I’m not sure that I had ever heard of Corsica, France prior to our visit this past Christmas. In fact, if we were not so adamant on bringing Laila along everywhere we go, we never would have discovered this gem of an adventure island.
Our blogging friend, Claudia from My Adventures Across the World invited us to spend the holidays with her in Sardinia, Italy, where she lives. With no family visiting and no other plans, we eagerly took her up on her offer.
Now, we could have arrived directly to Sardinia from Barcelona by ferry, however, the ferry requires that animals travel in the kennel on the boat for the entire 12+ hour duration of the journey. Looking for an alternative option, we discovered that by departing from mainland France to Corsica, Laila could accompany us just about everywhere on the ferry. It meant several more very long days of travel, but it led us to the beautiful French island of Corsica.
Knowing very little about the island prior to our visit, we familiarized ourselves on the fly and were pleasantly surprised to learn that this relatively unknown is an adventure traveler’s dream and it super dog-friendly. It is one of the least visited large islands in the Mediterranean.
A few fun facts about what Corsica offers the outdoor enthusiast:
- Corsica is one of the least visited large islands in the Mediterranean.
- It is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean.
- Mountains make up 2/3 of the island.
- It is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean.
- The highest peak, Monte Cinto stands at 8,878 feet high.
- There are some 120 mountain summits over 6,600 feet tall.
- Forests make up 20% of the island.
- Corsica has more than 200 beautiful beaches.
- About 3,500 sq km (1,400 sq mi) of the total land mass is dedicated to nature reserves .
- The warm and sunny climate allows for year round outdoor activities.
A Brief History of Corsica
You’ll probably notice that most of the names of cities and places on this French island are Italian. This is because Corsica was ruled by the Republic of Genoa from 1284 until 1755, when it was ceded to Louis XV to cover a debt. Much of the cuisine and even the native language, retains its Italian ties.
Until 2018, the island was divided into two departments, Haute Corse (Upper Corsica) and Corse de Sud (Southern Corsica). The capital cities of each region are Bastia and Ajaccio, respectively.
Though the island belongs to France, it is considered a territorial collectivity. This means Corsica enjoys a bit more governmental freedom than other regions of France.
The most famous Corsican is a name you might recognize: Napoleon Bonaparte. Born in Ajaccio in 1769, his ancestral home is a tourist attraction and museum.
Hiking on Corsica
Corsica is littered with walking trails for all abilities. With the beaches and the mountains, it’s possible to see both in one day, or get a bit of beach and mountain time in one trip.
While most trails are well-marked, the sheer number of dissecting paths makes it easy to get lost. It’s best to use an offline map like Maps.ME or purchase an IGN map for your trip (if you go with the IGN map, note that the link sends you to Corsica South, you’ll need a second one for the North depending on where you hike).
I also highly suggest purchasing a guidebook for the region before setting out. There aren’t a ton of information available on the many hikes here and I had to a lot of searching to learn about the hikes we did do. Walking on Corsica is a great option (I had the chance to flip through during a hotel stay). If you’re just planning on doing the GR20, then get your hands on the GR20 Corsica.
For more suggestions on great offline maps, see Best Offline Mapping Tools for Cycle Touring (many of which also apply to hiking)
Long Distance Hiking on Corisca
The island features several long distance hiking trails. Due to the mountainous terrain, these walks are quite rugged and some sections should only be completed by experienced hikers.
The GR 20 is well known as one of the toughest long distance walking trail in Europe. The full walk covers 180 km (112 miles) and takes around 16 days to complete. Those afraid of heights will face nerve-wracking scrambles, but will be rewarded with views from some of the most beautiful regions of Corsica.
Just a bit less strenuous, but which also require strong hiking skills, are the “mare e mare” and “mare e monti” trails that span across island from sea to sea or sea to mountains.
The Mare e Mare Nord crosses 140 km (87 miles) across the widest part of the island from Moriani to Cargese and takes about 9-11 days to complete. If you’re short on time, then consider a shorter version of the hike from E Case to Corte. This section shows off some of the most beautiful sections of the trail.
Mare e Mare Sud is the easiest of Corsica’s long distance walking trails, though still considered strenuous. At 77km (48 miles), the hike is a great option for those with less time and doesn’t require expert hiking skills.
