Corsica’s Northwest Coast vs the Amalfi Coast

Typically Mediterranean, Corsica’s northwest coast, with its unique savage beauty, is more relaxing than Italy’s traffic-ridden Amalfi Coast where coach parties dominate

ABOVE Genoese arched bridge in the Spelunca Gorge near Ota, Corsica
ABOVE Genoese arched bridge in the Spelunca Gorge near Ota, Corsica

NEED TO KNOW

LOCATION The journey runs down the northwest coast of Corsica, France

LENGTH OF ROUTE 31 miles (50 km)

DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 55°F (13°C); Apr: 63°F (17°C); Jul: 68°F (20°C); Oct: 79°F (26°C)

So much stunning natural beauty is concentrated in this part of northwestern Corsica that the long stretches of dizzy cliff scenery will elicit “oohs” and “aahs” with every blind corner you turn on the hair- raising road through the rugged mountainsides.

On the wild coast, the route is 31 miles (50 km) from Calvi to Cargèse as the crow flies, but you’ll clock up at least 70 miles (112 km) by driving along the winding road. All around are slopes smothered with aromatic maquis shrubs whose scents waft on the sea breeze. There is no evidence of crowds, in glaring contrast to the Amalfi Coast, where truckloads of tourists are common and long-term habitation has translated into urbanization.

Along the way, a host of highlights offer ample excuse for a rest from driving. You begin the journey at the small but bustling port of Calvi, occupying a picturesque promontory with a trademark citadel. Then, once out on the D81, if you turn inland from Galéria village, you’ll see the crystal-clear waters of the Fango River and its bright-red porphyry rock gorge, spanned by the elegant Genoese bridge (Ponte Vecchiu).

The Bocca a Croce Pass demands a halt for the sweeping views it affords over the rugged shores of the Scandola headland reserve. Close by, a path drops through Mediterranean bush to the fishing hamlet of Girolata and a sheltered beach, where a seafood lunch or swim can be enjoyed.

Porto, a tiny clutch of hotels in an inlet, is another recommended stopover. Inland, the photogenic hamlet of Ota has a cluster of traditional stone houses above the cool Spelunca Gorge.

Next comes this coast’s absolute highlight, Les Calanche, a weird wonderland of eroded pink granite, called “a haunting nightmarish menagerie” by French novelist Guy de Maupassant. Immersed in sweet-smelling pine forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Les Calanche can be visited on foot thanks to many marked paths leading off the road.

Nearby, the beautifully placed village of Piana makes an excellent base. Sandy beaches beckon, as does the divine Capo Rosso headland, its old watchtower a lookout for marauding pirates, long-gone raiders of the Mediterranean coast.

This journey can also be a memorable adventure for hikers, who can enjoy the vistas on the long-distance walking path, Mare e Monti. The route begins at Calenzana outside Calvi, and ends in Cargèse in 10 days. There are stopovers at gîtes d’étape, or walkers’ hostels.

FORGET THE AMALFI COAST?

THE BUILD-UP Overlooking the Gulf of Salerno just south of Naples, the Amalfi Coast offers breathtaking scenery at every turn of the tortuous road. Photogenic villages cling to vertiginous mountainsides, clad with ingenious terraces where juicy lemons flourish on trellises.

THE LETDOWN Driving on the narrow winding roads is stressful even in light traffic, but once the cruise ship season has commenced, coach jams are the name of the game and frustrating delays the norm. Prices at glamorous resorts such as Positano and arty Ravello are aimed at the millionaire set. The few public beaches are cramped and pebbly, so consider shelling out for a private deckchair.

GOING ANYWAY? Try to avoid late spring to mid-summer. In winter, many hotels slash prices. Plan to arrive by train at either Salerno or Sorrento, and continue your journey by public bus or use the private ferries that link villages.

Choosing accommodations and eateries off the seafront will help keep budgets manageable.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Getting There and Around The closest airport is Calvi’s Sainte Catherine, 5 miles (8 km) from town with scheduled flights via France. There are also charter flights to and from the UK between Apr–Oct. From Calvi, arrange a rental car to explore the coastal road. Buses run to Porto May–Sep. If you wish to take your own vehicle, then a car ferry from the mainland port of Nice or Marseille is feasible, but book ahead for the high season.

Where to Eat Just outside Porto on the Calvi road, Restaurant Le Porto is reasonably priced, and you can enjoy your meal on a lovely terrace.

Where to Stay Porto’s Hotel Monterosso is on the waterfront, with rooms and terraces overlooking the wonderful gulf.

When to Go Spring is divine with the aromatic scent of Mediterranean plants, but the sea is still a trifle cool. The onset of summer heat – and perfect bathing conditions – is offset by cool breezes on the west coast, though the number of visitors is highest then.

Budget per Day for Two US$180 including food and accommodations.

4 MORE JOURNEYS TO RIVAL THE AMALFI COAST DRIVE

CINQUE TERRE IN LIGURIA, ITALY Access is by train, burrowing through precipitous cliffs. Pastel-tinted houses cascade down steep hillsides where Vernaccia wine is grown.

COAST OF MADEIRA, OFF AFRICA The sheer cliffs that surround this route are the result of volcanic beginnings followed by water erosion. The route of this Portuguese island alternates between mountain roads and breathtaking scenery.

TASMAN PENINSULA, AUSTRALIA Traveling around the peninsula at the storm-battered southern tip of Australia, takes in a remarkable procession of natural rock formations, such as the soaring Tasman Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen. The Arthur Highway leads to Cape Raoul, where 165 million-year-old dolerite columns stand on the seafront.

COSTA SMERALDA, SARDINIA Turquoise water washes onto dramatic headlands and immaculate white sandy bays on this coast, which also has upmarket resorts such as Porto Cervo.

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