The cliffs, mountains, gorges and towering pinnacles in Corsica’s extraordinary landscapes can almost look impenetrable.
But if you’re persistent and love hiking rocky trails or driving precarious mountain roads your sense of adventure will lead you to some of the most beautiful locations imaginable.
You can hire a boat and set sail for tropical-style beaches with pure white sands and crystalline seas, or push yourself on treks to discover glittering highland lakes or the best views of the calanques, tormented rocky curtains that drop to the sea on the west coast.
Corsica’s coastal towns are sleepy old settlements, flaking in the sun and still dominated by Genoese fortresses from the 1500s.
Lets explore the best things to do in Corsica:
1. Calanques de Piana
On Corsica’s west coast the road from Calvi to Ajaccio will make you feel very small, in the best possible sense.
The most awe-inspiring part is when the D81 wends its way south towards Piana, and gnarled and warped spires of rock, some hundreds of metres in height, pitch down to the sea.
There are rest stops next to the road where you can step out for photos, but if this isn’t enough the tourist office in Piana will hand you a map with walking routes.
Sentier Muletier is a path that follows a ridge high above the D81, and a marvel in late-spring when the harsh landscape is flecked with wildflowers.
2. Calvi Citadel
Walking into Calvi’s walled Haute-Ville always feels like a momentous event: You have to pass below the imperious walls erected in the late-15th-century by the Republic of Genoa to ward off the fleets of the Franco-Ottoman alliance.
After making your way through a tunnel that was once defended by a drawbridge you’re free to potter around the cobblestone streets and get up to the ramparts for amazing panoramas of the bay.
The citadel is a proud symbol for Calvi with three bastions, an elegantly-weathered baroque cathedral and a historic house once occupied by Christopher Columbus.
3. Plage de Palombaggia, Porto-Vecchio
Many people have Palombaggia down as the best beach on Corsica, and it has an alluring tropical quality to it: The sand is white and luxuriously soft, and the beach is on a very slight slope so even grown-ups will have to wade out a long way for the light blue waters to reach waist-height.
There are also hardly any signs of tourism apart from a few isolated beach bars.
This all comes at a price, as sun-seekers travel from far and white to unwind on Palombaggia, but the good news is that the beach is long enough to accommodate everyone, even in peak season.
4. Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
This house is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and was in the hands of the family from 1682 up to 1923. You can visit the room in which Napoleon was born in 1769 and get all sorts of snippets about the Bonaparte family and events during Napoleon’s youth.
Non-French speakers can make use of a multi-lingual audioguide, and although almost none of the house’s original furniture and art remains, the house presents a carefully-researched reproduction of how it would have been in the late-18th century.
5. Bonifacio Citadel
Close to southernmost Corsica, the small harbour town of Bonifacio was once a prized strategic location and in the late-middle ages it came under attack from the Kingdom of Aragon and Turkish corsairs.
In the mid-16th the Genoese took over and constructed this hardy walled quarter.
That the walls hardly seem to have aged is proof of the quality of Genoese engineering, and you can get up to the canon positions to look out towards Sardinia, which is just a few kilometres away.
These battlements envelop an imperfect grid of townhouses as tall as six high, on gorge-like streets so narrow you can hardly spread your arms.
6. Aiguilles de Bavella, Zonza
In the southern-central part of the island is another epic natural sight that can be appreciated from the road.
The D268 gives you comprehensive vistas of this mountain ridge with a kind of serrated spine of soaring limestone columns.
Once again fortune favours the brave, and the best scenery is reserved for those who take on the GR20 hiking trail, in particular the upper Variante Alpine that climbs through forest with lofty black pines, as well as orchids in spring.
The round-trip to Bocca Pargulu, at an elevation of more than 1660 metres will take about five hours, but will leave your camera full of photos that you’ll treasure for years to come.
7. Plage de Saleccia, Santo-Pietro-di-Tenda
On the north coast of the island is a pristine bay with sugar white sand that uncurls for more than a kilometre and is hugged by dunes covered with dark green juniper bushes.
The thing that makes it so perfect is also the beach’s only drawback; Saleccia is so remote that you need to be prepared to pay a fair amount of money, or walk a long way to get there.
There’s a yacht service from the nearby ports and a 4×4 transfer, but both will set you back €50 or more for a family.
Another option would be to drive to the village of Casta on the D81 and then hit the hiking trail, which can take hours.
