Corsican Coastline (David Morris)
There can be no Mediterranean island so spectacular as Corsica. There can be no island anywhere, as mountainous. It is truly a green mountain in a turquoise sea. Further, and what is so remarkable, is that an island so well-deserving of its ancient Greek name, Kaliste (the most beautiful), is so delightfully free of tourists and tourist development. Corsica’s wild and rugged landscape is wholly dominated by the huge granitic mountains which soar to nearly 2,740 metres and form a giant spine that runs the length of the island. Accessible only via tortuous winding roads, or pretty mountain trails, Corsica provides a near perfect Naturetrek destination, its numerous endemic plant and bird species ensuring its appeal to the naturalist. On this holiday we will be staying in two simple but comfortable mountain hotels, both situated in fabulous settings. From them we will be exploring the island’s wealth of natural history, wherever possible on foot.
Corsica is by far the greenest of the Mediterranean islands, in part because it is the least populated of the larger islands, but also because it is so remarkably well covered with unspoiled natural forest and maquis. The riot of colour presented each spring by the profusion of blossoming plants, the lush green meadows and forests, the towering snow-capped peaks, and the deep blue sea and sky will undoubtedly provide one of the great memories of this holiday. It is Corsica’s isolation from mainland Europe, being 160 kilometres from the coast of southern France, and 80 kilometres from the Italian mainland, together with its exceptional topography, that give the island its unique cultural blend, and cause the high degree of endemism amongst its flora and fauna (although many of the endemics are shared with neighbouring Sardinia, just 12 kilometres away). The endemic Corsican Nuthatch occurs in the island’s high pine forests, as do endemic races of the Citril Finch and Crossbill, amongst others. The acidic nature of Corsica’s rock does slightly limit the variety of plants, but amongst the many endemics we will hope to see are Pinguicula corsica, Crocus corsicus, Leucojum longifolium, Corsican Pine and Corsican Hellebore, plus a wonderful range of orchids.
We begin our holiday by flying to Calvi in the north of the island. From here we will drive south-west through the scented air of the maquis to Evisa, taking the scenic route that winds through the rugged and almost uninhabited hills that rise abruptly from the island’s coastline.
This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful corners of the island, with its extensive maquis and Holm Oak forest providing cover for many bird species, including Woodchat Shrike, Marmora’s, Subalpine and Dartford Warblers, and Bee-eaters. Overhead fly Alpine and Pallid Swifts.
Driving on, we will reach Evisa, a beautiful hilltop village in one of Corsica’s finest settings. High in the mountains, yet overlooking the sea and the spectacular Spelunca Gorge, the view from our hotel terrace is breath-taking. From this base, we will spend the first part of our holiday looking for Corsican Nuthatches in the Forest of Aitone, enjoying the fabulous scenery and flowers of the Spelunca Gorge, and looking at the exceptional variety of coastal and wetland birds and plants to be found on the Liamone Estuary and the dunes of the Golfe de Sagone.
Crossing the Col de Verghio, and driving through the extensive forests of Aitone and Valdo-Niello, we will descend to the historic town of Corte, Corsica’s ancient capital. Nearby is the beautiful valley of La Restonica, in the heart of the Corsican National Park. This is a long, narrow and spectacular valley, with numerous walking opportunities and an interesting range of birds and plants. To explore the region we will spend the second part of our holiday in a comfortable auberge in the Restonica Valley itself, an ideal base for our birding and botanical walks in the area. In the Gorge de la Restonica and the beautiful high alpine meadows of the Asco Valley we will look for Cyclamen repandum and Leucojum longifolium, Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Alpine Accentor, Alpine Chough and Water Pipit. In the forest of Corsican Pines near Vizzavona we have our best chance of finding Corsican Nuthatches, Crossbills and Citril Finches, whilst in the nearby Verghello Valley, that sits between the giant summits of Monte Cinto and Monte d’Oro, a range of differing vegetation provides a corresponding diversity of bird and plant species.
Finally, by way of a contrast from the island’s dominating mountain habitats, we will visit one of Corsica’s few good wetlands, the coastal lake of Biguglia. Here, a good variety of wetland birds may be found, supplemented by such specialities as Red-footed Falcon, Osprey or Audouin’s Gull, a final treat perhaps, from a truly special destination!