1. You’ll need a car
This is a golden rule. I don’t care if it’s a battered pick-up truck, an old 2 CV or a Mercedes with tinted windows, leather seats and air conditioning, you will absolutely need a car in Corsica. Unless you are in top physical shape and plan to do only hiking or biking around, you won’t get anywhere without your own vehicle. Don’t count on public transport. It does exist, there are some buses and there is a train that runs across the island (actually an alternative way of getting gorgeous views of the inland wilderness) but you’ll save yourself a headache without having to count on unreliable and scarce public transport. Have your own vehicle or rent one. Figure out the rest later.
2. Have some cash
While you can pay with a credit card in most places (and certainly every supermarket), bear in mind that some small businesses might not accept it, so be prepared to have some cash. Depending on where your accommodation is, the nearest ATM can be a bit far away.
Some people have asked me what language is spoken in Corsica and how to communicate with locals. The official language is French, and everybody speaks and understands French. Many people have a local accent and there is a local slang, but nearly everyone speaks French natively, apart from the very old (for example, my grandma’s sister could not speak French properly, having had little education, but these people are rare). The local language is Corsican, and many people speak it as well, but because of France’s tough policies to impose the use of French, it is somewhat endangered. If you are Italian, you should be able to communicate with a Corsican speaker and understand each other quite well if you speak slowly, but don’t try to address them directly in Italian: this is the language of the former colonizer, after all 😉 If you are an English speaker, I’ll give you the same advice: don’t speak English directly without trying first in French. If people see you trying, they will want to help you and perhaps show off their English skills, but if you expect them to speak English directly, they might feel nervous like a pupil in class and avoid talking to you (remember that speaking English can make people nervous, just like it makes you nervous to try and speak French).
As a native, I’ve obviously never had to deal with tourist offices or information centers on the island, but people have told me that it can be a bit challenging to find someone speaking English. What I can tell you is that it’s not very easy either to find information in English on internet: many restaurants or small companies have a rather old, not so helpful website or do not have a website at all. The situation is slowly changing of course. In this website I’ll put as many links as I can, but if you find yourself in need of information, don’t hesitate to ask around, that’s the best way.
4. The climate
Corsica has a Mediterranean climate for the most part, which means hot, dry summers (very little rain and a lot of blue skies from May to September), and mild, humid winters. The autumn and spring transitions are the rainiest seasons- up to a year worth of rainfall can fall in 24 hours. Floods and minor landslides (which happen when a dried up ground gets too much rainfall at the same time) are fairly common in October/November. You can expect many mild and sunny days in winter (but also some rain), dry heat and strong sun in the summer. If you are Scottish or Scandinavian and you think 25 degrees is hot, avoid July and August, as the day max can reach 35 degrees and there can be heat waves. The climate is milder than in other Mediterranean places like Greece or Turkey though, and it is generally pleasant throughout the year.
However, the typical Mediterranean climate applies only to the seaside and to the low altitude zones in Corsica. In the mountainous part of the island, bear in mind that the altitude modifies the climate. Sometimes at the end of summer, you can have a raging thunderstorm on the mountain and a gorgeous sunny day at the beach half an hour away. Corsican mountains do receive snowfall in the winter, it is even possible to go skiing. On a good winter day, you can ski in the morning and walk on the beach in the afternoon with just a small jumper. Such is the Corsican climate.
Bear in mind that weather in altitude can be unpredictable at any season. Please do not think that because you are in the Mediterranean, all you need is a pair of flip flops. If you are going hiking on a mountain, please remember to have something warm in your backpack and proper shoes, as the rocks can be treacherous. Corsican mountains are hard to access and it takes a helicopter to rescue you if you break your ankle.
The roads are often winding. There are plenty of roundabouts in urbanized areas (it’s practically a Corsican specialty, we joke about it) and the roads outside of urbanized areas are full of turns. There are very few tunnels and there are mountains everywhere. You will almost always end up having to drive across a mountain or at least some hills, even between two coastal cities. People try to get powerful engines, as it helps with going uphill. But there is no need to drive excessively slowly. Bear in mind that it’s hard to overtake, so try to keep up with the speed limit or you’ll create unnecessary traffic.
Roads that go to villages and more remote areas are often narrow with very little marking. On those small roads you need to be a bit more cautious, as cows and such animals who wander free can end up in the middle of the road. Signs can be a challenge to read because bored youth tend to paint over the official version of city names to keep the true Corsican one visible only. But don’t worry, there is usually just a one or two letters difference: Bonifacio/Bonifaziu, Sartène /Sartè, Corte/Corti etc. And the island is small, it’s not difficult to find your way around as there aren’t that many roads connecting the major cities.