The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012 kicks off this weekend in Corsica - find out all you need to know about the Mediterranean island...
With its medieval buildings teetering on limestone cliffs as high as skyscrapers, Corsica's Bonifacio, named after the Tuscan Count who founded it in the 7th century BC, is about as dramatic as the Mediterranean gets. So much so, Bonifacio is thought to have been the bay where Homer’s Ulysses took shelter on his legendary voyage and encountered a race of giants.
There aren’t any mythic creatures knocking around these days, but you will find a paradise for windsurfers and walkers with a bustling marina and a savage beauty that’s had the likes of Bill Gates, Giorgio Armani and Zinedine Zidane holidaying here in recent years.
Figari, 20km north of Bonifacio, is the closest airport, and runs a shuttle bus for $8 if you don’t want to fork out for a taxi. Alternatively, ferries run from Sardinia several times a day for around $17.
WHERE TO STAY
Make the most of the views at the Marina-side, 44-room Solemare Hotel, which looks across the port to the citadel – as does its heated outdoor swimming pool. Hotel Genovese also nails it on seafront location, this time with a pool built into the old town’s ancient walls. Or why not camp at Rondinara beach, a stunning bay surrounded by dunes where you can also score a beer and a burger and, once a week, enjoy a punch-fuelled themed beach party.
REMEMBER TO PACK
You’ll need sturdy boots and swimwear to make the most of this hikers’ and surfers’ utopia – and a good camera for those epic views.
5 PLACES TO VISIT
Aquarium de Bonifacio
A giant blue lobster is the star turn at this small waterfront aquarium built into caves, where the sea creatures are all caught by local fishermen and put back into the sea every autumn.
King of Aragon Stairs
These 187 sickeningly-steep seafront steps are embedded in the history of Bonifacio – according to legend, the king of Aragon ordered his troops to carve them into the cliff overnight during the siege of 1420. Best tackled in the morning when you’re feeling fresh.
Iles de Lavezzi
A mecca for divers, the azure waters around this cluster of small uninhabited islands off Bonifacio’s coast is home to red scorpion fish, rays, barracudas, rare coral… and reachable by boat trip (see below).
Also in Southern Corsica, the site of Filitosa is an archeological treasure trove of stone menhirs carved into faces, dating back to 1500 BC.
Ok, not quite a place but an epic 170km footpath so challenging that only a third of the walkers who start on it actually finish. Crossing Corsica from north to south, it includes a chasm called the Cirque de la Solitude where ladders and steel ropes have been fixed to the rock to help you navigate the 300-metre drop, but rewards you with cascading waterfalls, wheeling vultures, unbelievable views and one hell of a story.
5 FAMOUS CORSICAN ALMUNI
The Catch-22 author was stationed here as a pilot during World War II – an experience he channeled into his cult satirical novel.
Napoleon (pictured, above)
The most famous Corsican of all – even though he ended up ruling the French, who he grew up hating for invading his ‘ill-starred homeland’ just three months after he was born.
Commonly assumed to have been Spanish, the great explorer is actually thought to have been born in Calvi, Corsica, around 1436.
Thanks to having a Corsican papa, the French actress and supermodel spent her childhood here – during which she was spotted, aged 15, by the photographer Frederic Cresseaux.
This Corsican musician was the original guitarist with The Police – though that probably doesn’t have anything to do with Sting recently being spotted holidaying here.
WHAT TO DO WITH...
We’re sorry to say you’ve just missed sea urchin season, so opt instead for another (less frondy) local delicacy such as wild boar sausage, chestnut flan, a bastelle (their superior take on a cheese and onion pasty) or a few drops of a snifter of Acquavita, a 45 per cent proof homemade liquor that you suck from a soaked sugar cube.
The best way to take in the dramatic cliff edge is from the sea. Take a day’s boat trip (around $25 a ticket) to the Iles de Lavezzi, a stunning nature reserve and the site of an 1855 shipwreck. Cheaper, hourly boat trips also run nearby, taking in the multicoloured Grotto du Sdragonato (or Little Dragon Cave), which has a hole shaped like the map of Corsica.
Head to Tonnara Beach, 10km from Bonifacio, which is a watersports hotspot thanks to the strong, consistent winds. Paradiz offer kite and windsurfing lessons from $60 and rock climbing and canyoning sessions in the mountainous nearby Alta Rocca region. You can also hire jet skis and quads from Pirate Adventure.