The Island of Corsica, France – Travel Review

Corsica - Travel Review

By Kevin Pilley, January 2024

You learn many things circumnavigating Corsica.

You learn that Napoleon was the son of a winemaker. That he was born with teeth, was petrified of cats and that his penis was stolen by his chaplain and smuggled out of St Helena, auctioned off, exhibited and sold on before eventually coming into the hands of a doctor from New Jersey. A certain Dr Latimer, a private collector.

You also learn about myrtle and fig liqueurs and Corsican wines like Umannu, Domaine Pieretti Muscat, Lionel Wojcik’s Domaine Pardella Verminto and Christian Imbert’s wonderful Porto Vecchio Domaine de Torracia rouge, rose and Cuvee Orniu, which gets its name from the Corsican for a “cache” of valuable things that should be stashed away.

On the only luxury cruise around Corsica, you also learn invaluable skills like avocado fileting and towel-folding.

“Towel origami”

On CroisiEurope’s Grand Tour of Corsica cruise, the wildlife is to be found on-board rather than on land.

Rounding the French Mediterranean island under the Belgian flag, you don’t know what animals you’ll find in your cabin when you return from a day of rocky outcrops, maquis underbrush, Genovese towns and Napoleonic overload.

On the great value for money, very relaxing, delightfully “Slow Travel”, low knot, flat calm, seven-day cruise around the coast of Corsica, any day you could be greeted by a pair of swans sitting on your bed. Or a peacock, elephant, frog, mermaid and, as I did on my penultimate day after the gala dinner, a monkey or sloth hanging from my cabin ceiling.

Cabin attendant Corazon Alvarez has perfected the art of flannel and towel origami creating a menagerie of creatures from 100% ring spun cotton, soft feel face cloths and bathroom towels.  She learnt the craft while working for the carnival line in the Caribbean. She teaches fellow members of the housekeeping team on the Brussels-registered “MV La Belle Des Oceans” and gives masterclasses in towel folding to passengers as light relief from the Corsican political history lectures.

And, she’s also lead singer in the hilarious crew cabaret which also stars barman Joel whose traditional Philippine Dobla Kara or karaoke duet – singing both male and female parts – brought the house, or vessel, down.

Corsica - Travel Review

“Exceptional cruise director”

Accommodating 120 passengers and 69 crew members, La Belle has a Croatian captain, a happy all-Filipino staff and an exceptional cruise director in Parisian Stefan Loumu. The characterful (not new), 7-deck, 103m long boat has a fitness centre, spa, pool, two bars and two lounges.

The passenger list is 95% French and you soon realise you should have listened more to Mrs Croft or whoever your French teacher was at school.

Why? Because it’s hard to recover from being seen ‘colouring in’ the Le Figaro crossword and to be sociable and successful over a Pina Colada, house Chardonnay or a Scrabble board when the only words you can remember are ‘fenetre, ‘circumflex’ and ‘merde’ – and the only phrase you know is ‘Malheuresment, je suis fatigue.’ There are only so many times reading the restaurant menu you can get away with saying “Sacre Bleu!” or “Zoot Alors” to give the impression you are a bi-lingual gourmand.

You will find fewer anglophones on this sedate small ship cruise. All excursions, however, come with audio sets which pour the local culture into your ear canals in your native language. If desired. Stefan also speaks fluent tannoy English. Chef Romeo (from Manila) serves three meals a day with high-quality, speedily and gracefully-served lunches and dinners including suckling pig, a superb paella, chicken, tarragon and asparagus, lamb, fish, beef, lamb and Spanish and Umannu Corsican wines. You can also try the local myrtle and fig liqueurs.  All drinks, except Champagne and for some reason Jack Daniels, are complimentary. So the bar is bottomless.

Corsica - Travel Review

“Sunny beachfront”

Starting and ending in Nice, the short “all-in” transfer taxi ride from and to the French Riviera’s seafront airport down Le Promenade Des Anglais must be the best way to start any cruise in the world.

The first port of call is Ajaccio where Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769.  You can visit his birthplace museum. There is not much to see apart from a tiny bed, some chairs and some paintings.  The city’s Fensch Museum has one of the largest collections of Italian paintings outside Italy. In the souvenir of the musee shop, you can buy a fetching bicorne hat for 14 Euros or a resin bust of Nappy for only 940E.

You can walk along the lengthy sunny beachfront, and watch some pétanque. And you can visit the cathedral where Napoleon was baptized,  shop for coral jewellery or indulge in a pastry shop crawl, trying chestnut flour cakes, almond and anise canistrelli shortbread biscuits, fritelli fritter doughnuts and fiadone cheesecake. And why not try a Napoleon clementine ice cream? Apparently, the recipe came from one of his lovers.

At Pointe de la Parato you can strike a trademark Instagrammable Napoleonic pose with your hand through your shirt buttons.  He did it, not because of heartburn but to touch a talisman he always wore. There are also excursions to the Lavezzi islands, Porto Vecchio, Calvi, Isle Rousse, the old villages of Balagna and the Corsican caliches or calanques (French mini-fjords) of Piana.

Corsica - Travel Review

“The views are worth it”

The entrance through the apricot cliffs into Bonifacio in the south is one of the highlights. The 180-step King of Aragon staircase up from the harbour is a pulmonary challenge. If you fear for your ventricles, there is Le Petit Train.  The views are worth it. The star of all the shore excursions is undoubtedly Cap Corse on the north-eastern coast near Bastia.  This part of Corsica will further test your blood pressure, replacement kneecaps or hip bolts. The cruise attracts the over 55s.

The D80 corniche, carved out of the rock face, takes you along 60 miles of sheer drops into the crashing waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea, past slate-roof houses, family tombs, villages like Erbalunga, Santa Severera and Pino and the black beaches around Nousa.  Elba, where Napoleon was briefly exiled, sits on the horizon.

A spinach pie, onion tart, brocciu whey cheese and PDO lonzu peppered pig strip lunch is taken at the Domaine Upozzu by the beach in Sisco. There is also a tasting at a vineyard on the Corsican wine road in the island’s Patronomie area. If you don’t book in advance the Cap Corse trip costs 178  Euros.  It’s unmissable because it showcases the best scenery of “Kalliste” (most beautiful), as the Greeks knew Corsica.

Corsica - Travel Review

“Corsican crooners”

Apart from board games like Quirkle and retro 50’s Stop!, onboard entertainment is provided by people-watching and resident pianist Joshua, who’s from St Lucia. One night, a local band performs covers of famous Corsican crooners like Tino Rossi and Charles Rocchi.  And there is a very good dinner “en plein air” with folk music at the Domaine Pozzo di Mastri Ferme Auberge near Figari.

Having reached your cultural excursion,  Romanesque chapel, coastal scenery, misty mountains, Corsican cold cuts and “figarelli” pork sausage thresholds,  you return to port to discover what Corozan and the galley brigade have in store for you next.

Sadly, Corazon hasn’t quite mastered a likeness to a local chestnut-fed pig.

But she’s working on it. flies daily to Nice. CroisiEurope’s seven-night Corsica cruise operates weekly between April and October with prices from £2,427 per person.
Price includes the cruise with all meals and drinks and port fees. CroisiEurope can also arrange flights and transfers. Call 01756 691 269 or visit


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