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The Heart of Corsica

Just offshore from mainland France lies Corsica, an island that’s known for its fierce independent streak as well as its rugged landscape that encompasses jagged mountain ranges, fragrant maquis scrubland and dramatic coastal cliffs.

View of Ajaccio

Most visitors prefer to bask under the Mediterranean sun at seaside towns like Ajaccio (birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte), Bastia and Bonifacio. Once considered susceptible to invasion, the coastal areas were developed only in the early 19th century, so if you want to understand the country’s history and culture, head inland to its mountainous core.

Corsicans have always preferred to take shelter in their rugged mountainous interior, and that’s why this central region (which centred around the town of Corte, or Corti) really defines the Corsican culture and spirit.

Hill village of Moltifao

Hill village of Moltifao

The landscape of Centru di Corsica (the centre of the island) is characterised by undulating mountains with vertical stone walls, surrounded by maquis shrubland. All this harshness is softened by the presence of the many ochre-shaded mountain villages – like Moltifao and Mazzola – that dot the mountainscape. All this makes for a very picturesque hike or drive through the region.

Corte was the historical capital of Corsica when the island was independent, and it also represents the island’s heart, thanks to its central location.

Corte, the heart of Corsica

Upon arrival at Corte train station, you will see the quarters of Corte’s Old Town rising in steps up to the ramparts of the Citadel which is perched dramatically on a rocky outcrop. The town is at the confluence of three rivers – the Tavignano, the Restonica and the Orta – that slice through the rocky mountainous landscape.

Streets of Corte

Streets of Corte

In the heart of Corte is a statue of Pascal Paoli, known as the ‘Father of the Homeland’ who established an independent Corsica between 1755 and 1769. History buffs will remember Corte as the site of four rebellions that shook the island in the 18th century.

Today, the old town, with its narrow streets and often steep inclines, makes for a delightful wander – there is an itinerary marked with numbered arrows to interesting monuments in town. Try and spot bullet holes in walls if you can.

The mountains surrounding Corte make for exhilarating hikes, and trails criss-cross the jagged peaks – the most famous and challenging of which is the legendary GR20.

The Restonica valley

The Restonica valley

There are many trails of varying difficulty that you can tackle in the mountains, and plenty of them offer scenic views of green mountains sliced by cool blue rivers. If you’re up for the GR20 (or a section of it), you can access it from Corte via the picturesque Restonica Valley which joins with the GR20 above Lake Mello at the 7th stage. Most visitors just drive up to the carpark (at 1,370m) and hike to Lake Mello (90 mins) and onto Lake Campiello (another 45 mins).

If you’re travelling in spring, colourful wildflowers drape the otherwise harsh landscape with bright colours. Here and there, the maquis scrubland – the trademark of Corsica – provide a dramatic backdrop for any hike. You can even have a taste of maquis liquor that’s sold almost everywhere on the island.

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