From Ajaccio, the vista of whitewashed villas and sandy beaches lining the opposite side of the gulf may tempt you out of town when you first arrive. On closer inspection, however, Porticcio turns out to be a faceless string of leisure settlements for Ajaccio’s smart set, complete with tennis courts, malls and flotillas of jet-skis. Better to skip this stretch and press on south along the route nationale (RN194) which, after scaling the Col de Celaccia, winds down to the stunning Golfe de Valinco. A vast blue inlet bounded by rolling, scrub-covered hills, the gulf presents the first dramatic scenery along the coastal highway. It also marks the start of militant and Mafia-ridden south Corsica, more closely associated with vendetta, banditry and separatism than any other part of the island. Many of the mountain villages glimpsed from the roads hereabouts are riven with age-old divisions, exacerbated in recent years by the spread of organized crime and nationalist violence. But the island’s seamier side is rarely discernible to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who pass through each summer, most of whom stay around the small port of Propriano, at the eastern end of the gulf. In addition to offering most of the area’s tourist amenities, this busy resort town lies within easy reach of the menhirs at Filitosa, one of the western Mediterranean’s most important prehistoric sites.

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