Mare e Monti is one of the island’s most popular trails, begins at the sea in Calenzana and ends in Cargese (some of this route is shared with the Mare e Mare Nord). The 10-day, 125 km (78 miles) hike takes about 10 days. Highlights include the Spelunca Gorge and Bocca San Petru.
Day Hikes on Corsica
Since we were only passing through for a few days on either end of our trip, we sadly didn’t have the time to take on one of the longer treks, but we did get some great trail running in the southern region (Corse du Sud) during our visit. There are endless amounts of hikes on this island, it’s just a matter of picking a few. You can’t go wrong.
Keep in mind that while the hikes have waymarkers, but we relied on our maps several times to ensure we were headed the right direction.
Trou de la Bomb
Located near the port town Porto Vecchio, the Col de Bavella offers incredible hiking options for all levels in the Alta Rocca mountains. We decided on a trail run to Trou de la Bomb (Bomb Hole), an easy 4-5 mile hike that leads to an 8-meter hole in a rock, hence the name of the hike. If you’re feeling sassy, you can scramble to the top and enjoy the view from the hole itself. The hike is pretty well-labeled, but it’s a good idea to bring a phone with a map, as we made a few wrong turns. The hike begins from parking lot next to the the Lady of the Snow (Notre Dames des Neiges). This post provides some helpful information for the hike.
The drive up to Col de Bavella is an absolute treasure. We could have stopped at every bend to admire the view and take photos of the jagged granite cliffs towering over the valley below. Small, picturesque villages dot the landscape, providing provisions for the hungry hiker.
Cascade des Anglais
For a small taste of the GR 20, the trail to the Cascade des Anglais from the small village of Vizzavona is an easy trail with a waterfall at the end and plenty of mountain views throughout. The trail follows the L’Angone River the entire duration and the trees and terrain reminded us of New England. The trail goes on for as long as you like, but we stopped at the waterfall (there are two: one small one near a shelter and the larger and more impressive Cascade des Anglais further ahead).
What Else to Do?
Don’t want to hike? That’s cool. There’s something for everyone.
Like what, you ask? Mountain biking, rock climbing, paragliding, skiing, road cycling, white water rafting, canyoning, and horseback riding?
Prefer the water? Ok, How does sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, SCUBA diving, and paddle boarding sound?
Visit the Corsica tourism board for trip ideas to get you drooling.
A Few Things to Know
- The official language of the island is French. Corsican, the native language is spoken conversationally by about 50% of the residents, and is similar to Italian. Few islanders spoke English outside of major cities, but the residents are super friendly and patient while you butcher their language ordering your croissants and pain au chocolat.
- You can find really good pizza on Corsica. My Italian friends might want to sock me for saying this, but you can find pizza comparable to what you’d find in Italy.
- The island also has quite a few wineries, using more Italian than French techniques in the wine making process. We unfortunately, didn’t have the opportunity to visit, but it gives us something to try next visit.
- Dogs are seemingly allowed in all natural areas and on many beaches. City beaches often do not allow dogs, nor do several during the summer months in Europe. During the off-season, the beaches likely welcome dogs. We never saw a sign prohibiting dogs from any of the trails.
- There are wild cows and pigs that roam the island and beaches, so just keep an eye out. You’ll see signs noting their presence. If you’re camping and wake up to trotting hooves outside your tent, like we did, it’s probably just the cows. If you’re hiking with a dog with high prey drive and unreliable recall, it’s best to keep them on leash (this one is our favorite hiking leash of all time. You can ready why in our review.)
Where We Stayed and What We Ate
We didn’t stay the night in Ajaccio, but ate a few meals there. One of note was the pizza from Temps des Olivers. When the vegan restaurant we had hoped to try was closed, we walked around aimlessly and hungry until we landed up on Les Temps des Olivers. The pizza was phenomenal. We simply ordered the veggie option without cheese and it wasn’t lacking at all. Some of the staff speak English, so ordering to suit your dietary needs is no problem.
