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Corsica (France), June 29 - July 6, 2013

"'L'Île de Beauté' - the beautiful island - is one of France’s best kept secrets; a natural paradise... with a turquoise sea so clear you can see the fish without the need for a snorkeling mask. Dolphins are frequent companions in the waters around Corsica. The area is designated as a whale and dolphin sanctuary. Of the more than 6,000 Marine Protected Areas worldwide, only 46 reach World Heritage status... 
an area of the west coast of Corsica is one of only two located in the Mediterranean, 
ranking it alongside the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands as a nature reserve of global importance.
It can only be visited by boat; it's even off-limits to hikers." 
It's also known as the "scented isle" ...
"Spring flowers and wild herbs such as rock roses, lavender and rosemary immediately enveloped us, giving off their distinctive earthy perfume; an aroma so pervasive that we could also breathe it from the deck of Blue Titan at anchor, especially in the cool night air."
 
  Capo Rosso, above; two ways to reach a beach; Scandola
 
 
Beaches, deserts, and alpine forests are layered like the fromage de brebis pastry that Corsicans serve to visitors. This diversity in a 115-mile-long (185 kilometers) outcropping of soil and rock
once led an American diplomat, who had a house there, to say, "Corsica is not an island—it's a continent.
"
-- National Geographic
 
A description of part of the island we'll visit, from the tourism board website:

"With its coastline bordered by red granite cliffs that plunge into a sea of intense blue, the Gulf of Porto is well deserving of its classification by UNESCO as a 'world heritage site'

"To the north, lies the Girolata peninsula that can only be reached by foot or by boat. This magnificent landscape developed as a result of a volcanic eruption with steep cliffs, jagged peaks, lava flows that have set and formed tube shapes and stairs from where the fish eagles dive into the turquoise waters. To the north of this area lies the Scandola nature reserve that is Europe’s only land and sea reserve. Porto, a welcoming seaside resort is famous for its magnificent sunsets. Overlooking the gulf is Ota, a typical Corsican village built on the side of the mountain. It forms the starting point of the Spelunca gorge trail, Further south, you will see the 'calanches' of Piana, amazing giant granite sculptures that change from orange to red according to the time of day."


Lonely planet picks the Reserve and Cap Corse as the #1 and #2 highlights of Corsica, but then also writes:
 
 
LA BALAGNE

If you could visit only one region after the sensational Golfe de Porto, it would have to be La Balagne. This region has a blend
of history, culture and beach all rolled into one, with a dash of Mediterranean glam sealing the deal. Refine your art of sampling
la dolce vita in Calvi and Île Rousse before venturing inland in search of that picture-postcard perfect village.


 Ile Rousse from Monticello, and the obverse view.



As you might imagine, Corsica is a hiker's paradise.  The island-length GR20 (their AT) is rated one of the "ten best treks in the world".  They have enough old-growth chestnut forests to feed the wild pigs, and even use chestnut flour in making good local beer.  We'll have time to hike among the artisans villages, and the Spelunca Gorge.  They even incorporate a hiker in their great logo (they also make good wine), part of an eco-tourism concept of being more connected to the island that of course centers around sailing.  (the concept is great, the translations are not):

Odyssea  Another way to travel  

With Odyssea, begin an extraordinary journey and head along maritime routes reconnect with cultural history of the ports of the Mediterranean and European civilizations... the greatest respect for traditions, identities and local cultures and in harmony with Nature.  http://www.odyssea.eu/odyssea2010/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=174&Itemid=46&lang=fr

 
"Something of...
 
Corsica reminds you of Switzerland when you look at the snow-covered slopes of the Renoso; there is something of the Baie d'Along of Scandola; and something of Tahiti in the turquoise waters of Santa Guilia."

