When visiting Haute-Corse, your best bet is to come to Bastia by plane. With this seven-day itinerary idea, you won’t miss any of the gems that this part of Corsica has to offer.
But first, I need to clarify something: even though we refer to ‘Southern Corsica’, we NEVER say ‘Northern Corsica’. Basically, Corsica comprises two départements, which are Corse du Sud (Southern Corsica), and Haute-Corse (Upper Corsica).
After getting you daydreaming about Corsica’s most idyllic beaches, I’m back with an idea for an itinerary to help you discover Haute-Corse by way of its three iconic micro-regions: Cap Corse, Balagne and Castagniccia. You can either follow this week-long program whilst moving from place to place, or you can find somewhere to sleep in Bastia during your stay. But watch out – the distances involved may not be long, but the journeys themselves will take you a good while.
Bastia is a subprefecture of Corsica with 44,000 residents, which you can explore on foot. Whereas Ajaccio feels more like the Côte d’Azur, this Italy-facing town is reminiscent of Tuscany. So what exactly is there to see in Bastia? Let me tell you about some of my favourite places.
- La place Saint Nicolas (Saint Nicolas Square): this 300-by-90-metre square is one of the largest in Europe. Bordered with terraces and under the shade of the plane trees, here you’ll find the locals relaxing with their families or friends every day of the week.
- La place du Marché (Market Square): Located between La Place Saint Nicolas and Vieux Port (or the Old Port), there’s a village-like quality to this part of town. Morning is the time to visit!
- La Citadelle (The Citadel): Bastia’s Citadel, which was restored a few years ago, is steeped in history. Lose yourself in its narrow streets and soak up the atmosphere. In fact, the Citadel is where the name Bastia comes from, as the name means ‘fortress’.
- Le Palais des Gouverneurs (The Palace of Governors): Le Palais des Gouverneurs was constructed right in the very heart of the Citadel, in Place du Donjon (Donjon square). Here, you’ll find magnificent collections of Baroque art.
- Le Jardin Romieu (Romieu Garden): These terraced gardens provide an enchanting view as you head back down to Vieux Port. There’s a magnificent double staircase here, perfect for a break in the shade.
- Le vieux port (The Old Port): This place is treasured by the locals, who come here and eat on the terraces in the afternoon or the evening, all year round. This is another way to appreciate the Citadel.
- L’ église Saint Jean Baptiste (Saint John the Baptist Church): This is the biggest church in Corsica and, rather uniquely, it has two steeples.
- Try an ice cream from Raugi: If there’s one thing you need to do, you absolutely must get an ice cream from Raugi, the master ice-cream parlour which has been run by the same family for generations. It’s a guaranteed moment of pure happiness.
It’s fifty kilometres from Bastia to Macinaggio, at the end of Cap Corse, and the journey will take you at least an hour. It’s on the side of a mountain along a coastal road, so take your time (and a break or two).
- Erbalunga: Finding the time to visit this small village is a must, to be able to admire both the Genoise tower at its heart and the sea view visible from every bend of its narrow streets. This is where Antoine de Saint Exupéry lived during his final mission.
- Rogliano: The raised location of this village means it has been a strategic location since Antiquity. From here, you can keep an eye on the coasts and look out for any potential invaders. Panoramic views aside, you can also visit the Baroque church that hosted Empress Eugénie in 1869.
- Barcaggio: It’s at the end of the earth, or at least, at one of Corsica’s extremities. What I’m talking about is a small fishing village facing the island of Giraglia, which sports a lighthouse.
- Le Moulin Mattei (The Mattei Windmill): Take a detour towards Col Serra (Serra Pass) to get to this windmill, located at an altitude of 365 metres. You’ll get a 360° view, and if there’s not too much sea mist, you might be able to see the Italian coastline.
- Canelle: This is a small village untouched by time where you can take in the breath-taking view overlooking Centuri. Wander the petite paved streets on foot, which will lead you to a wash house built into the shale wall.
- Centuri: This is a romantic fishing village so if you fancy some langoustine, this is the place to get it. It’ll be freshly caught, and the scenery will make it even more enjoyable!
