Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily lie in the Mediterranean Sea off the west coast of Italy as stepping stones between Europe and Africa. Belonging to Italy and France, they are similar in character yet each has a distinct flavour of its own.
Corsica is a French owned island with a strong sense of identity and pride. A history of attack and settlement has done nothing to quench the fierce independence of the island, which fuses aspects of both France and Italy yet is Corsican in its own right. Even today, French road signs attract the attention of hot flying pieces of lead, so they have to be written in Corsican too. Corsica is beautiful, unspoilt and old-fashioned, and with its white sands, mountainous cliffs and transparent water, it is the perfect getaway destination. Although it is strongly influenced by France, it retains elements of Italian culture, music and cuisine. The island is filled with baroque churches, Genoese fortresses, fervent Catholic rituals including a festival celebrating a mountain pig and its own Tuscan-influenced language and cuisine. As Corsica is an island right in the middle of the Mediterranean it is constantly being attacked and settled upon. When this happens, historically everyone rushes to the mountains to their secret hideaway. Mountains cover a third of Corsica and hikers flock to the peaks and gorges in the valley of Restonica.
The unit of currency on all three islands is the Euro.
$1 US – 1.15 Euros
£1 UK – 1.6 Euros
Shoestring travellers can get by on the islands for about $40 US a day, though food and drink may be more than expected and can fall close to mainland price during high season. Self-catering and travelling during the quiet season will be kinder on your purse strings. The interior of the island is less expensive than the coast. If you have the money, splash out on around $70 a day for a more luxurious trip.
Corsica has a population of 260,000. Its population is a mishmash of Corsican, French, Moroccan, Italian, Portugese and Tunisian inhabitants in a predominately Roman Catholic country.
In Sicily, most of the people cluster around the coastline and inland is virtually un-populated . The typical rural work of the people are become increasingly urbanised as people move from the hills and highlands to the islands cities in search of work. The official language is Italian and most are of Roman Catholic religious roots.
Sardinia is one of the least populated regions in Italy, but it can soon become crowded when the tourist season looms. Goat and sheep framing is a traditional activity for people, but tourism, traditional crafts and industry provide many jobs for the predominantly Catholic people.
One of the reasons Corsica is unspoilt is due to its isolation. It’s not on any major air routes and must be reached from the continent. Most people pass through one of the French airports. Road and ferry are also an option – the latter provides some spectacular views of the approaching island. Once on the island, it is still difficult to get around. Although there are four airports there are no internal flights available. Be prepared to struggle with an unreliable bus network – though there are connections even between the smaller towns. The island has only two rail lines, though travelling this way provides some majestic scenery.
To island hop around the Mediterranean you’ll need to rely on the local ferry service which is fairly cheap, but be prepared for a not altoghether smooth ride…
Corsica’s fun-loving Italian influence reveals itself through their great love of festivals. Corsica’s world famous cheese festival held at the end of April to celebrate their Brocciu and Fromage Corse, and a major wine festival held in July. December sees locals kicking up their heels to the oldest and most important festival – honouring the chestnut. In fact, you can sample the delights of chestnut fritters and cake made of what once once a staple of the Corsican diet. Smoked pork from wild pigs who dine on the chestnuts. Pastis and pizzerias.
Busa, a durum wheat pasta is the main staple of Sardinia cuisine. Culurjonis raviola is made from it and filled with delicious ricotta cheese, herbs eggs or other flavourings and also the tarditional Pane Carasau bread, made of flat crackling sheets.
Sicilian food is thought to be the greatest in the Mediterranean. Seafood and fresh vegetables are the stables, with influences as far and wide as Greece, the Romans and exotic spices from the East. Sicilian food is extremely healthy. Tuna, swordfish, anchovies, sardines, and plentiful shellfish are the most-often seen catches prepared simply with strong flavours like olives, capers and sun dried tomatoes. Fresh sardines with pasta is a delicious treat hard to rival.
Sardinia has its own language – Sardo, a Romanic language which is spoken by over 1 million people on the island, although Italian is widely spoken by most. Several other different ancient anguages are spoken by minorities in rural areas including Catalan, Ligurian, Arabic, Spanish and even ancient Etruscan and Phoenician still survive.
Corsica’s official language is French, but Corsu (Corsican) – a latin based language mixed with French and Arabic and Italian influences if spoken as a first language for many.
Italian is the main language spoken in Siciliy, with several regional dialects.
English may be spoken in tourist resorts on all islands, but if you’re heading for secluded inland regions, make sure you can speak at least a little Italian or French.
The islands have the most visitors in the summer during July and August, though the crowds and the sweltering heat may be avoided in May and June. Temperatures average between 14 c (50 f) from January-March, to 27 c (80 f) July through September. Be warned that in early spring, late autumn and winter many places on the island focused around tourism will shut down.
Shorts, sandals and beachwear are fine for the humid months, and a light jacket for winter. Take suitably modest clothing if you intend to visit some of the many Catholic churches.
EU nationals have no entry requirements. Citizens of Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Israel can stay without a visa for 3 months – most others need a Schengen visa. Check with your local embassy or travel agent for entry requirements.
By Susi O’Neill
Corsica, Sicily & Sardinia
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