Until Napoléon III had a coach road built around Cap Corse in the nineteenth century, the promontory was effectively cut off from the rest of the island, relying on Italian maritime traffic for its income – hence its distinctive Tuscan dialect. Many Capicursini later left to seek their fortunes in the colonies of the Caribbean, which explains the distinctly ostentatious mansions, or palazzi, built by the successful émigrés (nicknamed “les Américains”) on their return. For all the changes brought by the modern world, Cap Corse still feels like a separate country, with wild flowers in profusion, vineyards and quiet, traditional fishing villages.
Forty kilometres long and only fifteen across, the peninsula is divided by a spine of mountains called the Serra, which peaks at Cima di e Folicce, 1324m above sea level. The coast on the east side of this divide is characterized by tiny ports, or marines, tucked into gently sloping river-mouths, alongside coves which become sandier as you go further north. The villages of the western coast are sited on rugged cliffs, high above the rough sea and tiny rocky inlets that can be glimpsed from the corniche road.Read More
A port since Roman times, well-sheltered Macinaggio, 20km north of Erbalunga, was developed by the Genoese in 1620 for the export of olive oil and wine to the Italian peninsula. The Corsican independence leader, Pascal Paoli, landed here in 1790 after his exile in England, whereupon he kissed the ground and uttered the words “O ma patrie, je t’ai quitté esclave, je te retrouve libre” (“Oh my country, I left you as a slave, I rediscover you a free man”). There’s not much of a historic patina to the place nowadays, but with its packed marina and line of colourful seafront awnings, Macinaggio has a certain appeal, made all the stronger by its proximity to some of the wildest landscape on the Corsican coast.
Another reason to linger is to sample the superb Clos Nicrosi wines, grown in the terraces above the village, which you can taste at the domaine’s little shop on the north side of the Rogliano road, opposite the U Ricordu hotel.
North of the town lie some beautiful stretches of sand and clear sea – an area demarcated as the Site Naturel de la Capandula. A marked footpath, known as Le Sentier des Douaniers because it used to be patrolled by customs officials, threads its way across the hills and coves of the reserve, giving access to an area that cannot by reached by road.
When Dr Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell, arrived here from England in 1765, the former Roman settlement of Centuri-Port was a tiny fishing village, recommended to him for its peaceful detachment from the dangerous turmoil of the rest of Corsica. Not much has changed since Boswell’s time: Centuri-Port exudes tranquillity despite a serious influx of summer residents, many of them artists who come to paint the fishing boats in the slightly prettified harbour, where the grey-stone wall is highlighted by the green serpentine roofs of the encircling cottages, restaurants and bars. The only drawback is the beach, which is disappointingly muddy and not ideal for sunbathing.