Corsica, whilst strictly a French département, is actually a fiercely independent island, closer to Italy than to France, a few miles north of Sardinia. Wild, mountainous, great beaches, potent cheese and improving wines.
It has not been the easiest place to visit in the past, usually entailing Easyjet (Liverpool) or Jet2 (Leeds) to Nice or Marseilles, then Air Corsica to Calvi (northwest), Bastia (northeast), Ajaccio (southwest) or Figari (southeast). However, since last year, Air Corsica have run two (excellent) flights a week each week from Stansted to and from Figari. Right through the summer. So, whilst the drive down the A1 is a bit of a drag (three hours from Leeds/Wetherby), the possibilities of a short break are far greater than previously was the case.
There is a vibrant trail running community in Corsica and, therefore, a lot of good races to choose from during summer (Corsicans are not great winter competitors). I will mention a couple here, in case anyone would fancy building a short break around them.
First, chronologically, is E Nivere. This race starts and ends in the lovely village of Cardo, in the hills outside Bastia. It is usually on or around the first weekend in April, so a great warm-up for the 3Peaks. The weather at this time of the year in Corsica is really changeable: I have run E Nivere in 28 degrees of gorgeous spring sunshine, and in 12 degrees of pouring rain. But it is never really cold, not like the 3Peaks can be.
The main race is about 25K with 1500m of elevation. Essentially, there are two big climbs, stunning views of Bastia and good runnable terrain. As with all Corsican races, the trail is marked, not brilliantly, but enough never to need think about taking a map out. E Nivere, again as with most Corsican races is low key but very well supported by local villages, who usually raise funds for local causes.
The only big Corsican races take place in Corte in July, when they have a festival culminating in the Ultra de Restonica, about 120K. It is very easy to do E Nivere if you are staying in Bastia which, as the largest town in Corsica — this is not saying a lot as Corsica’s entire population is less than that of Coventry — has plenty going on.
Next is the Trail du Lac d’Ospedale. This is always at the end of July in Cartalavone, a tiny hamlet near beautiful Ospedale which itself is in the hills outside of Porto Vecchio (served by Figari airport). The Trail du Lac is a much shorter race, it’s only about 12K with 450m elevation. It is very runnable through beautiful larici pine forests around the Ospedale reservoir. It is such a nice race, with a great atmosphere, and always stunning weather. And it’s always short enough not to occupy a huge chunk of your day. Also there are loads of food at the end, and it takes place next to a fabulous restaurant, Le Refuge. Cartalavone is only about 30 minutes drive from PortoVecchio, which is a cracking town near to the best beaches in Corsica (which is saying something).
Finally, there is the Trail di Monte Cardu. This one takes place near to Corte in the middle of the island, where you find the most spectacular scenery. It is a bit like E Nivere but, given that it takes place towards the end of August, it will usually be brutally hot. This is another decent-sized course, similar in length and elevation to E Nivere, but it feels tougher because of the time of year. Being so far inland, away from the resorts, this race route feels the most like real Corsica. Some of Corsica’s best trail runners live in the area such as Lambert Santelli, Thomas Angeli and Guillaume Peretti. who held the record for GR20, beating Kilian Jornet’s time and only losing the record a couple of years ago to Francois d’Haene.
Now that Corsica is a lot more accessible than it used to be, I would certainly recommend combining a holiday with a race. It is almost certainly the case that you will be the only non Corsican/French competitor, apart from the odd 2REP paratrooper, who could be from anywhere in the world, and the Corsican trail community are a pretty friendly bunch, so you would be made welcome.
It’s very easy to enter races via Corse-Chrono. You’ll need your UK Athletics card on race day [ed’s note: always check the race instructions, many French RO’s require a medical certificate] or considerable ability to charm your way into being allowed to compete without it.
Also, if anyone is just interested in nice running trails in the south of the island let me know, as I have twisted my ankles on most of them.