Best in Travel 2013
  
Corsica is for (beach) lovers. And culture buffs. And hikers. And divers. It combines vast stretches of shoreline with the beauty of the mountains, plenty of activities for your body and some rich history to engage your mind. Though Corsica’s been officially part of France for over 200 years, it feels different from the mainland in everything from customs to cuisine, language and character, and that’s part of its appeal... particularly in summer when the island is aflame with wildflowers. --Lonely Planet


Vivario; Desert of Agriates with the Cap Corse in background (I had to use this photo not only because of its beauty, but because half the pictures I see of Corsican roads have cows, goats or pigs in them).

The official tourism site: http://www.visit-corsica.com/en/

The February 2013 issue of Condé Nast Traveler just came out with an Insider's Guide to Corsica.  Read the "North" and "Haute Balagne" links for tips on restaurants and things to do:
http://www.cntraveler.com/islands/2013/02/corsica?intcid=trail_hp

The yacht details (click here)


Travel Details

We'll be aboard Saturday night, June 29, but you'll want to be in Bastia in time for the finish of the first stage of the Tour that afternoon.  I'll arrange a meet up and transportation to the marina.  We'll sail from the Cap to Porto/Piana and back (the gorge is between Porto and Evisa). We'll also be able to see the finish of the third stage in Calvi, and/or the riders passing very near the beach at Galeria, on Monday.  A suggested itinerary showing distances is attached, bottom.
Jan. 18-- I received this suggestion from a contact in Bastia:- as an alternative, there is a hotel much closer than the finish line beach just before the last turn to the sprint finish. The tour will pass right under the hotel terrace. They propose a brunch/warm buffet, wine tasting with a wine specialist (oenologue), wine is included and there is a giant screen to watch the tour as they approach Bastia. This starts at 12 and finish at 17.00 and costs 59/person. The benefits of this are: shorter walk back and forth, food and wine, large screen TV to watch the action hours before arrival, comfort (temperatures are likely to be 30-35C in the blazing sun mid afternoon). Let me know if you are interested.  (In Monte Carlo, they wanted €1,500 to watch the GP from a hotel terrace.)

Many ferries from France and Italy go to Corsica (see map; starting at about €35), including some overnights with cabins (€150 RT), particularly from Marseille, further west than this map shows.  There are also flights from several cities in France from around €50.

    Ferry routes (this map is in Italian: Nizza = Nice; Tolone = Toulon)
 
If you have the option, and an extra day or two, I recommend Marseille or Genoa as a jumping off point/stopover.  Both formerly had poor reputations, but have/are undergoing renaissances.  I found both to be very interesting, particularly Genoa for it's palazzi (and flying in took me right over Portofino).  I've always gotten very lucky on the timing of my sail trips, and a major new museum is opening in Marseille this spring: www.musee-europemediterranee.org.  The city is also a "European Capital of Culture" for 2013, and made NatGeo Travel's "Best Trips for 2013":
(http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/best-trips-2013/#/carousel-marseille-france_61094_600x450.jpg)

After the sail y
ou should consider taking the slow vista train (the "trembler") from Bastia to Corte and back, or on to Ajaccio from where you can ferry back to France.  You can even go round trip in one day: http://www.corsicabus.org/Train_services/Train1BiaAja.html
 
Flights
Some general guidelines here, with any updates I find added in red.  Further below is information more specific to Corsica from travel websites.  As to when to buy, here's what I found:

For peak-season travel, fares start fairly high and then come down. Airlines start more-actively managing pricing on flights about three-to-four months before departure. That’s also when shoppers start getting more active.
The sweet spot for buying international trips appears to be two to three months before departure. For peak-season summer trips, for example, data compiled for this week’s Middle Seat show that fares were lowest in April. If you booked earlier than that, you likely paid more. --WSJ

From Smartertravel:
Last week, I reported on the recent findings from CheapAir about how far in advance you're likely to find the lowest airfares. The overall answer: Seven weeks.  CheapAir's findings generally track with others: The Economist reported the "eight-week rule" and Airlines Reporting Corp. reported six weeks as the optimum.