- Nonza: Best known for its black sand beach, Nonza is also one of Cap Corse’s most beautiful villages. Why is the sand that colour? It’s just the result of ‘harmless’ waste from the asbestos factory that operated in Canari until 1965.
This little village, pinned between Cap Corse and The Agriates Desert, has a distinctive atmosphere. You’ll need a whole night and a day to appreciate it to its fullest – Saint-Florent is Corsica’s own little Saint-Tropez.
Some of Corsica’s most beautiful beaches can be found in the Agriates Desert. Discover the beaches of Lodu or Saleccia, accessible by taking the passenger ship from Saint-Florent or renting a 4×4. These wild beaches, with their turquoise water, white sand, and surrounding scrubland would not look out of place in the Caribbean.
In the evening, head to Saint-Florent’s Citadel to watch the sunset. From there, make the most of the village by strolling around its small streets or along by the yachts and finally, try some fish at Restaurant l’Olivier in the port.
To get from Saint-Florent to Ile Rousse in Balagne, you’ll need to take the road through the Agriates Desert. It’s not a sandy desert but rather an arid scrubland. The long road follows the coastline and has a breath-taking view overlooking the Mediterranean.
Ile Rousse is a village with plenty of soul, buzzing even in winter, with a superb beach in the centre of town as an added bonus. Why not take the beach train to discover the coasts of Balagne, from Ile Rousse to Calvi?
Corsica has beautiful beaches, of course, but you can’t experience Balagne to the fullest without visiting its villages. Visit Santa Reparata di Balagna, Feliceto, Speloncato, Occhiatana and Belgodere to familiarise yourself with these beautiful, ornate villages.
You’ll have an unparalleled view of the coast and the Mediterranean from these villages nestled amongst the olive trees. Don’t miss Balagne’s diverse range of artisans whilst there.
From Balagne, I recommend taking the road from Belgodere to Ponte-Leccia, but take the RT301 instead of the main road. In Ponte-Leccia, head right towards Bastia just after the Golo bridge (the Corsican ‘river’) for a complete change of scenery.
Castagniccia has long been the breadbasket of Corsica. This region, covered in chestnut trees, has fed families for generations. It also used to be Corsica’s most populated region.
- Morosaglia: Morosaglia is the birth village of Pasquale Paoli, Babbu di a patria (the father of the homeland) who wrote the Corsican Constitution in November 1755. This constitution gave women the right to vote almost two centuries before France’s did! It also served as a model for the American Constitution. Here you can visit his birth house, which has been transformed into a museum.
- La Porta: This is the largest village of Castagniccia. Its 17th-Century Baroque church sees plenty of footfall, and there are a number of works of art for you to discover here. The bell tower of the Saint John the Baptist church is 45 metres tall. Walking around the village, you’ll find multiple fountains in the piazzetta (little squares), and each one has the head of a lion.
- Rapaggio: Do you remember that scene in the film “The Corsican File” when Christian Clavier orders a Perrier and ends up getting an Orezza? This naturally-carbonated and very fine water comes from Rapaggio. You can pay a virtual visit to the source of Orezza’s water in the shop.
Castagniccia is a region for green tourism. There are hiking trails and waterfalls, but above all, you’ll find some of Corsica’s culinary specialities: charcuterie, cheeses, migliacci, veal with olives, fiadone… The region is not short of guest houses and hostels.
Back to Bastia
We’re back on Corsica’s east coast, on what is referred to as the Oriental Coast, bordered by the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Before you head back to the airport, don’t miss the chance to visit Canonica Cathedral, and the Mariana Archaeological Site and its museum just next door.
To get the most out of this Haute-Corse itinerary, I suggest spending a night in Bastia, two nights in Saint-Florent, two nights in Balagne, and one or two nights in Castagniccia. (You could swap this second night for a night in Cap Corse.) You could also discover all of these micro-regions by going on daytrips from Bastia, if you’ve opted to stay in the same place for a week.
Corsica has a very diverse range of landscapes and reliefs. Each micro-region has its own characteristics, and the houses are very different from one village to the next. Join me in a few weeks to discover Southern Corsica…