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Last updated : Nov 2009
Corsica - TravelPuppy.com
Corsica is an Island made up of two French départements, Haute Corse (upper Corsica) and Corse du Sud (south Corsica). The 8720 sq km (3367 sq miles) are inhabited by not many more than 250,000 people. It is one of the very few places left in Europe that is not invaded by campers and trailers during the holiday season and its charm lies in this unspoiled and rugged atmosphere.

The name Corsica, or Corse, is a modernisation of Korsai, believed to be a Phoenician word meaning ‘covered with forests’. The Phoenician Greeks landed here 560 years before the Christian era to disturb inhabitants who had probably originated in Liguria. From that time on, Corsica has been fought for, or over, creating a bloody history probably unparalleled for such a small area. The Greeks were followed by the Romans, then the Vandals, Byzantines, Moors and Lombards. In 1768, Genoa sold Corsica to France and its 2500 years of disputed ownership ended. In spite of its extensive and colourful history, it is of course best known as the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Corsica has been described as ‘a mountain in the sea’, for when approached by sea that is exactly what it looks like. A strange land, the mountains rise abruptly from the western shore where the coast is indescribably beautiful with a series of capes and isolated beachless bays; along its entire length rock and water meet with savage impact. The coastline, unfolded, is 992km (620 miles) long.

consists of heaths, forests, granite, snow, sand beaches and orange trees. This combination has produced a fiery, strange lucidly intellectual and music-loving race of people, both superstitious and pious at the same time. The interior is quite undeveloped, with mountains, and dry scrubby land overgrown with brush called maquis. It is a dry wilderness of hardy shrubs, arbutus, thorn, mastic, myrtle, rosemary, juniper, agave, rock rose, pistachio, heather, fennel, wild mint and ashphodel, ‘the flower of hell’.

During the Geman occupation of France between 1940-44, resistance fighters were given the name maquis from the association of the wild country in which they hid, much as the savage backlands of Corsica provided at one time comparatively safe shelter for the island bandits. There is a desolate grandeur about the maquis, while on the other hand the rugged beauty of Corsica’s magnificent mountain scenery is anything but desolate. A considerable amount of forested area remains, although since discovered by the Greeks it has been frequently raided for its fine, straight and tall laricio pine that seems to thrive only here. They have been known to grow as high as 60m (200ft), perfect for use as masts and are still used as such. Corsica is also rich in cork oaks, chestnuts and olives. There is a Regional Nature Conservation Park on the island.

North of the eastern plain are the lowlands, principally olive groves, known as La Balagne, the hinterland of Calvi and l’Ile Rousse. To the south is the dazzling white city of Ajaccio, full of Napoleonic memorabilia. The town runs in a semicircle on the calm bay, set against a backdrop of the wooded hills.

At the foot of the cape to northern end of the island is the commercial, but none the less picturesque, town of Bastia, with its historic citadel towering over the headland. The old town has preserved its streets in the form of steps connected by vaulted passages, converging on the Vieux Port. The port itself, with a polyglot population, is busy throughout the year.

Further north, the terraced St Nicholas Beach, shaded by palm trees and covered with parasols and cafe tables, separates the old port from the new. The new port, just beyond, is the real commercial port of the island.

Corsican cuisine is essentially simple, with the sea providing the most dependable source of food, including its famous lobster. Freshwater fish abound in the interior and, as is to be expected, the maquis is game country. The aromatic herbs and berries add a particularly piquant flavour to the meat. Among the game available, sanglier and marcassin, young and older wild boar, turn up in season either roasted, stewed in a daube of red wine, or with a highly spiced local pibronata sauce. Sheep and goats are plentiful. Pigs, fed on chestnuts, are common at the Corsican table and they make an unusually flavoured ham. The extremes of the Corsican climate limit the variety of vegetables available. The Corsicans like hot and strong flavours that use even more herbs than are used in Provence. They like to shock with hot peppers and strong spices. A fish soup called dziminu, like bouillabaise but much hotter, is made with peppers and pimentos. Inland freshwater fish is usually grilled and the local eels, called capone, are cut up and grilled on a spit over a charcoal fire. A peppered and smoked ham, called prizzutu, resembles the Italian prosciutto, but with an added chestnut flavour. A favourite between-meal snack is figatelli, a sausage made of dried and spiced pork with liver. Placed between slices of a special bread, these are grilled over a wood fire. Red wine is available in abundance, but rosé and white are also produced on the island.