Compelling Corsica: Sea Kayaking & Mountain Hiking
Compelling Corsica was recently voted by National Geographic as the 2015 Best New Trips!
This adventure is an ideal combination of hiking the spectacular granite mountains of Corsica (including a bit of the legendary GR20) and paddling the azure waters of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Reserve Naturelle de Scandola. This active, hotel-based trip offers superb local cuisine for which the “Isle of Beauty” is famous. Talented bilingual guides help ease all guests into a deep appreciation of “corsitude” as we embrace the authentic McDonalds-free local culture!
With the highest rainfall of any island in the Mediterranean, Corsica is also the greenest. It rises dramatically from the sea to peaks over 8800’ (2700 meters) and within this rise are three climate zones. Over 2800 plant species live here and the island’s maquis (a thick and tangled forest of oak, juniper, heather and herb) became the name for the French WWII resistance movement, due to this formidable landscape. Forests of endemic pines along with a host of wildlife call the island home.
Food is central to life in Corsica and flavors of the maquis are found in honey, cheeses and grilled meats. Chestnuts (planted by the Genoese several hundred years ago) are central to the flavors of Corsica. Delectable wines, cured meats, fresh seafood and savory cheeses round out the culinary scene.
Singing is another joy of Corsica, where ancient polyphony thrives and perhaps more than anywhere in Europe, Corsica has resisted modern pop music to nurture its own rich musical music. Sometimes referred to as “Corsican blues,” polyphony is performed by over 80 groups on the island. The haunting beauty of this music will likely send shivers down your spine.
Join us to explore this fascinating corner of Europe, where megalithic stones still stand, the ghost of Napoleon lives on (he was born in the city of Ajaccio in 1769), and traditional life, language, music and customs are alive and well.
As the British author Dorothy Carrington, who spent half her life on the island and wrote a number of books about Corsica noted, “One cannot know Corsican history without regretting that Shakespeare never heard of its tales.”
Images & Videos
Arrive in the port town of Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon, set on a large crescent bay. Settle in to our tour hotel and meet with your Sea Kayak Adventures guide for an evening orientation meeting followed by dinner together.
Kayak Isolella Peninsula
Our plan today is to sea kayak to the Isolella Peninsula where the majestic rocks of Sette e Nave are perched dramatically by the sea. History and raw nature combine to create a mesmerizing beauty.
The day starts when we arrive on a beach where our sea kayaks await. After a safety orientation we begin paddling. After a couple hours, we stop for a picnic lunch on a beach, and for those who wish, a swim in the warm Mediterranean. After lunch we continue our paddle, soaking in the Isle of Beauty. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and the seas are too rough for kayaking, we have the choice of two excellent hikes set up as back up. At the end of the day, we return to our beachside hotel and enjoy French cuisine, good wine and laughter.
Total Kayak Distance: 4-12 miles / 2-4 hours (may be altered based on the group’s ability).
Filitosa, Cucuruzzu, Hiking
After breakfast we drive into the dramatic mountains southeast of Ajaccio. Narrow, winding roads take us quickly higher into cooler climes. We stop for a historical visit of Corsica’s impressive megalithic art. Filitosa is considered to be one of the most mysterious cultural sites in the Mediterranean, let alone one of the most beautiful Prehistoric art collections in Europe. We will explore this beautiful area that gives us an overview of 8,000 years of human history.
After we are fully immersed in some Corse history we head out to lunch for some traditional Corsican fare – salamis, dry-cured ham, sheep and goat cheese, fresh bread, dark wine and more. After lunch, we continue our journey as we step back in time and take an afternoon walk through a magical forest of oak and beech at the prehistoric site of Cucuruzzu. Brought to light in 1959 by archaeologist Roger Grosjean, the site was hidden under dense vegetation. Among the 100 most important historical sites of communal value in the Mediterranean, today it is a Corsica Regional Nature Park. Some of the rock structures date to the 2nd century B.C. while others date to the Middle Ages. History buffs will be delighted and for those less intrigued, the setting and scenery provide plenty of stimulation. After our afternoon walk, we drive a short distance to our home for the night in the sweet town of Zonza. Here we relax, breathe in fresh mountain air and dine on food that is all local and lovingly prepared.
