Corsica: Things You Need To Know

Corsica is a wild island, in every sense of the word. Birthplace to Napoleon, Corsica is the least economically developed region in Metropolitan France. Compared with mainland France, Corsica is very sparsely populated. None of the towns on the island is large; even the capital of Corsica, Ajaccio, has a population of only 65,000.

The Economy

Tourism plays a big part in the Corsican economy. The island’s climate, mountains, and coastlines make it popular among tourists. Tourism is particularly concentrated in the area around Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio in the south of the island and Calvi in the northwest.

Despite this, the French island has not had the same level of intensive development as other parts of the Mediterranean and therefore remains mainly wild and unspoiled, hence its given nickname the “Isle of Beauty”. This is mostly due to the local criminals who don’t want foreigners to buy land and scare them off by planting bombs in villas and construction sites.

Corsica has France’s biggest gap between rich and poor, its oldest population, its highest suicide rate and the worst education scores. Bankrolled by Paris and Brussels, Corsica is the most heavily subsidized region of France. Moreover, Corsicans are exempt from social security contributions and the island as a whole enjoys preferential tax status, with one-third of the permanent population employed in the public sector.

The Troubled History

Corsica boasts a long, eventful and troubled history. Rarely has it ruled itself, often has it been fought over. The many powers that conquered Corsica ruled it without particular regard for its people or its prosperity. It has frequently been neglected, considered a Mediterranean backwater and treated with indifference.

Its varied, multifaceted history has, however, left it with a wealth of treasures, including megalithic archaeological sites, impregnable fortresses, picturesque towns, gastronomic delights and rich cultural identity. Its inhabitants are proud of where they’ve come from, at ease with who they are and fiercely protective of their unique island home.

Learn more about Corsica’s fascinating history.

The Deep Resentment of France and Foreigners

Corsicans are proud of their heritage and have a ‘thing’ for feeling respected. Corsicans require respect from non-Corsican visitors; offend someone at your peril. Mainland France is referred to as “le continent,” and attempts by outsiders to move in or do business are resented.

Nationalist sentiment is rooted in a deep personal love for Corsica and is expressed, at different levels, through the teaching of Corsican language (Corsu) in schools, or through spray-painting slogans on public signs and buildings.

The Crime Problems

Apart from being known as a natural beauty, Corsica is also home to an exceptionally violent separatist movement group known as the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC), who has waged a clandestine war against France since 1977. Since then, the group has assassinated political officials, killed police officers and targeted French government offices with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, bombs, and machine guns.

In addition to these types of attacks, the FLNC have frequently targeted hotels and vacation villas, as a warning to outsiders who choose to have residence on the island to leave.

The island is now well-known to be plagued by violent crime committed by organised gangsters (some of whom have been linked to the FLNC), who have been involved in illegal activities which have had huge impact on the islands construction industry, development and infrastructure endeavours.

The island has a population of only 300,000 people and yet it has a higher murder rate than anywhere else in Western Europe.... 41 times higher than the overall homicide rate found on mainland France.

Local law enforcement has found it increasingly difficult to prosecute offenders of the crimes committed due to a code of silence from the Corsican residents known as ‘omerta’. This is absolute silence and non-cooperation with the authorities. Some locals have been reported to have said however that it is through fear that they remain silent and not omerta.

Learn more about crime in Corsica.

The Local Language

Many Corsicans of all ages speak Corsican, a language whose history is obscure. Signs in Corsica are written in both French and Corsican, but on most, the French has been spray-painted over. Written, Corsican looks similar to Italian, though it sounds different to the ear. Many names are Italian in form, with some pronounced the Italian way, some the French way.

Corsican music is also resurgent; in recent years musicians have fused modern melodies with traditional vernacular songs or church chants to create an evocative, contemporary folk music.

The Land

Corsica has a range of mountains, with numerous branches, traverses the whole extent of the island, and, near the middle, rises to such an elevation, that the snow remains on the summits during the greater part of the year. The monte Rotondo and the monte d’Oro (from 8 to 9000 feet in height) are covered with perpetual snows. This chain of mountains consists, in part, of precipitous rocks, and is, in part, overspread with forests.

A number of small rivers, of which the Golo alone is navigable, flow easterly and westerly into the sea. Most of these frequently become dry in summer. The eastern coast is more flat than the western, on which are most of the inlets of the sea. The air, in many parts of the island, owing to the many lakes of stagnant water, is unhealthy. 

When to Visit

Corsica has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot. Winters are moderate, dry, and clear. Because of differences in altitude, Corsica’s climate varies from mountain to valley and coastlines. The North is hotter than the South; the East is wetter than the West. July and August are peak tourist times in Corsica. April, May, June, September, and October tend to be less crowded.

How to Get to Corsica

To get to Corsica you have two options:

1. You can fly via Air Corsica (there are several small airports throughout the island) which takes less than an hour from Nice

2. You can hop on a Corsica Ferries boat, which will cost as much as €450 round-trip (in August, not including an optional cabin, wifi, or meals), and as low as €170 in other months, for two passengers with a car and take from 3 to 5 hours, depending on the route. Ferries leave from Nice and several other cities along the coast, but not every day, so make sure to check the schedule and book tickets well in advance. From Nice, you can go in and out of Porto-Vecchio or Bastia in Corsica.

While flying is faster, consider the time it takes go get to the airport, check-in, wait, and fly, then the added time and expense to rent a car on the other side. If you’re already on the French Riviera, we recommend taking a ferry with your car, as it’s a pleasant trip and you’ll need a car on the island.

Most official signage around the island is written in both French and Corsican; although separatists often spray-paint over the French, and many are pierced by bullet holes.

More Things to Know

Bear in mind that among restaurants and many other businesses (even in touristed cities), a midday rest (la sieste), generally from 2pm to 5pm, is often respected.

To explore Corsica’s mountainous interior, a car rental (or arriving via ferry with your own car) is your best option. The Napoleon Bonaparte Airport in Ajaccio has many international companies to choose from, including Hertz, Avis and Europcar. If you need a car with an automatic transmission, be sure to book far in advance, as most companies have a limited supply. Many roads require a 4-wheel-drive SUV, but are also narrow, so try to book a small 4-wheel-drive SUV.

While you’re on the beach or driving, watch out for wild animals. Cows regularly sunbathe on the beaches and while they are cute, they are wild and will chase you if they feel threatened. Animals (including pigs, goats, sheep, horses and cows) on the windy roads sometimes cause accidents with careless drivers, so drive slowly and cautiously.

It is essential that you download offline maps (you can do this on Google Maps) before exploring the interior, where cellular service can be unreliable.

There are an almost shocking number of nudist (“naturist”) areas and nudist resorts on the island. You’re likely to accidentally stumble upon one, so consider yourself warned. Expect to get glared at if you’re on the beach and not 100% nude, as “nakedness is compulsory on the beach, at the swimming-pools, and strongly recommended throughout the resort village.” Amazingly, they’re known as family and kid-friendly.

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