Corsica vs. Sardinia: Which is better for you?

Corsica vs. Sardinia: Which is better for you?

One's got Silvio Berlusconi, the other's got bandits. No, hang on ...
Silvio on Sardinia
You may find Sardinia's most illustrious visitor on the island in summer -- depends upon the Italian courts.

Like sparring siblings, French Corsica and Italian Sardinia are similar in many ways.

The climate, for one thing, is close to identical -- toasty.

At their closest point, the Mediterranean islands are only 11 kilometers apart.

But they can be poles apart: Corsica less developed (in the interior, anyway), Sardinia more of a yacht magnet.

Both attract hundreds of thousands of tourists a year.

Both can be lovely and hypnotic.

So, which to choose?

Corsica: Wild throwback

Corsica's Piantarella BeachPiantarella Beach, on Corsica. Sardinians say the French island looks like theirs did before all the development.When first visiting, many Italians say Corsica is how Sardinia looked 20 years ago, before big tourism hauled up on the shore.

There are wild landscapes, pristine white-sand beaches with barely a beach house in sight -- and the water level is completely unaffected by any mega-yachts floating offshore.

The law keeps it like this -- specifically the 1986 Coast Law, which prohibits the construction of new buildings within 100 meters of the coast outside urban areas.

Corsican beaches that wouldn’t look out of place on a Polynesian postcard rack include Saleccia, abutting the Agriates Desert. (Corsica has its own mini-“desert," more scrub land than sweeping dunes.)

Another beautiful beach is Palombaggia, near the town of Porto Vecchio.

Corsica’s relatively unspoiled nature also makes it a kind of promised land for hikers and cyclists. The GR 20, a long-distance European trail (one of the toughest around) snakes over the island.

Corsica is wild in another sense: with its own Mafia, who usually communicate in impenetrable Corsican (Corsu).

Deadly violence flares up between the clans now and then, but tourists are largely immune.

For more on Corsica’s beaches, see Visit-Corsica.com.

Sardinia: Costly culture

SardiniaSardinia tends to cater to a more cashed-up crowd.Sardinia has more of the whiff of money about it.

This is especially true on the Emerald Coast, a 20-kilometer-long strip lined with Russian and other billionaires’ wedding cake villas and private beaches.

Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has a retreat on the Costa Smeralda. His house has an underground swimming grotto, complete with Poseidon mosaic.

If you like your island stays cosseted, you may love this and many similar parts of Sardinia.

It's not all ritz. The wild southern dunes of the Piscinas or Chia regions or, seven kilometers off Sardinia, the isle of San Pietro, offer more natural settings.

See SardegnaTurismo, for more on the island’s wild spots -- however you define them.

Food fight: Point Sardinia

Foodies should make Sardinia their first stop.

The island’s cuisine incorporates meat, fish and pasta with equal variety.

Traditional dishes include tiny, shell-like maloreddu pasta, wild piglet cooked in honey and spaghetti with sea urchins.

Fresh fish is grilled, fried, roasted or poached and often topped with elaborate sauces and dressings or a specialty called "bottarga," delicious Sardinian mullet roe.

Tuna is served raw and rare in the town of Carloforte (Al Tonno di Corsa, Via Marconi 47; +33 495 781 855 106), which is known for its annual tuna fishing festival.

Sardinia has a busy wine list, too, especially if you like whites -- dry Vermentino di Gallura is one of the island’s best-known; Funtanaliras is an aromatic contrast.

Corsica's contented pigs

Corsican sausageCorsica's pigs end up as saucisson ... they seem unfazed about it.Corsica also has traditional menus, but with less variety.

Clams filled with cream or melted Roquefort are a striking specialty, from the town of Bonifacio (L’Escale, Quai Jérôme Comparetti 4; +33 495 731 979).

Generally, though, for an island, fish menus are limited on Corsica.

This is a meaty place. Charcuterie plateaux features all types of ham, salami and local cheese.

