Les Calanches – Ajaccio, Corsica, France

A Hairpin Coastal Drive on Corsica, a Mountain in the Sea

Except for its eastern coast’s 200-mile stretch of white and gold sand beaches, Corsica resembles a mountain in the middle of the sea. The Greeks called it Kalliste, “the most beautiful.” Les Calanches takes its name from the weathered granite pinnacles and phantasmagorical outcroppings whose colors shift from every shade of orange and pink to vermilion according to the day’s light.

With precipitous drops of up to 3,000 feet to the sparkling indigo sea below, their eroded formations were described by Guy de Maupassant as “a night­marish menagerie petrified by the will of an extravagant god.” Except for late July and August, when the island is inundated with European visitors, the roads remain blissfully uncrowded. Whether you take the narrow road that weaves through the Calanches archways or one that meanders deep into the empty, craggy interior, Corsica is a place of astonishing nat­ural beauty.

Its charm is evocative of the old Mediterranean, not French or even European in character. Hotels are small, individualistic, and rustic, except for the luxurious beachside Le Maquis, named for the thick underbrush of thyme, lavender, and sage that clothes the untamed interior like an aromatic mantle— giving Corsica its nickname, “the perfumed isle.”

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