The best time to buy airline tickets is when they're on sale, and the best way to track sales is to sign up for as many email airfare and sale alerts as your inbox can handle. Airlines do them, the big OTAs do them, and SmarterTravel and Airfarewatchdog do them.

Last year I bought my tickets for mid-June on April 12, and paid $806 RT to Madrid-- from Roanoke.  I was willing to fly to Madrid because there are so many low cost inter-Europe carriers.  Because of this, and the number of ferries, you can fly almost anywhere in Europe and cheaply connect to Corsica or one of the ferry cities on the coast.  I actually preferred connecting in Madrid as I spent a day, had some paella and revisited the Prado.  My flight from Madrid to N. Italy was $60 on Ryanair, and from Dubrovnik $110 on EasyJet (although I found Ryanair to be a PITA to use).  Ryanair flies RT to Marseille.  If you find a good fare to London, RT from there to Marseille for our dates was under $200 when I searched recently.

My advice-- sign up for fare alerts, keep track, be flexible, get serious in April and not nervous until May.  I would like to fly to Marseille, for example, but if it ends up being Nice, Genova or Rome, I'll manage to enjoy it.  Keep an eye on DUB, MAD and FRA, traditionally cheaper than flying to PAR or ROM.  Also, Corsica is also not so large that you can't fly/ferry to a city other than Bastia and catch a train or bus.  You can even arrive late to Calvi where we'll be the second day, if you don't mind missing the 1er stage of the Tour.  I found my fare last year from an OTA or meta search site such as farecompare.com.  Some others:  Kayak.com, Fly.com and Momondo.com.  Inter-Europe carriers/fare finders:

Skyscanner.net
skyeurope.com
wizzair.com
ryanair.com
easyjet
europebyair.com

Skyscanner allows you to pick a country, rather than a city, to find the best fares.  Europebyair has an interactive map that shows you the cheapest city pairs.

Jan 8th: Air France announced on  that they were matching fares with low cost carriers within Europe:
Are you traveling within EuropeMiNi fares starting at only $65

New 'Ouigo' Budget TGV Launches in April
February 26, 2013

SNCF, the French railway system, has decided to fight low-fare airlines with low-fare trains. Starting April 2, new budget-priced Ouigo high-speed trains will make three round trips a day—four on Saturdays—on the high-speed trunk line between Paris and the Mediterranean coast, splitting near Avignon, with one section to Marseille and the other to Montpellier. Both the pricing and the operation will parallel the ways low-fare airlines operate.

Ticket prices are competitive with prices on EasyJet and Ryanair: capacity-controlled, with some seats priced at 10 euros (about $13); at least 25 percent of the seats priced below 25 euros, and a maximum of 85 euros. Children accompanied by an adult pay a flat fee of 5 euros for any trip.

More Details:
Flying to Corsica

Corsica is now within easy reach of many European Capital cities. Several low cost airlines also now offer cheap flights from France, Belgium, Germany or the UK, mostly from April to October (although Ryanair has started an all-year flight from Brussels to Figari).  However, ferry from the french or italian coast remain the most popular access yet.
Four cities currently have an airport that host commercial flights:

Ajaccio – Napoleon Bonaparte airport (formerly known and still often called Campo dell’Oro) located on the south west coast of the island, 5km from Ajaccio city centre, it is the most important airport in terms of number of passengers carried (approximately 1.1mln in 2010). Airport information website in English: ajaccioairport.com

Bastia – Poretta airport, located on the other side of the island from Ajaccio (i.e. top of the North east coast), approximately 16 km south of Basta city centre, it is the second largest airport of the island in terms of number of passengers carried (approximately 1mln in 2010). Airport information website in English: bastiaairport.com

Figari – sud corse airport is located at the extreme south of the island, 20km west of Porto-Vecchio and 15km north of Bonifacio. It is a much smaller airport than those of Ajaccio and Bastia with approximately 430,000 passengers carried in 2010. CCM airlines and charter/low costs XL Airways operates flights from mainland France and Ryanair has opened flights from Brussels and London. Whether those Ryanair lines will be maintained and how frequently remains fairly uncertain so check on the Ryanair site for the latest accurate information. Airport information website in English:figariairport.com

