Cap Corse, what to see and what to do on holiday

TO Capo Corso (Cap Corse) there are no straight roads. Some follow, cute and winding, the shore, a few meters from the water. Others climb into wide valleys and get lost until the blue of the sea disappears completely. On the west coast they travel narrow and angular with a view of the waves.

Those in the villages are so narrow that they keep cars off the road. And then paths, mule tracks, ruts in beaten earth: hundreds of brighter strips cutting in every direction these 400 square kilometers of stone and maquisas the Mediterranean maquis is called in Corsica.

To be able to observe them from heaven, they would suggest the wrinkles that time and man have left on the surface of this long finger that points straight towards Italy.

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Cap Corse, what to see and what to do

Because of all the corners of Corsica, this is undoubtedly the one most linked to our country. The dark profiles of Capraia and Elba are always on the horizon, while Tuscany is only 80 kilometers away.

And over the centuries, economics has done more than geography: in a Corsica that is essentially mountainous and pastoral, skilled fishermen, sailors and capocorsini traders were the only ones able to weave fruitful relations with the peninsula.

Their language is, of the dialects of the island, the most similar to Italian: listening to the conversations at the outdoor tables of a bar in Pino or Rogliano gives a play of assonances that make you feel at home. Even the libeccio, which blows from the southwest for many days a year, seems to push these countries towards Italy and its destinies.

Centuries ago, when the Genoese defeated the Pisans, they took control of Cap Corse and built over 60 watchtowers to protect them from Saracen pirates. When they drive, they see them all the time and it’s a challenge not to miss one.

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Ports, towers and bays to explore

The first, a few minutes’ drive from Bastia, looks out from the roofs of Erbalunga, the small marina in the municipality of Brando, which painters love so much: the green slate houses of Mount Stellu, the alleys, the cafes on the sea.

Once it was a center for sailors, always ready to embark in the world: especially from small ports like these, the Corsican emigration began towards the French colonies abroad.

When they returned here after making their fortunes abroad, many had opulent colonial-style mansions built, soon famous under the name maisons d’Américains.

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An island within an island

Today, many have been turned into elegant hotels such as the Castel Brando, the home of a family enriched by the sugar cane trade in Santo Domingo.

Jean Paul Pieri, who took it over, loves to talk about the local history with customers who meet him in the elegant common rooms: “To many Corsican bosses who emigrated abroad, when many Italians, especially Tuscans, came here as seasonal workers, so maybe they got married and stayed,” he says.

“For this reason, Capo Corso is an island within an island: here we are more open, used to dealing with those who come from outside”.

The deep bond with Italy

The connection with Italy was loosened with steam navigation, which accelerated relations with France and, as a result, made the importation of goods more convenient: agricultural activities gradually declined and with them the Ligurian terraces that for centuries shaped the physiognomy of the Cape.

However, traces of it remained in the vineyards that stretch along the road towards the sea and from which Coteaux and Muscat du Cap Corse are born, two of the most famous Aoc (Appellation d’origine contrôléethe Italian Doc) of the island.

That of Casa Angeli, in Rogliano, is the smallest property in the entire Cape, one hectare carefully looked after by Daniel Angeli and his sons. “Moscato is the ambassador wine for this part of Corsica”, he explains in almost perfect Italian, “but whoever passes by cannot avoid trying a glass of Cape Corse, aperitif that beats Pastis in these regions”.

To get to his property, in the northern part of the promontory, you drive between inlets on the coastal road, offering blue corners ideal for an impromptu dip.

You travel without worries, not even the parking lot, because on the beaches – free everywhere and without any equipped structure – crowds are not seen even in the height of summer. After all, those who choose Cap Corse choose tranquility.

The jewels in the interior

There is no shortage of alternatives to the sea: at any time you can leave the coast for a few kilometers and reach the villages that have arisen along the mountain ridge. Sisco, Pietracorbara, Cagnano and their villages are jewels of care and silence.

