Venetia van Kuffeler travels on the first direct Air Corsica flight to Bastia
CORSICA’S BEAUTY HAS not gone unnoticed by the jet-set but new flights from London Stansted have begun exposing the far corners of this stunning Mediterranean island.
Flying in, it’s not difficult to see why Corsica has been named the ‘isle of beauty;’ its diverse landscape is mesmerising. From mist-capped mountains, thick forests, and authentic hillltop villages, all surrounded by sandy white beaches and turquoise waters, its plain to see from the air that Corsica remains unbelievably natural and undeveloped.
We were staying on the island’s northern peninsula, Cap Corse, said to be ‘an island within the island.’ Forty kilometres long, Cap Corse certainly seems wild and untouched. The way to explore Cap Corse is simply to follow the coast road up one side and down the other, with excursions inland to visit the wine-producing villages in the hills. Indeed, Corsica has 67 wine estates that welcome visitors to sample their wines and learn about their wine-making methods.
The two sides, east and west, are quite different in character – to the west of Cap Corse the mountains reach right to the sea in a much more dramatic fashion than on the gentler east side. There are numerous scenic highlights and small villages to see along the way, including centuries-old villages like the stunning Nonza, Genoan towers, fishing harbours and views of crashing waves from the majestic coastal road.
We spent a morning in Centuri, and we’re told this is the largest fishing port on Cap Corse, which is hard to believe given its laid-back vibe and lack of activity. Clearly someone is working hard, given the amazing variety of seafood on offer in the local restaurants. Sitting under the trees on the terrace at Le Vieux Moulin sipping rosé and eating langoustine spaghetti was worth the trip alone.
Bastia is at Cap Corse’s base and a few hours there are well-spent. Our tour began in one of Europe’s biggest squares, Place Saint Nicholas, at a massive statue of Corsica’s most famous son, Napoleon (dressed as a Roman Emperor), born on the island in 1769. The Oratory of the Immaculate Conception was the seat of the Anglo-Corsican Parliament (indeed, Corsica was English from 1794-96), with a royal throne set up in front of the altar, and ‘God Save the King’ sung at the start of each session. Our guide explains that Corsicans are devout, and their churches and festivals define much of the calendar. The fine silver virgin procession statue at the Cathedral of St Mary weighs almost half a ton. This statue is paraded through the streets of the old town during the annual Assumption of the Virgin Mary procession in August.
We wandered around the Old Port, with the twin-towered Church of St. Jean-Baptiste rising behind it, and climbed the majestic Romieu steps up towards the Genovese governor’s palace, which now houses the Bastia History Museum, and admired the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea and the islands of the Tuscan archipelago, Capraia, Elba, Pianose and Monto Cristo.
We were staying at Misíncu, which sits on the east coast in Porticiollo, overlooking a small sandy cove. Cap Corse’s only five-star hotel, Misincu’s 32-bedrooms were built entirely by local constructors and craftsmen and is designed with a relaxed atmosphere in mind with vintage oak floors and stylish wicker armchairs and lampshades. We stayed in one of the property’s 11 villas accessible via a footbridge with pretty sea views, and a swimming pool built in volcanic stone.
We ate exceptionally well at Misícu. The chef trained in the kitchens at Eden Rock in St Barth’s and under Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, so the menu is sophisticated, serving plenty of fresh fish and vegetables grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden.
Beyond eating and drinking, there’s also lots to do in Corsica. Scuba diving, horse-riding, climbing and endless hiking trails, plus the promise of sandy coves and beaches only accessible by bike or boat.
Like so much of mainland Europe, travel off-season can be a bit hit and miss, with closed restaurants and beaches not set up for summer. And with its sleepy demeanour, Corsica is no different. But that’s likely to change now there are nine flights each week out of London Stansted. An easily accessible and affordable destination, Corsica is likely to provide more than a match for the long-established Mediterranean resorts.
Flights start a less than £50 each way from London Stansted to Ajaccio, Bastia and Figari, Corsica