8. Chapelle de Notre Dame de la Serra
From Calvi take the D81B towards Galéria and follow the signs for this mountaintop chapel.
It’s a cute building with a statue of the Virgin Mary standing crowning a rocky outcrop facing the sea, but the reason to make the trip is for the outstanding vistas.
Look west and you’ll see the entire Bay of Calvi and even as far as Lumio, which is ten kilometres away.
If you’re up for a serious climb you can walk here from Calvi, and it will take around 45 minutes.
9. Gorges de la Restonica, Corte
Tourist Information will recommend that you wear walking shoes for this eight-kilometre walk, and it’s good advice as this trail meanders along a rocky riverbed and even includes a climb up a chain ladder.
You’ll be aiming for the source of the Restonica River, at Lake Melo and it’s a walk that you can attempt even in mid-summer because of the shade provided by the walls and woodland of the ravine, and all the places to dip your feet in the sparkling water or even swim.
If you’re really hardy you can then carry on to Lake Capitello at an elevation of almost 2,000 metres.
10. Scandola Reserve, Galéria
Even considering Corsica’s long list of natural wonders, this awesome coastal park to the southwest of Calvi is one that you needs to be in your plans.
It’s a World Heritage site with titanic, jagged rock formations of a size that has to be seen to be believed.
It’s all on a remote peninsula, and the simplest way to see it is with a boat tour from Calvi or Ajaccio.
If you’re fortunate the cruise will bring you close to the park’s wildlife, as there are colonies of seals and dolphins in these protected waters.
Overhead you can also spot ospreys, eagles and peregrine falcons, and the boat will drop anchor stop in an inlet for a swim in the crystal clear sea.
Try to see it in the late afternoon when the red-tinted rocks are caught by the sun.
11. Cavu River, Sainte Lucie De Porto Vecchio
In the Vallée de San Martinu the River Cavu bubbles between large granite boulders, cascading down small waterfalls and filling sets of clear pools.
If you’re holidaying with a young family, little ones can spend hours paddling in the waters and scrambling up the boulders, which form a natural adventure playground.
With black pines on the valley walls it’s a thoroughly idyllic place to spend time in the company of loved ones.
There’s a small visitor centre too, with a cafe and bikes for hire.
12. A Cupulatta, Ucciani
Ever been to a zoo dedicated solely to tortoises and turtles? Well here’s your chance! A Cupulatta is involved in worldwide research and breeding programs and has turtles and tortoises from five different continents, locations as far flung as the Galapagos Islands and Seychelles.
There are 3,000 animals from 170 species to see, some newborns as small as a fingertip and others, like the Giant Tortoise, decades old and more than a metre long.
You’ll love the hatchery, where if you’re lucky you’ll see a turtle emerging from its egg.
13. Cucuruzzu, Levie
The journey to this intriguing Bronze Age archaeological site in Corse-du-Sud is part of the appeal.
Most people will park in Levie and walk the trail across meadows with cattle and through woodland where semi-wild pigs forage.
Cucuruzzu is a fortified village with that was occupied until the 3rd century BC. It’s easy to make out the village’s buildings, made from granite stones and still in great shape.
There are also stairways carved into the granite boulders.
You can see finds discovered at this site and nearby Capula at the Musée de l’Alta Rocca in Levie.
14. Lavezzi Islands, Bonifacio
These uninhabited granite islands off the south coast of Corsica have the southernmost point in all of Metropolitan France.
You can catch a boat down here from Bonifacio for a reasonable price, and you should bring a swimsuit as the waters are a dream.
The landscape is littered with natural piles of grey granite boulders, some poking out of the water and some as reefs below the surface, creating little pools of crystalline water on the highly-indented coastline.
These reefs have been a seafaring hazard for millennia, most notably causing the wreck of the frigate La Sémillante in 1855 with great loss of life.
There’s a cemetery for this tragedy on the main island, Lavezzo.
15. Water Sports
Corsica’s beguiling topography continues below the waves.
So at the many dive sites around the island, including the rich waters of the marine reserve at Scandola, you’ll encounter trenches, ridges, canyons, sea mounts and the kind of pinnacles visible above the surface in the calanques.
Sea temperatures in July, August and September are 23°C or higher, so you’ll be pushed to find a better dive destination in Europe.
On an island where water courses rumble down steep mountainsides, canyoning is a fun way to combine trekking, climbing and swimming.
The paddle-boarding trend has also arrived in Corsica, both on upland lakes and on the coast.