Hiking Distance: The Cucuruzzu park hike is about 3 miles / 2 hours with an elevation gain of 59 meters / 193ft
Hiking Alta Rocca Mountains, Travel to Cargese and on to Piana
After a nice breakfast in Zonza, we head back in to the Col de Bavella set in the Alta Rocca Mountains. The dramatic granite spires slice the cobalt sky to create a spectacular site. The first sight on our hike is the serene statue of Notre-Dames-des-Neiges (Lady of the Snow) which is set as a marker for Bavella Pass. She rises above a mound of granite stones and plaques, testament to the deep faith of many Corsicans. We set out on a two hour hike, with a 200 meter (600 ft) elevation gain, set beneath the high-rising pinnacles of the Col de Bavella.
After our morning hike, we start our drive back to the coast, stopping for lunch along the way. We pass through Ajaccio and then continue north along the western side of Corsica. We arrive mid-afternoon at Cargese, perched on a steep hill above the sea. This small village of 1100 inhabitants was settled by a group of some 700 Greeks from the Peloponese who were fleeing the Ottoman Turks. We spend an hour or so exploring this charming seaside town along with two small churches from the 1800’s – one built by Catholics and the other by descendants of the Greeks.
We then continue on to the village of Piana, set high on a steep rising mountain above the sea. Piana is surrounded by colorful pink and rose porphyritic spires of rock that rise like sentinels above the turquoise Mediterranean. It is on the edge of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Gulf of Porto that includes the Calanche of Piana, the Gulf of Girolata and the Scandola Reserve. Learn more about this region at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/258. At the end of our day we return to the comfort of our hotel and enjoy sunset views over the sea.
Hiking Distance: "Le Trou de la Bombe" 4-4.5 miles / 3 hours with an elevation gain of 200 meters / 600 ft
Our itinerary is designed to allow us maximum flexibility should weather conditions not allow us to kayak. By basing in the village of Piana, if we can’t kayak, we have miles of trail to explore in the stunning Calanche of Piana area. That said, our plan is to kayak the next two days.
The first day we drive south to a lovely sand beach, climb into the kayaks and then paddle north around sheer- faced cliffs with sea caves and is a paddling dream if the seas are calm. This is our most challenging paddle, covering about 13 miles. If this is beyond the ability of the group, we have two other shorter routes available that are also beautiful!
At the end of our day we return to the comfort of our hotel and enjoy sunset views over the sea.
Kayaking Distance: Up to 13 miles / 5 hours (may be altered based on the group’s ability).
Mediterranean Kayaking, Calanche de Piana
Another day of kayaking is launched! Depending on where we kayaked yesterday, we pick up and continue. Today’s paddle will be shorter, likely in the four to seven mile range. We stop on a picturesque beach for a picnic lunch, a swim in the sea or a nap on the sand. Our guides share the history and stories of much-fabled Corsica. We try and end our paddle by mid-afternoon allowing time for a drive and walk in the spectacular Calanche de Piana.
Filled with wonder, we return once again to our hotel in Piana.
Kayaking Distance: Between 4 - 7 miles (may be altered based on the group’s ability).
Hiking the Gorge de Spelunca, Scenic Traing to Vizzavona
Today is a hiking day. We rise early for our drive a short distance inland and then start a hike through the Gorge de Spelunca. Within this gorge the river is spanned by two beautiful 18th century stone bridges, both built with a single arch and protected as historic monuments. We take time to swim and enjoy the surrounding forest. By lunch time we arrive in the village of Evisa set amid a thick forest with views over the surrounding valleys.
After lunch we drive south again, through the mountains and arrive at the train station in Ajaccio in time for the 4:40 pm train. For many this is a highlight as we climb aboard the Trinighellu scenic train, a narrow-gauge railroad that careens through twisted mountain gorges as we ride for about an hour to the summit at Vizzavona. Here the turn-of-the century Hotel Monte D’Oro welcomes us. Built as an escape for the British aristrocrats who were living in Ajaccio at the end of the 19th century and who sought relief from the heat of the summer that cloaks the coast in July and August, this hotel of yesteryear is full of charm. Enjoy a drink at the bar, then sit down to a bountiful feast!
Hiking Distance: 4 miles with an elevation gain of 330 meters / 1080 ft
Hiking the GR20, Mountain Train Ride to Bastia
Legendary in Europe, the most famous hiking trail in all of France, the GR20 weaves its way from the north to south of Corsica. We hike a small part of this trail this morning along a lovely stream beneath a forest of pines, oaks and chestnuts. We return to the hotel in the early afternoon for another French repas of local and fresh fare.
