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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sample the delights of the island of Corsica

Asked to name the first package holiday destination in a pub quiz, few contestants would answer Corsica. Yet the wild and beautiful French island in the Mediterranean was where Vladimir Raitz, co-founder of Horizon Holidays, sent his first charter flight passengers on holiday in 1950.

Today, most package holidaymakers on the island are likely to be French but the island still holds a special appeal for the British. Not just for the splendid beaches and bays, but because in this recessionary summer, they will find value for money in the traditionally expensive destination.

Behind the beaches, in the northwest, is the gentle, rolling countryside of La Balagne, dotted with vineyards, woodland and, with medieval villages, such as Sant’Antonino, rising above them. Down in the southwest, inland from the Gulf of Valinco and the resort of Propriano, the road climbs to the pine forests and sculptured rocks of the Col de Bavella.

Corsica is famous for the maquis, rugged heathlands full of wild herbs and flowers, but more remarkable for its mountainous spine, rising to 2,700m (9,000ft) with deep gorges and breathtaking valleys, crisscrossed by marked paths and penetrated by roads and the railway, with dizzying viaducts and long tunnels. Visitors staying in the north, or in the capital Ajaccio, should take the train to Corte, the ancient and colourful town in the centre of the island. Recover from the journey with refreshment at one of the bars or bistros in the 19th-century square before climbing the steep steps to the 15th-century fortress.

Corsican Places has a week in a flat for two, with views over the pretty port town of St Florent on the north coast, for £699 on July 12, with a flight from Gatwick, car hire and welcome hamper. A week from July 19 in a two-bedroom stone house, near the beach and a short drive from Bonifacio, the medieval stronghold in the south, is from £799, flying from Manchester.

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