on the island, offering up excellent cuisine.

The busy port of Bonifacio offers quaint café terraces which serve more traditional dishes of cured sausage, lamb seasoned with wild herbs and delicious local cheeses.

In Propriano you can sample specialites such as veal and snails in the Auberge San Ghjuvari where the entertainment consists of ‘Corsican Nights’ complete with A Capella singing.

The coastal scenery of this area is amongst the most stunning with its limestone cliffs and views across to the coastline of neighbouring Sardinia.

With its mix of stunning scenery, unspoilt countryside and laid-back ambience, there is no doubt that Corsica deserves its reputation as ‘L’Isle de Beaute’ and Corse is certainly quite unlike any other French region.

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