Calvi – Ste Catherine airport, is the smallest airport of the island with apprximately 270,000 passengers carried in 2010. It hosts mostly national flights from Marseille, Nice and Paris during the year and hosts some charter flights from Switzerland and Germany in summer. Airport information website in English: calviairport.com

All year round, it is relatively easy to find a direct flights from the following destinations:

Main capital cities in France – (Paris, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg, Marseille, Nice…) usually through Air France or Air Corsica (formerly known as “Corsair” or “CCM” )

Bruxelles – in Belgium with a bi-weekly Ryanair flight to Figari airport.

From end of April to early October, it gets suddenly much easier to access the island with either a lot of charter flights from multiple destinations across Europe. Generally, the main destination from which you will find affordable direct flights to Corsica will be (over and above the all year round locations above):
London
 – United Kingdom (direct flights with Easyjet from London to both Ajaccio and Bastia and from Manchester and Bristol to Bastia and from London to Figari with Ryanair)
Geneva and Basel
 – Switzerland (direct flights to Ajaccio from Basel and Geneva and to Bastia from Geneva with Easyjet again)
Amsterdam
 – The Netherlands (direct flight from Amsterdam to Ajaccio with Transavia)

Arriving by Sea

With 7 ports on the island, traveling by ferry from France or Italy offers a convenient and inexpensive way to visit Corsica.  Strategically located, Corsica is just 170km away from the southern coast of mainland France and 90km west of Tuscany in Italy. The Italian island of Sardinia (just 12km away) is visible from Bonifacio.

Because of the large number of tourists in the summer, if you plan to bring a car it is best to reserve in advance, especially if you’re traveling with a camper. In the summer there is frequent ferry service from France and Italy to Calvi, Île Rousse and Porto-Vecchio. If you leave from Italy, Corsica Ferries offers several links to the island with departures from Civitavecchia (in the summer) and Livorno and Savona all year round. [Civitavecchia is the port nearest Rome.]

Sail overnight from Marseille to Ajaccio or Bastia, Corsica's first and second cities respectively.  SNCM (www.sncm.fr) sails overnight daily to both cities.  Sailing times vary, but the ship usually sails from Marseille at around 19:00-21:00 arriving Bastia or Ajaccio around 07:00-08:00.  The best ships to choose are the superb cruise ferries 'Napoleon Bonaparte' or 'Danielle Casanova', which are amongst the most luxurious ferries in the Med (though not all sailings are operated by these particular ships).  Cabins have en suite toilet & shower, and even satellite TV if you don't mind watching 'Midsomer Murders' in French!  The best way to book the ferry is online at www.sncm.fr, you simply print out your own ticket and show it at the port, or you can book most ferry routes & operators to Corsica on the Seat61 online ferry booking page.
 
 
 Ticket Prices

Students and seniors over 60 get a reduced rate and children less than four years old travel for free. Children from ages 4 to 12 also get a reduced fare. In the summer there are high speed ferries that save you time but they cost more than a regular ferry.
 

Prices vary depending on the type of vehicle, number of passengers, the time of year and the type of boat. Just to give you a general idea on fares, two adults in the month of May, traveling on SCNM from Nice to Calvi, with 1 vehicle, and a night cabin would pay 120€ round trip (10€ per pp, 15€ for a vehicle and 25€ for a night cabin each way).

The following are the main shipping lines servicing Corsica. Detailed timetables are included on each site.

SNCM – www.sncm.fr

This is the largest carrier servicing Corsica year-round from Marseille and Nice to Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi, Île Rousse, Porto Vecchio and Propriano.

