Why would anyone voluntarily leave Italy? Good question. But, that’s another story for another time. So . . . given that we wanted to “get out of Dodge,” we asked ourselves one simple question, “How can we most quickly and easily leave, yet still enjoy rolling hillsides of enchantment and inspiration, all the while, eating incomparable pastries, local cuisine and of course, a refreshing gelato now and again?” The answer was obvious: Corsica.
After a short drive west across Tuscany, we arrived at the water’s edge—the area of the Mediterranean that has the designation of il Mare Tirreno, Tyrrhenian Sea. We hopped a Moby Ferry Line boat. Within a few short hours, we were driving the rugged French coastline of what seemed to be our own deserted island. (Well, it wasn’t quite deserted, but we chose to pretend.) Corsica is one of those little-known places that rivals just about anything we’ve ever seen. The island has more geographic diversity than you would think possible—from dramatic 9,000 foot craggy mountains in the center, to crystal clear coves and beaches all around—from snow-capped peaks to relatively mild coastal climates. Wow!
Corsica is really the remains of an ancient volcano that erupted in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea many millennia ago, resulting in incredible mountains made of gray, green and red granite, along with spectacular outcroppings of white limestone here and there. One remarkable city on the southern edge of the island is called Bonifacio—dramatic, to say the least. Built on the rugged cliffs, it served as part of the extensive Corsican defense system, standing guard over the vast blue sea below.
To the northwest, you can find the red granite mountains that literally glow at sunset—a sight not to be missed. The fantastic rock formations are hard to describe as they tower over the peaceful blue waters. Every turn of the winding mountain road revealed an even more spectacular view. Even the very pavement of the roads takes on the hue of the particular granite used, and the massive retaining walls along the way are built from the same material—fashioned directly from the natural surroundings.
Napoleon Boneparte was born in the capital city of Ajaccio on Corsica‘s west coast. In 1814, following military defeat in France, he abdicated power and was exiled to the island of Elba, an Italian paradise only a few nautical miles east of Corsica, and closer to Italy. While living on Elba, along with 600 of his favorite troops, he worked to improve living conditions for the islanders. He is credited with developing the current road system, which connects the entire island. His personal symbol, The Napoleonic Bee, is seen everywhere on Elba.
But, back to Corsica.
In the island’s mountainous center is the ancient capital city of Corte. The old citadel precariously stands on its rocky perch, still trying to protect the city below, but no longer needed. The old town center is where some of Europe’s most notable hiking trails originate, winding their way through the expansive nature reserve of the island’s interior. We stayed in a small place on the banks of a babbling river, and felt totally immersed in Nature.
Even though we didn’t find our “home away from home,” within Corsica, we came away with something far more valuable: the wonderful surprise when expectations are exceeded. After all, searching is the real adventure. Finding what you think you search for may be over-rated, because the element of surprise is a lot more fun. In some ways we felt hypnotized in a dream state while there—as if some quiet subliminal message was being uttered from within the red granite mountains saying: “You will absolutely love this place—you will absolutely love this place.” And we did!