Known as the Île de Beauté, Corsica doesn’t disappoint when it comes to warm azure waters and crystal-clear skies. Eve Middleton reveals the best beach spots to soak up the sun in the island’s Extrême Sud
1 Tonnara beach
Best for: Beachside dining
Being enveloped in summer heat as the aeroplane door opens is an enticing way to start a holiday in France; add a beach visit within half an hour of landing and you’re on to a winner. Although by no means the best-known of Corsica’s must-see beaches, Tonnara was a delightful surprise. It took only 20 minutes to complete all the formalities at Figari Airport before my friend Laura and I were heading for the beach, based on a lunch recommendation from the car hire clerk. After leaving the main N196 to Bonifacio, we followed the winding road until a sign pointed us to the car park in front of the wide expanse of sandy beach, where a scattering of Sunday bathers were enjoying the mid-afternoon sunshine. Like us, most had chosen to eat under the awnings of Le Goéland, a beachside café with mouth-watering seafood dishes (tel: (Fr) 4 95 73 02 51, www.tonnara.net). Across an inlet, the restaurant Chez Marco offers a more luxurious experience inside a glass-fronted building. Menus start from around €60 and there is even an in-house water taxi service for guests arriving in their own boat (tel: (Fr) 6 24 56 94 76, www.chezmarco-tonnara.com).
Our tip: Order the moules royales (€18) at Le Goéland and feast on delicious mussels cooked with scallops, squid and fat, juicy prawns.
2 Pinarellu beach
Best for: Relaxing in the shade
Soaking up the sun is obviously an important part of a beach holiday, but it’s nice to be able to escape from the heat every now and then. Temperatures easily reach 35°C during Corsican summers, so it is worth knowing that Pinarellu beach, around seven kilometres north of Porto-Vecchio on the east coast, is backed by an unobtrusive pine forest. Set yourself up on the long sweep of soft white sand under the gaze of the Genoese tower at the end of the beach, and you can while away the day with a book in hand, punctuated only by an occasional refreshing dip in the turquoise waters. For a spot of activity, early morning is an ideal time to explore further round the cove, scrambling over the warm amber rockface at the southern end of the strip. Be careful about the tides and you’ll be rewarded with views across the Golfe de Pinarellu and up to the vineyards of the renowned Domaine de Torraccia, whose vintages feature on the wine lists of many leading restaurants, including Le Gavroche in London.
Carry on further and you reach a campsite with private access to a cove set into the coastline – if you’re feeling the need by now to shelter from the sun, you’d be advised to turn back, as it’s one of the island’s nudist beaches.
Our tip: Find a spot under the pine trees when it gets too hot.
3 San Ciprianu beach
Best for: A cocktail or two
Further down the coast towards Porto-Vecchio, San Ciprianu beach stands proud on a crescent of soft sand. The crumbling watchtower is a potent reminder of the era when Corsica was ruled by the Republic of Genoa, before it became part of France nearly 250 years ago. What would the soldiers stationed here have thought of today’s sun worshippers?
San Ciprianu is now a lively beach, with a mixed crowd of all generations. At one end, dignified ladies were taking a stately dip in the sea, while at the other end, younger crowds had set up sociable points. Choosing a spot somewhere between will reward visitors with beautiful views and the sight of luxury boats in the distance. Uniting all sections of society are San Ciprianu’s paillote (straw hut) beach bars: Le Tiki is a classy, feet-in-the-sand affair with wooden decking and white linen sunloungers, complemented by the blue counterparts at Chez Mario on the opposite side. Both offer opportunities for a spot of indulgence. The pontoon in front is perfect for those who want to swim a little further out than the ladies in bathing caps – just make sure you take to the water before and not after you’ve had a glass in hand.
Our tip: Arrive for breakfast at the beach bars to get complimentary sunloungers for the day.
