It’s been said that when you arrive in an unfamiliar place, the quickest way to get a sense of the scene is to pick up a copy of the local newspaper. If that’s true, then the tourism council of Corsica—the increasingly glamorous yet perennially trouble-plagued French Mediterranean island—might want to launch a censored version of the daily Corse-Matin for vacationers. Among the paper’s features during my stay were an account of a bring-your-own-rifle memorial service for an assassinated Corsican nationalist (the front-page photo showed armed mourners wearing black masks and hoods in the middle of the woods), a report on packs of wild boar descending from the mountains to forage for food at luxury beachside resorts, and an item about a dismembered corpse discovered in the pristine waters of the Valinco Gulf.
One bit of news that didn’t make the paper: Kate Moss had arrived on the island. She and her then new husband, rocker Jamie Hince, were honeymooning on a yacht in the port of Saint-Florent, but the editors at Corse-Matin either didn’t know that or—more likely—didn’t care.
This 3,400-square-mile chunk of geological eye candy just north of Sardinia has long held an irresistible allure for in-the-know Europeans, even if its sternly independent natives haven’t always returned the affection. Almost everyone who’s been to Corsica will be quick to call it the most gorgeous island in the Mediterranean—an impossibly scenic amalgam of alpine peaks, thick chestnut forests, and fortified medieval villages, all surrounded by a coastline of spectacular granite cliffs and calm turquoise coves that rival anything in Greece or St. Barths. Over the centuries, however, the persistence of warfare and insularity and deadly vendettas—not to mention, more recently, a penchant among local activists for bombing the seasonal homes of wealthy vacationers from the mainland—have given Corsica something of an image problem. Of course, that very problem has helped stave off large-scale development, which has only increased the island’s cachet in an age that values the unspoiled and the untamed.
“While every other place is getting ruined, Corsica is still unbelievably natural and wild,” says model and actress Laetitia Casta (last year’s Gainsbourg; this fall’s Arbitrage), who is half-Corsican and spends summers at her family’s place on the northern coast. “Now it’s becoming more fashionable to go there, but that’s because it remains so unique and so authentic.”
In addition to its embarrassment of natural wonders, Corsica increasingly boasts a certain kind of stealthy chic—one that has little to do with the paparazzi-friendly draws of Saint-Tropez or Ibiza. “All kinds of interesting people are coming here,” says Philippe Costamagna, director of the Palais Fesch museum in the city of Ajaccio. “But they’re hidden in pockets.” The Palais Fesch’s extraordinary collection of Italian paintings is considered, after the Louvre’s, the best in France, and Costamagna—a transplanted Parisian who lives north of Ajaccio in an 18th-century manse—is accustomed to receiving luminaries such as Princess Caroline of Hanover, who anchors her yacht in the local harbor.