Ajaccio also has my favorite little French organic store La Vie Claire. It’s sort of like a food coop with tons of organic fruits and vegetables, ready to go lunches, delicious vegan cheese options, and plenty of chocolate. (my favorite is French brand Dardenne)
This is a quaint little town that gets extra cool points because the majority of it is constructed inside a fortress wall. During the time of our visit, there was a lot of construction going on, so it was rather dead at the time. Keep in mind that driving through the narrow roads is quite nerve-wracking!
Our original accommodation startled us awake with a fire alarm at midnight. Thankfully there was no fire, only a burst pipe, but regardless, all guests were sent to Hotel A Madonetta, a neighboring hotel with a nice upgrade, if you have the funds, go ahead and splurge.
Located on the eastern side of the island, Bastia is a vibrant city with lots of restaurants, car-free pedestrian roads, and great beaches and access to the mountains. We stayed at Hotel du Palais, while the rooms were basic and nothing special, yet plenty comfortable, we enjoyed our stay largely because of the host, Yusef. He was a joy to speak with (his English is great. He lives in the Bay Area for several years) and he loves dogs.
As far as eating, we thoroughly enjoyed our vegan meal served by a sweet couple at Paprika. We also enjoyed the coffee, beer selection, and WiFi at Ghisoni’s Coffee House. Our best discovery were the vegan chocolat au pain from Boulangeire Patisserie Kaa.
We opted to stay in the mountains near Porto Vecchio in Hotel les Hauts, The fully-contained rental homes had a decent-sized kitchen, large, comfortable bed, a heater, and best of all, a patio overlooking the port. We would have stayed for a week if we didn’t have a ferry to catch.
This mountain village serves as a overnight spot for GR 20 through hikers, as the trail cuts right through town. There are few services other than hotels, of which a few have restaurants. We stayed at U Castellu, a lovely old hotel with cozy rooms and nice showers. The hotel includes a restaurant, which we did not try. We hoped to try the pizza from nearby Hotel Monte d’Oro, but they were closed for a family event. The place we did eat was located in a village 15 minutes away and wasn’t worth noting here.
Read How to Find Hotels that Allow Pets While Traveling to make pet-friendly adventures a little more hassle-free.
As I mentioned earlier, we took the ferry to reach Corsica. Various companies sail to different cities.
We traveled on Corsica Ferries from Toulon in mainland France to Ajaccio. The total trip took about 7 hours. If you’re traveling with a dog, this is the ferry to take. Laila was allowed everywhere on the boat as far as I could tell. We saw dogs hanging out with their humans in all of the restaurants, deck areas, and common areas. The top deck was called “the dog park” and served as the potty area if need be. I let Laila run around off leash when no one else was around, BUT she took advantage of the sliding doors into back into the main cabin and I nearly had a loose dog running around the boat! Lesson: probably not the best idea to let your pup off-leash.
Tip: Unless you’re traveling during the high season (and perhaps even if you are) don’t bother purchasing a seat ticket. There are plenty of areas to sit without the need to spend extra money.
On the return, we took the Moby Lines, which also permitted dogs in many places, though it wasn’t nearly as pet-friendly as the Corsica boat. As far as we could tell, dogs were not allowed in most of the restaurants. If you’re crossing at night, like we did, definitely get a cabin. The beds are cozy, the showers hot, and they’re quite spacious for being on a boat.
The island has four airports served year-round by Air France and Air Corsica, which fly from mainland France. A few budget airlines also fly to Corsica, but usually only during the summer months.
Many European airlines do not allow pets in cabin. Be sure to check before booking if you plan to travel with your pet. For more information on safe travel with pets, read 14 Questions to Ask before Flying with a Large Dog.
As is often the case, having a car is the easiest way to get around. The roads are windy and steep, so be sure to have brushed up on your stick shift driving skills if you plan to drive.
Bus service is limited on the island, but there are buses that run from Ajaccio to Bonifacio (3 hours), Porto Vecchio to Bastia (3 hours) and between Bastia to Ajaccio, with a connection in Porto Vecchio. Each city has buses to neighboring villages, but there is no cross-island bus.
If you have no car, then the train is the next best option. We commented frequently on the impressive accessibility to mountain villages. They’re no high-speed trains, but they’ll get you to your destination. Unlike the bus, the train does offer cross-island transportation between Ajaccio and Bastia (4 hours, € 21.60). There is no advanced booking, just buy your ticket at the station and be ready to go.