An island specialty is Corsica's saucissons -- dense, cured sausages that look like mini-truncheons, available everywhere.

They contain enough flavor to keep a Corsican bandit happy when hiding out in the inland wilderness (the maquis of legend) and appropriately keep for weeks without refrigeration.

You’re struck by how contended the half-wild pigs appear, lazing in the undergrowth all over the island.

Corsica: Happy campers

Corsica has more than 150 camp sites, with more than 25,000 places to pitch.

Some are like little towns, with full-service laundries, pizzerias and restaurants, bars and Wi-Fi.

With so many campers, you’d think you’d be constantly tripping over Gore-Tex, but sites tend to be clustered in areas with easy access to beaches -- again, the inland is unbesmirched.

More about Corsican camping is available at Campingcorse.com.

The island's strict planning laws prohibit much development on the coast.

Accordingly, many hotels and resorts are clustered a few hundred meters inland, as if afraid of the sea.

Others are a kilometer or more from the coast and tend to be more upscale, such as Residence Pietra di Sole (+33 495 70 36 74), which rises on a hillside with views over Palombaggia beach.

Inland, accommodation is often in converted ancient inns open only in the warmer seasons or, for walkers, gites with basic, shared accommodation and hearty, rustic meals.

Corsica is also one of the most pet-friendly destinations in Europe: dogs and cats are welcome at campsites and most hotels.

More about accommodation on Corsica is available at Visit-Corsica.com.

Sardinia: Resort winner

SardiniaUnlike Corsica, Sardinia has resorts right on the coastline.If you want to walk from your hotel room to the beach, a Sardinian resort -- crowded but comfy -- is the obvious choice.

Many have private beaches and all the usual resort accouterments of multiple restaurants and swim up -- or the more conventional lean-on -- bars.

Costa Smeralda has the island’s most elite accommodations.

More mid-range fare is clustered in the south of the island.

Hotel Dune (Via Bau 1; +39 070 977 130), near some of Europe's tallest sand dunes, has a private beach in a natural setting.

Inland, Hotel Su Gologone (+39 0784 287 512), in Oliena, is an upscale village stay, where life in the surrounding countryside remains fairly traditional.

Sardinia: Colorful history

When you’re not hanging out with Silvio or eating pork sausages, how do the islands compare for feeding your curiosity?

In Sardinia, a boat tour of the protected archipelago of La Maddalena shows off the island’s beautiful pink-sand atolls, which you can swim in.

A trip to the ruins of the prehistoric village of Barumini, with its stone towers, reveals a little of what the island would have been like several thousand years before all-inc package tours.

Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari, has elegant Baroque avenues and plenty of busy markets -- mainly selling food but also clothes and furniture.

Just as Corsica was to France (see below), Sardinia was once Italy’s Wild West.

The town of Orgaloso is a former bandits' stronghold now renowned for the skillfully rendered political murals decorating its walls.

Corsica: Criminal past

Corsica renegadesCorsican renegades once escaped into the maquis -- the inland wilderness -- and so can you. Corsica has an even more renowned criminal heritage than Sardinia.

You can sleep in another ex-outlaw stronghold, Sartène, soaking up more of that faded lawless vibe.

The island also has a bandit’s ransom of superb views and natural sights.

Bonifacio, atop a plunging cliff overlooking the cobalt sweep of the Mediterranean, is one of the most dramatically sited towns on Earth.

No wonder there are cannon poking over the cliff to protect it.

The Unesco World Heritage Site of Calanches has weird, red rock formations, like giant termite mounds.

You can rent a car and tour the rocky peninsula of Cap Corse, with freaky precipices and solitary jet-black beaches.

The waterfall of Piscia di Gallu, near Porto Vecchio, is an easy two-hour introduction to walking on the island.

Call it a draw?

The result of the island set-to?

Neither’s out for the count.

Which is why the best bet is to get on a ferry and see Sardinia and Corsica on one vacation.

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