Pretty as an island

7 days in Corsica with Eluxtravel

Because of this damned virus redrawing the maps of world tourism, the turquoise shores of tropical islands seem to stand farther each day. As in days bygone, before the reign of airplanes. While waiting to lay our beach towels on the blonde sands of the Mauritius Island, the Seychelles or the Maldives, we will console ourselves remembering that France owns one of the most beautiful islands of the world, Corsica. Which is only a one-hour flight away from Paris and at a few ferry hours from the Riviera’s ports.

By Christian-Luc Parison
“Island of Beauty” is a well-deserved name, Corsica is a land of contrast with a thousand faces.

With its indented littoral ranging from beaches of fine sand to crystalline coves, Corsica has nothing to envy to the little tropical paradise of the Caribbean or of the Indian Ocean. Adding to these admirably conserved seaside features, the island is composed of a tortuous hinterland, adorable small villages drowsing under the warmth of the autumnal transition, and enchanting cities. Without forgetting the strength of its traditions, the savor of its local products and its soulful wines. We are travelling with Eluxtravel, which proposes a “Bella Corsica from North to South” Itinerary. We tried it for you…

Specialist of made-to-measure traveling, Eluxtravel proposes getaways throughout the whole world. From South Africa to Zimbabwe including Costa Rica, Philippines, French Polynesia, Island or Sri Lanka. Destinations that can be discovered in different ways depending on your desires. These “Luxperiences” are innovating concepts welcoming you to seize a country’s very soul, to go further than the postcard image. With these programs, the operating Tour intends to go back to the original source of all travels and to redefine it through the authentic emotion driving to roam thousands of miles.

Day 1 in Corse: Calvi

Amazing view on the port of Calvi, red ochre on a blue background is a requisite.

In this approach of Corsica, the journey will only be 900km and a one-hour flight. Yet a true change of scenery awaits us once we land at the Calvi airport. First good impression, our driver is waiting to pick us up to go to La Villa. The handsomest hotel of the region sits like a king on the city’s heights, in a courtyard planted with cypresses and laurel trees.

The Calvi Citadel overviews the wonders of an island still preserved from touristic degradations.

After dropping our suitcases and lunching by the pool we go back downtown for a promenade in company of a guide who tells us the great and small history of the town, which already was a major Mediterranean port during the Roman empire. Idle stroll in the streets and on the port, visit of the Saint-Jean Baptiste cathedral, pictures of Christopher Colombus’ native house… The steep streets of the citadel may be hard on the calves, but the prize is worth the effort.

Sumptuous panorama of the city heights, where mountains meet clouds…

All along our promenade, belvederes are an invitation to admire the delightful panorama: the sea blue and the mountain mauve flirting with the clouds. Then, back to the port to embark on a boat for a private cruise at sunset. A color and emotion wonderland. First major memory of the week.

Where do we sleep? At the Villa Calvi

On the grounds where formerly stood a monastery, Jean-Pierre and Marion Pinelli, the owners, asked of the architect Stéphane Maresz a hotel in their image. La Villa Calvi is a hotel with a soul, an extraordinary place with which hosts soon become infatuated as if it were a familial home.

Standing on the heights, the Villa Calvi is an exceptional place, and a prestigious member of the Relais & Châteaux.

From the terraces, from the pool, from your room, your gaze will fall – with an always renewed delight – upon the beautiful spectacle of the Calvi citadel golden under the light, beyond the tall maritime pines. Fragrant smells spread through the huge courtyard housing Mediterranean-style buildings.

We willingly amble aimlessly in the afternoon warmth along the pathways lined with cypresses, myrtle and laurel shrubs, small trees thickets… Prestigious member of the Relais & Châteaux, La Villa is a destination in itself. A Corsica to size…

Day 2: La Balagne and the Agriates desert

Aboard a comfortable 4×4 our driver comes pick us up for this day trip through the Balagne. The villages of this beautiful region both neighbor the sea and hang onto the mountain. Lumio, famous for housing Laetitia Casta’s and other Parisian celebrities’ houses, Monticellon where Jacques Dutronc found peace among the olive trees… but also Speloncato, the caverns village, Pigna and its stone houses with azure shutters, Corbara and its baroque church and of course, San Antonio, the highest and oldest village, true eagle nest overseeing the sea.

Stunning landscape of the Agriates desert.
A must: the 4×4 tour in the Agriates desert makes any tourist feel like an adventurer.

