Walking in Corsica - A Walker's Guidebook - Europe
Walking in Corsica
Long-distance and short walks by Gillian Price
This guidebook gives details of three long-distance walking routes in Corsica - Mare e Monti, Mare-Mare Nord and Mare-Mare Sud - which cross the island, and also describes 18 day-walks in prime spots both in the rugged mountains of the interior and the softer southern coastal fringe. Good local information. More...
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Asterix in Corsica
Add to the above rugged mountain ranges, crystal-clear rivers, turquoise coves, romantic forests, the unforgettable scents of the maquis scrub, easygoing people, comfortable hostels and refuges, together with a host of well-marked paths, and you have, in a nutshell, an unparalleled paradise for walkers.
Its shores lapped by the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian seas, Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. It has a surface area of 8682km2 (3352 square miles), is 183km (113.7 miles) long and 83km (51.5 miles) wide, and is blessed with a stunning 1000km (621.3 mile) coastline. Moreover, some two-thirds of the land mass is taken up by an ancient mountain chain punctuated by a good 20 peaks well over 2000m (6500ft), while one-fifth is forested, and since 1972 a sizeable regional nature park has covered a vast 3500km² (1351 square mile) central swath of the island.
Corsica – or Corse in French – is administered by France, despite the fact that it is closer to Italy in both cultural and physical terms. A mere 90km (56 miles) separate it from the Tuscan coast, not to mention the narrow 11km (7 mile) strait with Sardinia, while it lies 170km (105 miles) from the Côte d’Azur in the south of France. The population of approximately 260,000 includes large numbers of mainlanders, along with a sizeable percentage of people of North African and Italian origin, drawn by work. In contrast it is said that due to unemployment more native Corsicans live in France than on the island itself.
Fanciful tales abound to explain the island’s name. Phoenicians, the first seafarers to arrive, apparently referred to it as Ker-Cic (‘slender promontory’). The Greeks came a little later and for them it was Kurnos (‘covered with forests’). Legendary Greco-Roman hero Heracles put in there after labouring to fetch the golden apples at the world’s end. He left one of his offspring, Kyrnos, in charge – hence the name. Perhaps the most colourful story comes courtesy of Roman mythology, wherein it belonged to a maiden called Corsa who had swum across from Liguria in pursuit of a runaway bull! Continuing the worldwide need for an explanation for events and naturally occurring phenomena, to this day island life is infused with incredible accounts of miracle-working native saints at odds with ghostly spirits and the gruesome acts of the devil.
Corsica’s very first inhabitants are believed to have migrated from north Italy around 7000BC. These hunters and gatherers developed into herders, and were joined by later arrivals responsible for the prehistoric menhirs and dolmens dotted through the hills. As is the fate of settled islands, vulnerable by their very nature, Corsica was raided periodically by Saracens and Barbary pirates, then occupied at length by the Pisans, who left some lovely Romanesque churches, and the Genoese, who stayed from the 13th century through to 1768, when they ceded it to France at a price, leaving a heritage of memorable citadels, watchtowers and bridges. In the meantime island-wide rebellions had produced an enlightened period of autonomy under Pasquale Paoli (1755–69), concluding curiously at the same time as the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte at Ajaccio. There were also limited stretches under English sovereignty, as well as occupation by the forces of Italy and Germany during the Second World War when soldiers all but outnumbered locals. The ongoing independence movement, fiery at times, has dropped off considerably of late. It won 24% of votes in 1992 but a mere 16% in 1999. A 1990 French statute gave the island limited autonomy, however a greater measure was narrowly rejected in a historic 2003 referendum. There continues to be occasional violence from Corsican separatists.
Corsica is catching up with the rest of France and Europe in leaps and bounds in terms of standard of living, though figures remain marginally lower in terms of income, schooling and employment. The lack of industrial development, a negative factor in the past, is now turning into an advantage as visitors are attracted to this unspoilt paradise. Tourism is rapidly becoming a major factor in the economy, alongside livestock and agriculture, with cork, tobacco, wine, citrus fruit and olive oil all being produced for export.