In high season, SNCM operates at least one NGV (from Nice) and a slower ferry (from Marseille) a day to and from the ports of Ajaccio, Bastia Calvi, Île Rousse, Propriano et Porto Vecchio. In winter service is reduced to just a few weekly sailings to/from Nice and Marseille.

La Méridionale – www.cmn.fr

Provides year round service from Marseille to Ajaccio, Bastia and Propriano, and seasonal ferries from Sardinia to Propriano and Ajaccio.

Corsica Ferries – www.corsicaferries.com

Provides year round ferries from Nice to Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Ile Rousse and from Toulon to Ajaccio and Bastia. Seasonal ferries from Livorno to Bastia and from Savona to Bastia, Calvi and Île Rousse.

Moby Lines – www.mobylines.it

Seasonal ferries operate from Genoa and Livorno to Bastia. Seasonal boats also operate between Sardinia and Bonifacio.
 

Travel Time

Italy to Corsica:

From Livorno to Bastia – 2 hours

From Sardinia to Bonifacio – 1 hour

From Genoa to Bastia – 6 ½ hours

France to Corsica:

From Marseille to Bastia or Ajaccio – 11 to 12 hours.

From Nice to Calvi or Bastia – on the high speed NGV 3 to 4 hours on a regular boat 7 hours

From Toulon to Ajaccio – 6 hours

For the long crossings most people just get a cabin and travel at night.

As you can see there are many vessels crossing the Mediterranean between mainland France and Italy and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Approaching the “mountain in the sea” from a ferry or a cruise ship is truly an experience.

Train – Although Corsican trains are more famous for the Ajaccio-Bastia day travel and its pictorious scenery, it is possible to travel to many cities by train and stop over multiple small localities. Frequency remains limited so plan in advance. For timetables and destinations, check the french site:

Coach & Buses – Bus and coaches will also get you through the island with destinations and frequency of travels relatively similar to that of trains. For more information, check (in English): http://www.corsicabus.org/

Do
Corsica has excellent beaches and if you, like most of Corsica's visitors, are there in the summer many of your activities will center around the beach. Beside sunbathing and swimming almost every beach offers opportunities to snorkel. Some more popular beaches will rent windsurf boards and kite-surfing boards. Scuba diving is available, particularly at popular beaches near islands and in major towns. Expect to pay around €45-60 euros for a one hour dive.

Once the sun goes down, many people stay on or near the beach, enjoying gelato or one of the many beachside bars and restaurants.

Eat
Corsica food has French and Italian influences, but has many unique dishes. The chestnut was one of the ancient (and even current) Corsican's mainstay foods, and many meals and even desserts are prepared with this. Also, most of the domesticated pigs on the island are semi-wild, released to forage for food much of the year, and the charcuterie reflects this excellent flavor. Typical corsican charcuterie include lonzu, coppa, ham, figatellu and saucisson made from pig or boar meat. Canistrelli are typical corsican pastries which come in many different flavors. Corsica also produces a uniquely flavored olive oil made from ripe fruits collected under trees. Many villages have small shops where locally produced food is sold. That said, it may be difficult to find a restaurant that prepares truly Corsican dishes, and you may find yourself eating at a tourist oriented Pizzeria, which nonetheless serves excellent food.

Drink
Corsican brew a wide selection of local beers, have their own coke and make their own wine, reflecting their independent ways. Don't be surprised if you are asked "Américain ou Corse" when ordering a coke. It's highly recommended to try the beers "Colomba", "Pietra" or "Bière Torre" when visiting - a very distinct taste that you won't find anywhere else in France.

Let's say it clear: Corsica is the most exciting wine region in France --Kermit Lynch, Wine Merchant

Stay safe

Corsica is usually a very safe place especially for tourists. Spending the night outdoors in the towns or villages will not be a problem. Be polite and respectful, and there is nothing else to worry.


 
Subpages (1): The Yacht
ĉ
Edward Laucella,
Jan 18, 2013, 2:00 PM
Ċ
Edward Laucella,
Jan 11, 2013, 12:24 PM
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