After the picnic lunch set up in the middle of nature by our guide, we are proposed to cross the Agriates desert on horseback. This vast natural reserve by the sea encompasses capes and creeks bordered by golden beaches.

Horse riding hike in the Agriates desert.

Next to the Genoese towers dotting the littoral, we can still find pagliaghji, those little stone straw-houses that used to house shepherds. Before heading back, a quick dip is a must…

Where do we sleep? One more night at the Villa Calvi

Raw landscape of Corte and of the Restonica valley.

Day 3: Onward to Ajaccio

An original itinerary expects us since to reach Ajaccio at the south of Calvi we will not take the coastal road, but make a sensible detour towards the inland through a breathtaking mountain scenery. An itinerary which first leads us up north towards L’Ile-Rousse along the sealine, then down towards the center of the island to reach Corte.

Houses standing between sky and earth, hanging from the rock under the Citadel.

Before reaching the historic capital of Corsica, we admire a succession of hilltop villages each more spectacular than the other, Belgodère, Omessa… At the heart of the Corsica Regional Nature Park, Corte proudly flaunts its title of first Corsican capital (when it became independent in the 18th century). We admire the houses built on the rock at the base of the Citadel which hides behind its fortifications the very interesting Musée de la Corse. A quick visit is in order if we want to understand the spirit of this island and its inhabitants both through their history and their present.

The trip towards Ajaccio will proceed after a hike through the stunning Restonica valley. Landscapes of a savage beauty punctuated by natural pools where we enjoy a refreshing swim.

Where do we sleep? At the Le Maquis Hotel of course

Le Maquis is an inconspicious hotel nestled in a blossoming garden and owns a private beach.

This charming and inconspicuous place of the Corsican littoral has been standing on the Gulf of Ajaccio for a few decades. In front of you, the Gulf of Ajaccio and the Sanguinaires Islands stands out from the setting sun. Nestled in a blossoming garden, Le Maquis extends its pink-tiled roofs along an adorable private beach. Green hills exuding laurel, rosemary and strawberry tree scents, white sand, turquoise sea: the hotel is an elegant getaway bathed in the Mediterranean light. The perfect place to forget the hectic pace of our daily life… and hide in the maquis, so to speak.

You must enjoy some true farniente between two touristic expeditions.

Day 4: discovering Ajaccio

Today we leave the road aside for a leisure day to appreciate the charm of Napoleon’s hometown, celebrating this year its 250 years. If the program obviously includes the visit of his native home, we will also take the time to arpent the city’s streets permeated by an air of Italy.

Ajaccio, capital city of Corsica, the hometown of Napoleon – most renowned of all Corsicans.
The colorful boats of the Ajaccio port are an invitation to a sea fishing escapade.

But before admiring the colorful house façades, having a coffee on the terrace, pushing the door of the Fesch Museum (coincidentally famous for its collection of Italian Primitives and great classics like Boticelli, Titian or Veronese), most of the day will be spent on a boat. Because the Captain came to meet us this morning directly on the Maquis’ beach. An opportunity to cruise along the coast and to stop in a small creek to lunch on the waters before going for a welcome swim.

Where do we sleep? One more night at the Maquis hotel

The Corsican mountain views are as beautiful as its emblematic natural creeks.

Day 5: through mountains and villages

Distances are never significant in Corsica, but here we count in hours and not kilometers. And if, as a matter of fact, there is only 140km between Ajaccio and Porto Vecchio, we will use this time to appreciate the marvelous scenery offering itself to the eye. Easy to do so when the concentration needed to drive is devolved to our driver… The road weaving through the mountains pass through a series of picturesque communes. Villages like Grosetto-Prugno (which has the advantage of standing deep in the mountains yet with an access to the sea through Porticcio at… 35km), Casalabriva clustered around its Saint-Michel church dominating the surrounding maquis covered in evergreen oaks and chestnut trees, Sollacaro, Olmeto, Sartène boasting of its subprefecture rank… The occasion to make a gourmet break to sample famous local delicacies on a terrace shaded by plane trees.
Good news, our hotel, the Casa Del Mar is ideally situated by the sea, opposite to the port of Porto-Vecchio. It furthermore possesses an amazing pool where we will peacefully end this day, cocktail in hand…

Where do we sleep? At the Casadelmar hotel

Along the Palombaggia road this sixties hotel had been entirely reinvented by Jean-Noël Marcellesi who had the clever idea of dressing it in red wood, transforming it in a marvel of design. A luxury resort, the Casadelmar is also the best table of the region where we can taste the Mediterranean savor at the two Michelin stars table of Italian chef Fabio Bragagnolo. Profoundly design, this hotel decoration is minimalist in the rooms which open their immense glass windows onto the blue sea.

