Stunning beaches, rugged mountain scenery and great food, the island of Corsica packs it all in. It's also superb for camping so a two-week holiday needn't break the bank
Idyllic, tranquil and steeped in historic significance, Corsica is a travellers’ dream. And if you enjoy camping and using public transport then it’s perfect for a two-week low-budget backpacking excursion.
We flew to Bastia in the north to divide the trip between beautiful Calvi and the central mountainous region around dramatic old Corte. Our early morning flight left us with time to kill in Bastia which was gladly spent eating pizza in the bustling Place St Nicholas and grazing on sorbet and local wine in the splendid Old Harbour, before making our six o’clock rendezvous with the charming bone-shaker train that would be our carriage west to Calvi.
The three-hour train ride across northern Corsica is a stunning feast of mountains, villages and, as luck - or the timetable would have it - a glorious sunset on the final west coast stretch. At the splendid Camping Paduella (www.campingpaduella.com- ask the conductor for Balagne-Orizontenovo when on the train, or simply get a taxi from Calvi) you are within walking distance of Calvi and just 300 metres from the beach. Paduella is a vast and peaceful site set within a pine forest with immaculate facilities. The best pitches are towards the back away from the road. The site has a fine little bar, which serves good pizza at night and fresh baguettes and croissants for the early risers. A short walk from the site is a handy farm shop selling an array of local produce to cook up a feast at the tent. Washed down of course with one of Corsica’s excellent wines. Bars and restaurant can also be found along the local beach to Calvi.
Calvi itself comes alive at night and is a magical place to hang out. Whether it is atmospheric backstreets or the glitz and glamour of a marina that entices you, the town is awash with bars and restaurants specialising in every nuance of Corsica’s fine cuisine.
Calvi’s mountainous backdrop provides rewarding day-hikes offering stunning panoramas of the Golfe de Calvi and the vast mountains to the east. Another excellent day trip is back along the coastal train to the wonderfully quaint Algajola, the day can be spent on its lovely beach (good camping behind) before eating and drinking at the excellent Bar Brassiere Le Chariot in the main square. Indeed the coastal train provides a great source of adventure; you can travel all the way up to Ile Rousse or follow the locals as they hop off at picturesque Ste Restitude Beach for lunch at its secluded restaurant.
After a week it was time to pack up camp and head for the mountains. If however you fancy a night or two of luxury away from the rigours of camping then the Hotel Le Magnolia (www.hotel-le-magnolia.com) takes you to the heart of Calvi and comes highly recommended as an excellent mid-range option.
Peace of the valleys
Arriving at Corte train station we took a taxi 6km or so up into the stunning Vallée de la Restonica to Camping Tuani. The vallée is a haven of tranquillity. With nothing but the sound of birdsong and the rush of water for company it is a hikers’ paradise and makes for a very special camping experience indeed. Camping Tuani (0495 4611 65; 16 euro for two people per night with tent) has an excellent restaurant providing great traditional food or pizza and sells an assortment of beers and wines to be enjoyed as the River Tavignano rushes past. World-class hiking to challenge all levels can be accessed from the campsite with the river always on hand for a refreshing dip and the perfect site for a picnic. Again you fancy a break from canvass then Auberge de la Restonica (www.aubergerestonica.com) lies at the entrance to the Vallée. We stayed there on an earlier visit and it took all our will-power to resist this time round. A fine old stone built guesthouse with an excellent restaurant, Auberge de la Restonica has its own swimming pool and grounds that lead down to refreshing natural swimming pools where the river cascades through. Expect to pay up to 100 euro per night for a room with breakfast.
Heading back from the vallée, Corsica’s capital Corte is not to be missed with its historic Citadel perched precariously above the valley below. The old town quarter is full of character and has numerous bars and restaurants from which to soak up the evening atmosphere. Recommended is U Museau at the foot of the Citadel, which serves extremely tasty variations on the local cuisine.
As a camper the best way to see Corte is from the exceptional Camping U Sognu (0495 4609 07; 15 euro for two people per night with tent). With dramatic pitches on terraces shaded by olive and oak trees it provides a hypnotic view towards the Citadel and to the town and valley beyond. The impeccable facilities are rustically housed in an old farmhouse building, the courtyard of which also hosts a delightful bar. The ubiquitous wood-fired pizza oven is here to bring unique style to the take-away pizza. Twelve euro buys you a pizza and a bottle of white wine from the bar to be enjoyed from your tent as the sun sets over Corte. Camping U Sognu provides a great base for the spectacular Vallee du Tavignano trek and is one of the most charming campsites I've ever visited. I get the feeling that Corsica may just have a few more charms hidden away; I can't wait to find out.