EXPLORING THE HILLTOP VILLAGES OF NORTHERN CORSICA

CORSICA | FRANCE

[CORSICA, FRANCE] — You know when you’re in a rental car in a foreign land and you’re on a steep impossible skinny one lane road with dropoffs of hundreds of feet and wondering “what the hell am going to do if another car comes the other way???”

I was in exactly in that situation, on a steep rocky road, barely wider than my car, pointing downdowndown on my way to the a sleepy fishing village I was told was a gem. The crazy road was a bunch of zig-zags all the way down to the sea, each turn more precarious than the last.  My clutch skills failing on the steep hill, killing the car as I rounded the tightest bends.

When you’re traveling with someone else, you kinda have a strapped-in support system. Someone to cheer you on, feigning encouragement, in mutual self-preservation. A co-pilot. A navigator. (Unless it’s an ex-wife, then you’re wondering the whole time if she’s going to get all Scarlett Johansson on you, undo your seatbelt, flip open your door and kick you over the edge. Like a cat.)

Anyway… when you’re in a rental car as a solo traveler, you don’t have that encouragement. You’re all own your own, screaming out loud to nobody, yelling ohfuckfuckfuck… sweat and fear visible from space. Seconds feel like hours.

But when you finally get at the end of the road, you’re rewarded with something as magical as Marine de Scala. A quiet centuries old stony fishing village; built in the rocks, out of the rocks. A bunch of fun kids scampering all over the place, cannonballing into the clear blue water. And giggling. You can finally catch your breath and enjoy it all.  Ahhh yes, this was definitely worth it.

 

Marine de Scalo

This is the little town I described getting to in the opening of this post. See what I mean?

 

Until you realize you have to go back up the same damn road…

That’s what it’s like driving around Corsica. Every single day.

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As you’ll see, northern Corsica is a lot different than the Southern Part. More wide open. Broad, wind-swept hilltops open to the sunny sea. But equally enchanting. 

 

Corte mountain backdropCorte. The start of our northern tour.

Northern Corsica Towns

I was here for just a few days and barely scratched the surface; there’s so much to see. But hopefully you’ll get a feel for the place and want to come, too.

 

As you leave Corte and head to northern Corsica — which we’ll be doing next — you immediately run across the picture-perfect town of Soveria. It’s the most photographed town in Corsica, although my crappy photo doesn’t make that obvious. You can google better ones. You need to get up higher to get the full on mountain effect, and I was running out of time. The mountain backdrop is just stunning and it’s a nice place to stop for lunch. I think it looks surprisingly similar to Omessa, that pretty hill town nearby that I posted earlier. I dunno, maybe whoever was second slipped some money under the table to the architect when it came time to build. “Psssst, Francescu, make our town look cool like theirs.” It worked.

 

Omessa village

Omessa is just a beautiful little Corsican mountain town — aren’t they all?
Only 20 minutes outside of Corte, it’s great for a stop in, or get there before sunset and have dinner outside. My hotel hooked me up with a tiny, but very well known, restaurant in the heart of Odessa called Les Jardins de L’Oubly.
Fanastic meal on a leafy terrace where you can watch the sun turn the surrounding mountains from orange to blue.
Do you see the smiley face on the middle building?

 

 

Driving around Corsica you run across one unreal looking scene after another. Different from any place I’ve ever seen. With the meanest, gnarliest looking mountains that look like they’re still in the larval stage. They’re all rarr-rarr-raaaa… everywhere. Like this gorge. Scala Santa Regina. It doesn’t even look real. I had to blink a coupla times.👁 it looks like a life size version of that crazy huge miniature railroad setup @miniaturwunderland in Germany. With a narrow road hand-chipped from the rock, a steep cliff waaay down to the coursing river below. It doesn’t even want to be photographed. Of this gorge, they say “if Corsica is the work of God then the Scala is the work of the devil’. I’ll buy that.

 

Sant’Antonino

 

Sant'Antonino hilltop

The owner of my hotel, Thierry, said “you must go to Sant’Antonino, it’s the prettiest village in Corsica.” So I did. He was right.

 

That place looks fun.

 

Pigna cafe

Pigna is another awesome town, right next to Sant’Antonino. That looks like where I want to have dinner. And watch the sun set.

Sant'Antonino church tower

Sant’Antonino church tower. Like a painting.

A Driving Tour of Cap Corse

Cap Corse is that great Corsican middle finger pointed toward France at the top of the island. A big montainy peninsula, with a rocky side on the east and a cliffy side on the west. Sparsely populated except for a lucky few picturesque villages, as you’ll soon see. 

