The island of Corsica is famous for being the birthplace of Napoleon, It lies a few hours by boat south of the Cote D’Azur and through the centuries has wavered between French and Italian ownership. Since 1769 it is French.
The natural beauty of the island is astounding, it’s not a big place, rugged and wild, rich and green, its perimeter bordered by stunning seashore, and the centre by dramatic mountain ranges. In a few hours drive it’s possible to move from sandy beaches, to breathtaking hilltops to rocky and wild coastlines punctuated by turquoise creeks.
For many years, the Corsicans turned their backs to the sea, and most of the older villages are to be found perched in the hills, hidden in the depths of forests of chestnut trees, with beautiful rivers running nearby.
My husband is Corsican, which is why my name sounds Italian. The first time I visited the small family house in the mountains, was a lesson in mountain living. Corsicans have a reputation as a pretty wild bunch. They are certainly proud. Fiercely autonomist for centuries, they have their own ways of getting things done. Nobody talks about mafia, but it is present. Discretion is second nature, you trust those you are close to, and stay wary of strangers, especially those who ask questions.
The first time I arrived in our tiny village up in the mountains, as a young bride, to a village boy, everyone noticed my arrival. For most of the family friends and acquaintances I was immediately accepted, and by some even adopted. I think they related to the girl that I was, coming from another island, albeit one with a monarchy.
Those who didn’t know where I sprung from, would challenge me outright as I walked through the village to buy bread. They’d never ask my name, or my occupation… the only question that was repeated to me was “de qui tu est?” which would best translate as “which family are you from”. I quickly learnt how to reply succinctly and effectively. What they needed was a rapid genealogy tree. I gave the names of my husband, my parents in law, the grandmother of my husband, our cousins on the plain, and if confirmation were still required I threw in a couple of well respected neighbours for good measure. They asked the question once, but not twice.
The casual visitor is unlikely to come into contact with this very private corsica. Most head to the south, where the beaches are spectacular and the hotels busy. My heart lays further north. I like my beaches sandy, long and empty except for driftwood and pinecones. I like to dine with a view out across the mountains and down to the sea. I love the mountain villages with their paths bordered by billowing blue hydrangeas.
I love the drive back from the sea to our village, through the chestnut trees, and maybe a little beyond for one last dip of the day in the fresh mountain river, that slightly takes my breath away, but leaves my skin so soft.
If one day you go to Corsica, be sure to find yourself a car and explore. Don’t be afraid of heading up into the mountains, you won’t regret it. Try to see some of the sights in the south such as the old town of Bonifacio, but then head back up north, and enjoy some quieter areas, maybe find a little house to rent, or a smaller boutique hotel.
And just remember, …. don’t ask too many questions!