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Corsica rears up out of the Mediterranean like a giant sitting in a garden pond, towering over its lowly southern neighbour Sardinia but forlornly cut off by the Ligurian Sea from its big Alpine sisters to the north.
It's an island of sheer cliffs and hairpin bends, kilometre-high gorges plunging into deep wooded valleys, and waterfalls gushing down through the sage-scented maquis. At 8,700ft Monte Cinto tops a chain of 20 huge peaks forming a north-south backbone from which the slopes fall away on every side to a coastline of turquoise sea and over 200 beaches fringed with tall palms, aloe vera and forests of eucalyptus, cork oak and Corsican pine.
Many of the towns and villages are perched, fortress-like, atop high rocky eyries, reflecting a long history of pirate raids and invasions by Carthaginians, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Saracens and Lombards. Charlemagne's father stole the island and gave it to the Pope, but the Genoese stole it again and sold it to the French, which is why the island seems Italian but the official language is French. Corsicans today are delighted to welcome visitors, but they are also keen to preserve the charm of the island and therefore have not gone in for the runaway high-rise holiday building which has afflicted other Mediterranean islands, so that Corsica remains relatively pristine and undeveloped.
You'll be staying in Calvi, a beautiful harbour fringed with palms and a promenade lined with lively restaurants. The place was bombarded and besieged by the British during the Napoleonic Wars, and Lord Nelson got himself injured, losing the sight of one eye.
If you want beach they've got five miles of it, or you could take the bone-rattling miniature train and visit the port of L'Île Rousse, officially the hottest corner of the island. The Scandola Marine Nature Reserve, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is just along the coast, accessible by boat, and known for its mottled-pink volcanic rocks, as well as visits by dolphins and seals.
Maquis (It. macchia - thicket) refers to the shrubland typical of Corsica, tall and thick enough to hide in, a feature which outlaws and fugitives traditionally found very handy. The French Resistance during WWII took the name Maquis for this reason.
This tour is organised and operated by Omega Holidays plc ABTA V4782 ATOL 6081