One of the most beautiful and fascinating islands I’ve ever explored? Definitely Corsica. About 110 miles from the south coast of France, Corsica emerges from the deep blue Mediterranean water like a breath-taking apparition. (Particularly if you arrive by ferry.) Here you’ll find green hills along with dramatic rust- and ocher-colored cliffs. My trip took place over a decade ago, but the sights and experiences of that week remain particularly vivid in my memory.
(View from Calvi's Citadel, Corsica; Photo by Paul Arps, Flickr)
Although Corsica ("La Corse") is a part of France, it was part of Italy in the past, when it belonged to the Republic of Genoa. In fact, the legend goes that one of the most famous Italians in history, Christopher Columbus, was born in Corsica. We know for certain that another famous historical figure -- Napoleon Bonaparte -- was born on this rocky island.
To say that Corsica is ruggedly beautiful would be an understatement. To say that it’s an island of intriguing history is obvious. One of the most stunning sites can be found in Calvi, a city on the northwestern shore that I grew to love over the days. Within Calvi, I roamed narrow streets, ate inexpensive fixed priced or “prix fixe” three-course meals (this was France, so even lunch had 3 courses!!), and eventually got my bathing suit and towel and headed for the alluring beaches.
(A beach with a view of Calvi in Corsica; photo by Martin Stabefeldt, Flickr)
But the one attraction dominating Calvi – the citadel – just couldn’t be ignored. By day, it hovers majestically over town, while at night, the lights reflect against the sea like so many stars. So eventually, I had to see it up close for myself.
(Calvi's harbor and the Citadel; photo by Lori Branham, Flickr)
Built in 1450, Calvi's citadel has proudly guarded this strategically important town for centuries. I remember walking up the cobbled paths, between thick fortress walls, to reach the top of this massive structure.
(A cobbled path through the Citadel; photo by Momo, Flickr)
The views here make you catch your breath: pure, open sea, edged by an incredibly quaint town. White sailboats almost gleam against the harbor backdrop. At the very top is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, with its vivid paintings of saints and a special crucifix called “Christ des Miracles,” alleged to have special powers.
Although the ascent up stone steps and around winding streets through the citadel can be tiring, you can stop in restaurants, bars, and shops along the way. I remember drinking a glass of chilled rosé wine and watching the sky grow rosy pink as the sun fell further down the horizon. The beauty impressed me so much, I swore, “I’ll be back.” It was one of the moments that move you deeply, when taking the trouble to travel all makes sense.
(A view from the Citadel's heights; photo by Gunnar Bothner-By, Flickr)
A few years have passed…well, more than ten, when I do the math, and to my disappointment, that return trip hasn’t happened yet. But looking at photographs and once again reliving that unusual and magnificent setting, I’m starting to wonder…should Corsica be the next great escape for the Island Runaways?