Hooray for vacances scolaires!!!! Ah France, the land of having plenty of time off. I decided to go to Corsica and then Berlin during the break since geographically, it makes lots of sense (just kidding).
Things I knew about Corsica before arriving:
1. It is an island in the Mediterranean.
2. It is now part of France, but wasn’t in the past.
3. They have their own language (Corsican).
4. The GR 20 (GR = Grande Randonnée, GRs are numbered and can be found all over France plus in other parts of Europe) runs through the center of the island from north to south. It is supposedly the most challenging GR in Europe.
So those things are all true, and I am happy to say I’ve discovered several more things about Corsica!
I spent 3 nights in Ajaccio, the capital, then took a train north and spent 3 nights in Bastia.
Ajaccio is a sunny, Mediterranean city with vegetation highly reminiscent of both Los Angeles and Tel-Aviv, and with lots of old, Genoese towers (the present city was founded in 1492 by merchants from Genoa).
Everyone smokes a lot of cigarettes, there’s dog poop all over, grown men and little children all seem to ride the same type of non-motorized scooters, and they have some incredibly beautiful beaches.
Also, Napoleon was born here. I didn’t know that before, but it is seriously impossible to miss once you arrive; the airport, several streets, plazas, menu items, and half the city’s restaurants are named after him or his family members. His image is all over on placards, and his house is right in the center of town, converted into a museum.
Gelato, chestnuts, figs, and chestnut and fig-flavored gelato are de rigueur. The markets are excellent and are open every morning except Mondays.
I went on a hike above the city following the coastline, and heard two girls speaking English behind me. They turned out to be English teaching assistants assigned to Corsica! I met them later that evening for a drink.
My second full day, I decided to explore the beach situation more thoroughly. I don’t know anyone in the world who lives to go to the beach more than my father, so Aba: I dedicated that day to you! Really though, I judged every beach I went to based on how I think my dad would like it.
Protip: Corsica generally has very poor public transportation options, and it is best to rent a car if you want to spend any time outside the 3 main cities with train service. Minimal public transit options get even more sparse during the offseason. Though I’ll grant the bus system within Ajaccio is very cheap (1 euro), and the ferry across the bay to the beach at Porticcio is free (off-season only)!
I then took a train north to Bastia, the second-largest city. The only cities connected by train are Ajaccio, Bastia, and Calvi. The train ride between Ajaccio and Bastia is a 4 hour ride, very slow and wobbly. I discovered that I sometimes get train sick. But at least the views are spectacular. The mountains through the middle of the island are majestic and jagged.
I stopped halfway through in a town called Corte. I really wanted to do a hike in the Corsican mountains, so I picked this one to Lac de Melo. The trailhead is 15 km from town up a beautiful canyon, Les Gorges de la Restonica. I hitch-hiked from town. There was no other way, and it’s supposedly very common. If that’s not comfortable or possible for you, I’d again recommend renting a car. An older couple from Nice drove me up, and I caught a ride with a family to get back. The hike to the lake was short, and the second half was ridiculously steep and rocky.
Worth it, even though I was carrying all of my belongings. I don’t recommend that part.
I walked around Corte a little bit while waiting for the next train to continue toward Bastia. Ubiquitous dog poop aside, it’s a rather nice spot on earth!