After a bit of free time, we head to the train stop for the late afternoon train north. We pass through the mountain town of Corte, the geographical center of Corsica. It was here that Pascal Paoli started an independence movement against the Genoese in 1755, only to be thwarted by the French conquest of Corsica in 1768 that shaped Napoleon’s future anger towards the French.
After about two hours on the train, over bridges and beneath the peaks of mountains, we arrive in Bastia. This lively town has a colorful old quarter with narrow passages, colorful but faded houses and an exotic flair. The small fishing port is chock full of boats and the restaurants feature the catch of the day. We enjoy a farewell dinner together and overnight at a local hotel.
Hiking Distance: The "Cascade des Anglais" hike is a 9 km (3.5 hours loop) of hiking with an elevation gain of 270 meters / 885 ft
Note: There are several hiking route choices available / hike may be altered depending on group ability.
Explore Bastia, Extend Your Stay or Depart Corsica
For those who are not rushing off, we explore Bastia in the morning on a guided walking tour of the town, childhood home of Victor Hugo, where new and old stand in stark contrast. Designated as a French “Town of Art & History” there are many stories to uncover under the ancient stones. Our trip ends about noon as the walking tour finishes.
At this point you have many choices! You might want to spend another night in Bastia (recommended) before staring home. Or, you may wish to catch an afternoon flight and spend a day or two in Paris on the way home. Or, there are ferries that leave Bastia for Livorno, Italy, a four-hour crossing as well as ferries that go to Genoa and Nice. Schedules and information are at http://www.mobylines.com/routes/ferry-corsica.html or https://www.corsica-ferries.co.uk/
Our office is happy to help with suggestions.
Dates & Rates
- 4-5 Guests: $4,795 per person
- 6-8 Guests: $4,295 per person
- 9-12 Guests: $3,795 per person
Single Supplement: If you are a solo traveler and wish to have your own accommodations throughtout the tour (or if we are unable to pair you up with another solo traveler), an additional single supplement of $750 USD is required.
Custom departures available. The above departures are already set, however depending on group size and availability of guides and accommodations, we may be able to offer a custom departure.
Tiered Pricing Explained: Our trips are budgeted for full or near full sign-ups which enables us to offer trips at the lowest possible price. Because of numerous fixed costs, it is more expensive to operate a trip for a small group. Therefore, on some of our trips, in order to avoid having to cancel a trip, we have a “tier-pricing” system to avoid canceling a trip with a low number of sign ups. We have found that most people also prefer this alternative to having a trip cancelled. Thus, you will note on our trip prices there may be different price for 6-8 people versus 19-12, etc.
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or sub contractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
We may initially invoice you at the higher tier price, and refund the difference depending on the final group size. Trip costs quoted are based on foreign exchange rates current at the time of this printing. We reserve the right to raise the trip fee if there are exceptional cost increases beyond our control.
FAQ & More
Just south of France and west of Italy, Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean.
There are flights from France (Paris, Marseilles, Lyon, etc. ) direct to Ajaccio and Bastia. There is also ferry service from continental Europe. The shortest ferry goes from Livorno, Italy (not far from Pisa) and there is also service from Marseille and other ports in southern France. Flying is generally the quickest and most economical method of travel to Corsica.
French is the official language but over 80% of native Corsicans also speak Corsu, a language that is close to medieval Tuscan and thus has a very Italian ring to it. If you speak French you'll do very well. Some English is spoken, but our bilingual guides take care of any important communications for you.
Corsica has a Mediterranean climate and one of the sunniest climates in France. Weather along the coast is warm from April to June, hot in July and August and then pleasantly warm again from September to late October. The interior gets cold by December and snow falls in the higher mountains at times. Our trips are scheduled during ideal times in terms of weather and lack of other tourists.
This is an active trip that includes hiking and sea kayaking, so you should be in reasonable shape and have some sea kayaking experience. That said, people from all walks of life and all ages join our trips. We get a mix of couples, singles, families and friends, usually between 25 and 70 years of age. Everyone comes to have a good time and the variety of people and interests found on each trip makes it all the more fun. Our adventure consultants know that a primary consideration may be the mix of people on the trip, so we're happy to tell you who has signed up and help you choose a compatible group.