 

(Thanks again to Fabrice Weexsteen for letting me use his cool map. Check out his work at from http://aworldofmaps.free.fr)

 

If you don’t stay on the Cap, you can take an all day tour along the deeply narrow road around its shores, clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on where you like the sun to be. If you do the tour, it’s a very long day. Like eight hours with a couple of stops and pictures along the way. But worth it. Remember, driving in Corse takes a long time, with narrow roads and a ton to see. So if you can stay somewhere on the Cap, I’d suggest it if you want to have more time and can catch both sunrises and sunsets.

Nonza houses

Nonza was my favorite town on Cap Corse. Clinging to the edge of a steep 1000ft cliff, you’re can stop here for a gelato or have a bite or vin at this cool bar that prows out over the still blue sea. Pinch me.

 

 

 

Nonza church view

About 60 people live in Nonza, rising to about 500 in the summer as families come back to roost in the family nest, high about the sea. Nonza was my favorite town on Cap Corse. Clinging to the edge of a steep 1000ft cliff. 

 

Nonza cafe on cliff

You definitely have to stop at this cool cafe in Nonza, hanging on the side of the cliff.

 

view from Nonza

Clinging to the edge of a steep 1000ft cliff, you’re can stop here for a gelato or have a bite or vin at this cool bar that prows out over the still blue sea. Pinch me.

I took the clockwise route, so that’s how I’ll show you each town.

CLICK ON A PICTURE TO FOLLOW ALONG WITH LARGER PICTURES:

 

Plage de Mute Cap Corse cove

I really like looking at stuff like this. The beaches around Centuri aren’t that great, so keep going down the road a bit for your post-lunch dip right here. It is more better.

 

Erbalunga peninsula

The hanging-it-all-out-there town of Erbalunga, about mid way up the great finger of land called Cap Corse. It’s pretty, that’s all you need to know. Go there.

 

Erbalunga piazza

I didn’t stay in Erbalunga but if you’re taking the long tour around Cap Corse like I did, this is a sweet spot to stop for a sour sunset Aperol.

 

Here’s a Picto-Map(TM) of where everything is on a map:

Here’s a handy Picto-map of where all these beautiful towns are.

 

 

I had the best luck finding the perfect hotels in Corsica. Small, boutique hotels nestled in the hills. Another of my favorites was a place in the hills above L’Ile Rousse in a town called Monticello. A Piattatella was just perfect. Great little restaurant, just for guests, with stunning views from every room over the vast inland valley. Family-run, super-friendly. It’s a great central base to explore all of northern Corsica.

Can’t wait to come back.

 

Where to Stay in Northern Corsica

A Piattatella mountain view

The family-run boutique hotel A Piattatella is an awesome base to explore the northern half of Corsica. It’s just outside a small hilltop village called Monticello, high above L’Ile-Rousse, which is centrally located, right where you want to be in the north. What’s cool is it is just on the backside lip of a mountain ridge, overlooking the mountains of la Balagne and the big wide and lovely Regino valley. Just stunning views from every room, dining room and pool. So peaceful and quiet. This was the incredible view from my room. 😳 I just loved this place.

A Piattatella infinity pool

I love pools.

 

 

A Piattatella bedroom view

The view from my room, in the main building.

 

A Piatattatella is perfectly located to explore the whole of Northern Corsica. From Scandola to Cap Corse.

 

A Piattatella pool view mountains

This was the view that sold me on booking this wonderful hotel.

Last visited July 2015

Great Resources for Corsica

Here are some great resources to find out more about traveling in Corsica:

A great article in Travel & Leisure called Escape To Corsica

Another T&L article that really got my brain going a couple of years ago called So fine, yet so Corsica

A really fun Travel & Leisure article from this summer called Love on the Rocks.  Totally nails the vibe and difficulty driving around.

A good survey article in Departures magazine called Corsica’s Untamed Beauty

Where to stay in Corsica in Conde Nast Traveler. http://www.cntraveller.com/guides/europe/france/corsica/where-to-stay

The Villages, Valleys and Views of Corsica from Fathom Way to Go http://fathomaway.com/guides/europe/france/itineraries/itinerary-corsica-france/

Garance Doré’s Insider’s Guide to Corsica from the Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324021104578550762270667192

High in the Hills of Corsica from the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/travel/high-in-the-hills-of-corsica.html?_r=1

This is a great guide from the UK Conde Nast Traveller “The Best Unspoiled Parts of Corsica” http://www.cntraveller.com/recommended/beaches/hotels-villas-north-coast-corsica

Here’s a great brief summary from Fathom Way to Go on Corsica

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