For those here who are interested in areas outside of Paris--in this case, way outside of Paris--I thought I would provide a brief report on the two weeks we recently spent in Corsica. My wife and I were traveling with our two kids, so we did not always get to eat at the restaurants we preferred, but that's the way it goes.
We spent one week in the northern part of the island, and one week in the south. The north has a different feel to it--it is more spread out and on the whole, more "French" than the south, which has more of an Italian feel to it and is more dedicated to tourism. A working knowledge of French is a near-necessity throughout Corsica, as the Island seems to see very few English-speaking tourists. In fact, the only English we heard (outside of our family) the entire trip was a waitress in a mountain restaurant who happened to be from my hometown in Maryland.
In general, eating out is relatively expensive in Corsica, but not more so than other desireable vacation areas of France, or Europe generally. Lunch for our family of four usually ran close to 80 euros, including wine, bottled water, and sometimes dessert. Even though Corsica is an island, the menus are heavily meat-oriented. The seafood tends to be expensive and not particularly memorable, although there are of course exceptions. Sanglier (wild boar) is prevalent, and is served primarily braised (often in a pasta sauce) or as salumi, much of which is excellent. The salumi is generally of a very high quality and is made from regular pork, as well as sanglier. It is widely available in grocery stores, restaurants, and roadside stands selling local food products. For me, the food highlights of the trip were the local fruit (for the most part, stone fruit, especially apricots), and Corsican wine, especially the roses and whites. During our visit, (last two weeks of June) Corsican apricots, peaches and nectarines were everywhere and could be had for between 3 and 6 euros per kilo at roadside stands and grocery stores. Oddly, it was somewhat difficult to find Corsican preserves from these fruits, as most of it tended to be made from figs, myrtle, oranges, chestnuts, or some combination thereof. Corsican wines are, as you would expect, available everywere and are everywere inexpensive. As you might not expect, though, the quality of the wines is extremely high. I would have to agree with the wine importer Kermit Lynch, who says that Corsica is the most exciting wine region in France right now. As in most of France, pichets and demi-pichets are served in almost all restaurants and cost about 10 euros per litre. Most of these wines were quite good, better than the typical house wines served in other parts of Europe. But for only a little more, you can buy whole bottles off the list from some of the top producers on the island. Because it was hot, we drank white and rosee, which is the overwhelming choice of most restaurant customers in Corsica during the summer. Producers to look for include Torraccia (Porto-Vecchio), Maestracci (Calvi), Columbu (Calvi), Alzipratu (Calvi), Gioelli (Cap Corse), Clos Nicrosi (Cap Corse), Domaine Gentile (Patrimonio) Clos Teddy (Patrimonio), Arena (Patrimonio), Canarelli (Figari), and Abattucci (Ajaccio), but there are dozens of other excellent producers. All the grocery stores on the Island sell a broad selection of really good Corsican wines, as well as an anonymous selection of wines from other parts of France. Many of the roadside produce stands (and even gas stations, believe it or not) also sell really good Corsican wines, but the prices tend to be a little higher. If I were an American wine importer, I would be spending a lot of time in Corsica.
I was surprisingly disappointed in the olive oil and honey of Corsica. The honey is primarily of chestnut and maqui, both of which tend to have a strong flavor I find off-putting. The Corsican olive oils I tried were very light in color and not flavorful--among my least favorite European olive oils. And the Corsican oils are very expensive, to boot.
We usually did not eat dinner out, preferring to make lunch our main meal of the day, and have a light dinner at our rental apartment. A lot of the restaurants we ate at were pretty non-descript ones, catering to French tourists. The menus tended to be similar after a while, and the food, although good, was not memorable. Many restaurants serve pizza at lunch, and those that do tend to have wood-burning ovens, so the quality of the pizza is high, although not quite up to the standards of Campania or Sicily. Corsican ham is a popular topping. Often it is topped with Brocciu, a local, mozzarella-like goat cheese. A pizza at lunch costs between 8 to 14 euros, depending on the restaurant and the toppings. Our kids at a lot of pizza and they were rarely disappointed.
Another thing to look for in Corsica is the roadside stands selling rotisserie chickens. They are cheap and delicious, and tipically come with potatoes and fresh vegetables (grilled peppers, onions, eggplant). A full meal for 4 will set you back around 20 euros.
Here are the restaurants I can recommend:
A Cassarella (Pigna): a small plates restaurant with an incredible view. Very carefullty prepared food, all of which was excellent, especially the chick pea puree (I don't want to call it hummus) and the best tapenade I've ever had. Small but excellent (and cheap) wine list. Lunch for four of us cost about 55 euros, including wine.
Potager du Nebbio (Oletta): basically, a working farm just outside of St. Florent, at the base of the Cap Corse. Probably the best food of the trip, but it took us forever to get served. My sense is that there was just one (talented) guy or gal working in the kitchen. The dishes are made with a lighter, more creative touch than the tipical restaurant fare in Corsica. You definitely want to reserve; we didn't and I think that was part of the problem. Dishes are made mainly with products grown on the farm.
Chez Dede (Ponte-Leccia)--a rural road-side restaurant with very good main plates and pizza. Main plates are primarily meat, but are served with fresh and well-prepared vegetables on the side, not always the case in Corsica. Excellent and inexpensive wine list.
Restaurant 39.2 Degrees (Cala Rosa Plage). Our favorite beach-side restaurant of the trip--and we ate at quite a few. Cala Rosa is a beatiful (mostly locals) beach just outside of Porto-Vecchio, in southern Corsica. This restaurant is located right on the sand. The pizza and the grilled octopus salad are outstanding. Wine list is small, but inexpensive, and well-chosen. For the quality, price and location, this place can't be beat. Excellent and friendly service, too, which was not always the case during our Corsican travels. We ate here twice.
I apologize because this report really just scratches the surface. I would be happy to answer specific questions if you are curious or are thinking about visiting Corsica. It is an incredible place and really deserves to be more widely known outside of France, although that would probably detract from its charms.
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