4 Piantarella beach
Best for: Stretching your legs
At the far south of the island, just beyond Bonifacio and its impressive façade hewn out of the rockface, stands Piantarella beach. It is not the sort of beach for sitting down and relaxing, but backed as it is by marshland, it makes an interesting starting point for a walk along to the Pointe de Sperone, taking in stunning views and island markers. Begin in the car park, and take a right turn – it may feel like you are heading into a plethora of rock pools, but persist and soon you will turn a corner on to a headland that looks out on to a wide panorama that includes the Îles Lavezzi. Accessible by boat from the beach or from Bonifacio, these small islands were the scene of shipwrecks and other dramas in times gone by.
Boat companies run sightseeing tours around the Îles Lavezzi and can also drop off and pick up visitors at set times from individual islands. There are no facilities ashore (except on the privately owned Île Cavallo), so take everything you need for your trip.
Our tip: Enjoy a packed lunch on your walk while looking out over the islands.
5 Pointe de Sperone
Best for: Blending with the locals
If you’re walking from Piantarella beach, leave the Îles Lavezzi behind and clamber down from the headland to the first of two beaches on the Pointe de Sperone. Petit Sperone is a mere 100 metres long, backed by a charmingly ramshackle wooden fence reining in sand dunes strewn with grassy knolls, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. While admiring this gentle cove and its shallow waters, we saw wealthy sunbathers side-by-side with bearded fishermen on their lunch break, not to mention one sprightly old chap taking his poodle for a swim.
Our tip: Leave the guidebook at home to feel like a local.
6 Grand Sperone
Best for: A complete hideaway
Leave Petit Sperone by the steps cut into the cliff-face and follow the path through shrubland behind an impressively plush golf course. It leads on to a smoother surfaced road, accessible by car (or golf buggy) from the opposite direction. Follow the road off the clifftops and you’ll be rewarded with a more expansive version of its neighbour. Grand Sperone’s larger size does not mean the beach is less intimate – this is one for those who really want to get away from it all.
Our tip: Pack flip-flops for the beach, but sturdy shoes for the walk.
7 Rondinara beach
Best for: All the generations
We were tipped off about Rondinara beach by chance after overhearing an exchange between an elderly mother, her middle¬aged neighbour and young daughter (with small children) about the bon weekend they had enjoyed there.
It sounded like a much¬loved location, and so it proved. Families with children were dotted around with the air of those who had beach¬friendly attire ready for a seaside visit at a moment’s notice.
As we took in the inviting waters and flat expanse of sand, many a papa and maman were holding the hands of their toddlers splashing along in the shallows. In the distance, the well-worn wooden slats of the jetty stood bleached by the sun, while at the end a grandad in Speedos sat gazing out to the horizon, with the family dog by his side.
We opted for something a little more energetic by taking out one of the jauntily coloured yellow and turquoise pedaloes lining the shore near the jetty. Our trip soon turned into a friendly competition with two young boys to see who could race back to shore the faster – proof that Rondinara appeals to both the young and the young at heart.
Our tip: Indulge your inner child with an on-site ice cream.
8 Roccapina beach
Best for: Wild Beauty
Venture to the west of the island’s Extrême Sud, beyond Tonnara beach, and an impressive natural rock formation in the shape of a lion forms a dramatic backdrop to Roccapina beach. Legend has it that a bandit stashed jewels looted from a shipwreck in the Rocher du Lion and that when light hits it, certain reflections glint more than others.
The same sense of drama and excitement is available for those who – like us – try their hand at 4×4 driving down the dirt track leading to the beach below the hills. This style of driving isn’t for the faint¬hearted, but we saw more wary visitors taking their time by walking down instead.
What awaits is a secluded, pearly-white cove that soon fills up in high season, despite its apparent inaccessibility. Our visit in September, however, saw us serenely pass the late afternoon hours at the end of our stay, bidding au revoir to Corsica as the sun set in the pink sky.
Our tip: To get the best picture of the Rocher du Lion, stop at the Casa di Roccapina visitor centre just before the Auberge Corali.
Eve travelled with Corsican Places and stayed at Casa di Pruno, a bungalow villa in Tarrabucceta, near Figari. Prices start from £499 per person for a seven-night holiday package based on four sharing, including return flights from London (Corsican Places’ charter flight with British Airways) and care hire. Tel: 0845 330 2059, www.corsica.co.uk