In the common parts, original artworks neighbor chaises longues signed Frigerio, Baccarat suspensions, Charles Jouffre sheers and Japanese artist Rae Yagura lamps. Following the Feng Shui principles, the recently renovated Spa has welcomed the ESPA brand.

La Plage Casadelmar, a lovely and elegant balneary resort on the peninsula of Benedettu, on the other side of the Porto Vecchio bay.

For a few years now, the Casadelmar has expanded with La Plage Casadelmar. A lovely and elegant balneary resort on the peninsula of Benedettu, on the other side of the Porto-Vecchio bay. Stone and wood, ground floor in crushed marble smooth as sand, light tones, contemporary furniture (Diz armchairs by Sergio Rodriguez, Tom Dion tables in Rajasthan marble, Ozone luminaries…). Hosts of the Casa del Mar will therefore be able to enjoy the features of both establishments thanks to the shuttle connecting them in 5 minutes.

Day 6: Porto-Vecchio and the Archipelago of Lavezzi

Below the historical centre’s protective walls, the port of Porto Vecchio.

Spread throughout the Mediterranean turquoise waters, opposite the Strait of Bonifacio, the Archipelago of Lavezzi look like small pieces of heaven. Since around forty years, this archipelago at the southmost of the French territory is governed by its Nature Reserve status and his islands are only accessible by boat. Around twenty granite islands, all empty but the Cavallo island at some minutes from the coast, east of Cape Sperone. An island supposedly “private” essentially occupied by a charming hotel facility (the Hôtel des Pêcheurs) and by villas of the happy few in search of sun… and anonymity. Thanks to the ship specially chartered for us, the day was purely enchanting. We sailed smoothly on a crystalline sea, avoiding the multiple rocks peaking from the surface which require an attentive steering. The boat, able to cast anchor in any place, allowed for some unforgettable snorkeling sessions in a maritime environment worthy of an aquarium.

Snorkelling in the turquoise waters of Corsica, just like a tour in a giant aquarium.

The beginning of autumn is the best period to enjoy Porto-Vecchio. While it still hosts tourists attracted by its Mediterranean art de vivre, the city streets are definitely less crowded. Which makes it the perfect moment to spend an evening on a restaurant terrace. A must, that we take the time to enjoy…

Alongside the cliff walls, the houses of Bonifacio are a breathtaking spectacle.

Day 7: Bonifacio

Once more we leave the Casa Del Mar aboard a boat for this last day in Corsica. Steering towards Bonifacio. The small cruise crosses through the splendid bay of Sperone and follows along the impressive cliffs of Bonifacio. From the sea we make out the houses crowning the blinding white wall. The city visit is rhythmed by our whims and laziness. After climbing up the 187 steps of the King of Aragon’s Stairway built into the cliff, we have a rightful rest.

Renting a boat for a sea tour remains one of the greatest pleasures of a Corsican sojourn.

This will be our first break at a coffee terrace… but not the last. Hard to resist the charm of the Haute Ville which narrow streets seem to disappear between shadow and light amidst the tall houses’ white façades. As a matter of fact, most of the enjoyment is this aimless wandering in the paved labyrinth offering itself to our steps. The ride back in boat is an excellent pretext to a last sun and sea bath on one of the wonderful beaches speckling our path.

Hiking for all levels

Before daring to confront the GR20 hiking trail crossing the island from North to South, you will need some training. To make it short, this two-week “stroll” is not possible for anyone. Above all, the Cirque de la Solitude…For amateurs of quiet walks, we will recommend the Haute-Corse and the Customs Officers Route that follows the coastline at the tip of the island, between Macinaggio and Centuri. The three parts of this marked path can be achieved in about 8 hours. It will take you to the Capandula and its beaches preserved by the Conservatoire du Littoral: Taramone, Cala Genovese… Offshore, the Finocchiarola islands forbidden to the public between March and September house a protected seagull colony. The Cape Corse visit ends in Saint-Florent, hidden in a pretty bay surrounded by the Nebbio mountains. Before leaving this adorable seaside town, go further up to see the San Michele church near the Murato village. From this promontory, the view goes beyond the Saint-Florent gulf, as far as the Agriates desert, a site of exceptional beauty that associates the dryness of a maquis beaten down by the sun with primeval beaches.

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