It’s where Matisse discovered his passion for color…Corsica, France’s best kept secret is chic, inexpensive and child-friendly. I tried it out with my two sons (ages 3 and 12) and discovered a refreshing lack of pretension that makes for the simplest vacationing.
To do Corsica justice, hit the road hard. A third of the island’s surface is national park, its mountains soaring to 10,000ft, promising spectacular drives. We hired a car and sliced through the rugged western province, past Napoleon’s birthplace, Ajaccio, and up into the island’s interior. At A Cupulatta tortoise sanctuary we visited the world’s luckiest turtles and tortoises.
After lunch, take a corkscrewing mountain drive above the village of Vero to Parcours Aventure. At this colossal tree-top obstacle course, kids can whoop their way from tree to tree via a network of high-rise log bridges, rope nets, tightropes, and zip lines. With snaphooks on a harness, they clip themselves on and off a steel security cable, scrambling through the forest some 100ft above you.
The further you drive the more the roads turn out to be little more than ledges notched into near vertical granite. Flicking past pines on the narrow D268, you’ll rise and fall through hairpin bends passing through walled cities on the approach to Aiguilles de Bavella. Nicknamed ‘the Needles’, this jumble of jutting granite peaks looms at over 5,250ft. It’s worth the effort. As the sun shifts, the ochre peaks are drenched in honey light.
We explored the forests of Vizzavona and D’Aitone, Cascade des Anglais and Gorges de la Spelunca where foaming green waters plunge into orange granite-walled ravines.
We took a boat trip out to Bonifacio. Leaving behind its shops and eateries and its chaos of cars and daytrippers, a wall of eroded white clay cliffs tumbles into the sea, morphed into improbable, convoluted caves. The skipper zipped in and out of the crags, to the delight of my brood.
With 600 miles of coastline you’re bamboozled by choice: do you plump for accessibility over popularity, pebbles or sand, waves or not, water sports or not? Favorites include Cappiccioli, Palombaggia and Calvi
My boys singled out Plage de Cupabia, a remote sweep of sand studded with sea-sculpted grottoes. Teeming with fish, its warm, clear, shallow waters are ideal for curious toddlers and first-time snorkelers.
The clash of French and Italian culture is best seen on a menu where tagliatelle alla marinara and tiramasu are served alongside bouillabaisse and crème brulee. Most of the family-run eateries offer a three-course menu where slithers of local charcuterie (cured ham and smoked sausage) are followed by river trout or wild boar and a tangy lemon flan. The pizzas are freshly baked, wafer thin and divine. Kids will crave hot sugared beignets. Visit food markets or stop at rural hamlets to buy cured pork, honey, ewe’s cheese and olives.
WHERE TO STAY
(http://www.lesrochesrouges.com), set above the Gulf of Porto for its faded grandeur and affordable rooms.
(The refurbished San Lucianu (http://www.markwarner.co.uk/sun/corsica/san-lucianu) resort is in a laid-back location surrounded by incredible natural scenery. Dining is on a full board basis, there are free group sailing and windsurfing clinics, certified sailing courses, along with PADI scuba diving, three tennis courts, private coaching, mountain biking tours, and a full aerobics and fitness program. Childcare clubs for kids aged 4 months to 5 years and for teenagers aged 14 to 17
Commonly termed as one of the 26 regions of France, Corsica was sold to France in 1768.
While French is the official language, a large number of Corsicans speak Corsican- Corsu.
Capital of the north, Bastia is a fifteenth-century town that has survived almost intact.
Corsica’s diminutive train, the Micheline or Trinighellu (little train), rattles through the mountains from Ajaccio to Bastia via Corte, with a branch line running northwest as far as Calvi.