THE Greeks christened it ‘Kallisté’ (the most beautiful) and the French call it ‘Ile de Beaute’ (Island of Beauty) so we weren’t surprised by Corsica’s spectacular scenery.
But it didn’t take us long to discover that this amazing gem – roughly the size of Crete and lying above Sardinia off the west coast of Italy – satisfies every holiday palette as it’s teaming with serene beaches, rugged mountain ranges, chocolate box villages and enticingly warm rivers and sea.
Unlike Italian-owned Sardinia, it is part of France but has its own distinct feel and remains refreshingly undeveloped. We stayed on the east coast near Ghisonaccia town, next to a wide sandy beach called Plage de Vignale and fringed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, its 28⁰C water perfect for swimming or pedalo rides.
Our large holiday parc Marina d’Erba Rossa had a lively hub around its swimming pool and entertainment square – complete with rooftop DJ – but elsewhere it was quiet and laid-back.
Off-site was fun too. The perfect way to enjoy Corsica’s amazingly clear sea is on a pirogue, a wooden Polynesian fishing vessel hand-crafted by the guys behind sea adventure company Acqua Vanua.
We opted for Acqua Vanua’s three-hour taster trip from their base at Plage de Favone. Guide Paolo took us to a prime snorkelling site at Plage de Canella, where we jumped in to spot saddled bream, damselfish and wrasse. He also took us further out to swim through underwater rocks then to caves where we crawled under submerged ledges.
If there’s one water activity everyone should do on Corsica it’s this one, if only to discover unique places and experiences.
The ancient harbour town of Bonifacio teeters over the sea on dazzling white limestone cliffs at the island’s southern point and a great way to view it is on a day-long cruise from Porto-Vecchio. We motored past some of Corsica’s most famous beaches – including Palombaggia, often compared to the Seychelles, and Rondinara, voted Lonely Planet’s third best in Europe – then on to Bonifacio before heading to the protected Lavezzi Islands.
The small uninhabited islands are coated in icing sugar-like pale sand and fringed by the clearest water imaginable. To reach shore we simply leapt off the boat and snorkelled our way over, mesmerised by the glittering silver fish circling us.
On the way back the skipper stopped the boat in a pretty bay to give everyone a chance for one last swim. The hitch was that the only way into the water was by leaping off the top of the boat. Great fun for us all!
Corsica has a different feel to mainland France but our holiday company – outdoor specialists Eurocamp – provided their usual premium service and accommodation.
Our base was a three-bedroomed Classic mobile home with ample covered decking to give us a break from the sun if needed. It contained everything we needed from gas hobs and kitchen equipment to the much-needed air conditioning plus a barbeque. We’d also pre-ordered bed linen and towels to help lighten our luggage. The kids love staying in mobile homes because they make friends easily with other children around them while I love the ‘living outdoors’ feeling it gives you. Corsica is a relatively new destination for Eurocampers – the firm only started breaks there in 2015 and is now present on two different parcs.
To take advantage of Corsica’s sights – it’s great just to meander down winding roads through old villages or, if you’re feeling brave, across the rugged mountains – you’ll need a car. There’s limited availability – particularly if you need a seven-seater like us – so book early.
I’ve had no end of trouble with hire cars before – cars much smaller than advertised, child seats unavailable and staff unhelpful – but this time it went refreshingly smoothly.
Our Renault Scenic came with booster seats for our younger two and a useful tourist guide and map. Also indispensable was Hertz’s own blogpost on how to get to Corsica’s best beaches – often in remote areas – and, crucially, where to park. We tried several but our favourite remained the beautiful bay at Canella with its gently sloping shallows, crystal like water and great snorkelling.
We also struck lucky by checking into a great hotel near to our UK airport the night before our early morning flight, something I can’t recommend enough with children.
The Macdonald Botley Park Hotel & Spa is 10-minutes from Southampton Airport and its brilliant Stay and Fly package gives you accommodation, full breakfast, return taxi transfers to the airport and free parking for the whole of the holiday. Staying at the quiet 4* country hotel also enabled us to enjoy a swim and a hearty three-course dinner the evening before, so we felt like our holiday had begun a day early.
For our final two days on Corsica we switched holiday parcs to Sole di Sari, a few kilometres down the coast and slightly inland from Solenzara – and discovered a whole new Corsica.
A gentle river rolls through it and the water is so warm you could happily spend hours lazing in it. Not so the kids, who preferred scaring the life out of me by scrambling up cliffs and leaping in.
Follow the water upstream and you’re treated to amazing plunge pools and gorges. It was simply breath-taking – or, should I say, ‘Kallisté’.
WHAT’S THE DAMAGE?
GO TO IT: Corsica’s four airports Bastia, Calvi, Figari and Ajaccio are served by EasyJet and Flybe from several UK airports. Flight time is around two hours.
STAY: Stay a week with Eurocamp at Marina d’Erba Rossa in a three-bedroomed Classic mobile home from £140.33 from 30 April or in a three-bedroomed Esprit at Sole di Sari from £364 from 14 May. www.eurocamp.co.uk, 01606 787125.
GETTING AROUND: Hertz hire cars at Bastia airport from £13 a day.
DO TRY: Corsica’s wine (we loved the rosé) and seafood. Set menus are great value. Ferme d’Urbino on the Etang d’Urbino lake (tel. 0033 495 57 30 89) serves gorgeous mussels and a seafood platter on its three-course set menu for around £22, children around £10, 75cl wine carafe around £10. Or try Solenzara’s bustling Les 3 Terrasses with red mullet and Corsican cheese on its set menu (around £17, children around £9) and 50cl wine carafe at around £7.
START THE HOLIDAY EARLY: If you’re flying from Southampton, avoid worrying travel delays with Macdonald Botley Park Hotel and Spa’s Stay and Fly package. Room, full breakfast, use of leisure facilities, free holiday parking and return airport transfers from £159. DBB packages also available.
DO YOUR RESEARCH: Hertz’s blogpost is a handy guide to Corsica’s beaches.