Around the bell towers of the vicarage, the houses of the past with the roofs made of stone slabs have been restored with great taste by the families of the emigrants who return here every year in the summer season; dehors has emerged among the gardens, perfect for a lunch with a view and in the surroundings you can stroll up to old monasteries, castles, votive chapels.

If you take the road that crosses the Cape and passes through Luri, at the Col de Sainte-Lucie you can choose to tackle the short but spectacular climb to the Tour de Sénèque, a twenty-minute walk in the undergrowth that ends suddenly, opening up to the Tour de Seneque. some rocky plateaus where the signal tower stands.

The perspective is grandiose: from almost 600 meters above sea level, both sides of Cap Corse open up to the view, while the wind clears the air and the colors shine. You can breathe in all the majesty and power of the Mediterranean, which here is a book still intact to be leafed through with delicacy. The entire area of ​​the cape is actually a protected natural park, where business, for once, takes second place.

“Passing tourists are often disappointed when they find extraordinary beaches like Tamarone covered in a thick layer of Posidonia, which we have a duty to preserve here”, explains Jean-François Raffaelli, president and founder of the park. “But that’s nature, and we don’t intervene: the sea takes care of everything”.

Views not to be missed

There are also excellent panoramic points along the other road that connects the two coasts, the one that leads from Macinaggio – the liveliest center where Italian sailors meet after the crossing – to Centuri.

From Ersa, the tight hairpin bends descend to Barcaggio, which can also be reached on foot along the first stretch of the Sentiero dei Doganieri (see box opposite).

It is the northernmost point of Corsica, just in front of the inaccessible island of Giraglia: the small port where you play pétanque (a specialty of bowls) and the facades of the houses covered with American vines invite you to stop while the cows on the long beach graze freely among the bushes of the maquis.

If, however, you stay on the main road, a few turns after Ersa you will come across the iconic Moulin Mattei, an old mill, with a scenic view, from where the descent on the western side begins.

Cannelle, a well-maintained nest of stone houses covered with bougainvillea, offers the best perspective of the port of Centuri, framed by shallow aquamarine waters.

Here, among fishermen’s houses and small hotels with brightly colored shutters, people come in the evening to try local lobster recipes or to stroll in total relaxation among the rocks in front of the Campese islet.

Atmospheres out of time

On this side, the coast is steep and the road runs higher: if it weren’t for the very narrow road, we would have to stop all the time to take pictures.

Not only for the rocky outcrops, but also for the unique sketches that the villages know how to draw: an impromptu yoga session among the ruins of the abandoned monastery of Annunziata, near Morsiglia; the neoclassical tomb (a true mausoleum) of Altieri-Calizi in Barrettali, which, like dozens of others throughout the Cape, overlooks the sea on one side and the family home on the other; the scratch games at the tables of the Bar des Platanes in Pino; the old white lighthouse converted into a bell tower on Canari.

Lands with a suspended atmosphere, where time seems to disappear like the wake of the boats returning south, in the more touristic Saint-Florent, from where you take day trips to the Cape.

When the sun begins to set on the horizon, the contours of the coast come out more clearly and the colors of the coast more vividly. It is above all to amaze Nonzawith the stately buildings clinging to the rocky height of the mountain: here, in the fresh evening air, the mood is lively among the tables of the Café de la Tour, in the square at the foot of the tower where the inhabitants defended themselves tenaciously against the French on the time of the Corsican independence struggles.

The location is perfect for enjoying the last rays hitting the huge black beach 200 meters below.

Some used the pebbles, before going back to the village, to write writings and draw drawings that are lovely to admire from above: the initials of two lovers, a greeting, the date of the day.

A large board, symbol of this extreme strip of Corsica. Polite country that knows how to speak the same language as those who want to discover it.

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In the picture: The magnificent view of the coast that can be seen from Moulin Mattei.

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