As long as we are informed in advance of any food allergies or dietary needs, we can mostly accommodate for it. In some rare instances, where substitutions may not be locally available in Corsica, we may ask that you bring your own substitutions.
US and Canadian citizens will need a passport that is valid for 6 months past the end of your trip, but a visa is not required for tourists who are on trips of less than 90 days.
Packing light is always best when you’re traveling internationally. Make sure to bring copies of your airline tickets, your receipt for the purchase of your airline tickets, and a copy of the front page in your passport. It is a good idea to pack loosely fitting clothing that can be easily hand washed, and a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester. You may want to pack a nice outfit for going in to town. Quick-dry clothing for the kayaking portion is essential. See our packing list for a detailed description of what to bring.
The currency in France is the Euro and it's easy to get Euros on arrival and from ATM machines along the way. Remember, it is never a good idea to keep a lot of cash on you while you are traveling, but in local shops and markets having some local currency is helpful.
This trip is best suited for people ages 14 and over. Given that the trip occurs during the school year we don't expect that kids will join this trip, but if you are interested in a family-oriented trip contact us about a summer date.
We will use both double and single kayaks made by German Kayak producer Prijon. Prijon is known for their excellent paddling comfort, revolutionary tough HTP plastics and lightweight prilites.
POSEIDON Double Kayak:
The two person Poseidon Kayak is designed for coastal tours with great directional stability and comfortable cruising speed. It’s a great tandem kayak for hiking trips along the coast line!
SEAYAK Single Kayak:
The term Seayak is synonymous for fast, safe and manageable paddling with attractive style! This is a sporty and quick moving kayak great for smaller and lighter paddlers.
The history of Corsica is fascinating and a book we recommend reading is "Granite Island" by Dorothy Carrington. Find Granite Island on ABEbooks used or new on Amazon. Our favorite guide books to France (and Italy, Spain and Greece) in terms of meaningful history, are the ones from Cadogan Guides by Dana Facoros and Michael Pauls.
Be sure to check out these two interesting Conde Nast Traveler articles on Corsica:
"The Last of Eden" Part 1 Conde Nast Traveler: March, 1991 - seakayakadventures.com/PDF_Documents/EUROPE/Misc%20Resources/The_Last_of_Eden_Corsica_Article_Part1.pdf
"The Last of Eden" Part 2 Conde Nast Traveler: March, 1991 - seakayakadventures.com/PDF_Documents/EUROPE/Misc%20Resources/The_Last_of_Eden_Corsica_Article_Part2.pdf
"A Marvel in the Med" Conde Nast Traveler: February, 2013 - seakayakadventures.com/PDF_Documents/EUROPE/Misc%20Resources/A_Marvel_in_the_Med_Corsica_Article.pdf
Contact your service provider for the best options for taking your cell phone to a different country. You are unlikely to receive cell service for the entire time while paddling, but you may pick it up from time to time. WiFi is available at most hotels Your guides will be equipped with radios during the tour in case of emergency.
Electrical outlets are 220-240 volts and have Europlug style outlets, you will need a plug adaptor and a step-down converter if you’re traveling from outside the UK.
For expensive cameras we suggest a waterproof bag or diver's dry box (such as Pelican boxes), available at most outdoor stores or dive shops. In the case of inexpensive cameras, ziplock bags are usually adequate.
If you do not currently have a regular exercise program, we strongly encourage you to begin one. The trip is not extremely strenuous, but is quite active and physical by nature. The more prepared you are for the trip, the more you'll enjoy it, and the more you’ll be comfortable if there is windy weather. Walking a few miles per day, climbing stairs, working out with light weights, and other cardio and strength training exercises are all highly recommended activities. At the very least, we recommend that participants take long walks and condition muscle groups of the upper body and core by exercising for a full month prior to the trip, to avoid overuse injuries of the wrists and arms.
No immunizations are required for travel to Corsica. If you are allergic to bee or wasp stings, do consult with your doctor about bringing an epi-pen or similar on this wilderness trip.
Our tour costs are based on double occupancy on any included hotel nights. Solo travelers who would like their own single hotel room can pay a single supplement (see "Dates & Rates" above for the single supplement price for this tour), or can be matched up with another solo traveler of the same gender if one is available and willing to share. If we are unable to pair you with another solo traveler, we must apply the single supplement charge to cover our hotel costs.