By Johanna the 22/11/2023

Secret Corsica: an off-season road trip in Balagne

At the crossroads of heritage routes, craftsmen's routes, wine routes and authentic sensory routes, Balagne, located in Haute Corse on the north-west coast, is a spellbinding territory. At every stop, you'll find treasures of heritage and nature, colourful characters and tasty discoveries.
Long known as the garden of Corsica thanks to its fertile soils, Balagne is renowned for its gastronomy: taste its olive oil with its subtle, fruity flavour, discover its vegetable gardens, citrus fruits or almond trees... And don't miss the famous Calenzana cheese with its inimitable spiciness! Also, a land of vineyards, Balagne produces some of the finest vintages and delights visitors with its grandiose wine-growing landscapes and cellar tours.

Out of season, you can also discover Balagne by bike, following the signs for the GT20 "A traversata maiò" ... whether you're a family or an experienced cyclist, follow the little green signs and cycle at your own pace!  Discovery hikes like the Transhumance Trail, starting in Calinzana, will also give you a taste of Corsica from the inside, off the beaten track. You'll also enjoy contemplative walks through olive groves and cork oaks, along winding roads.


Along the way, you'll find all kinds of accommodation, from traditional hotels to gîtes and bed & breakfasts. You can also dine in some incredible places, with a friendly welcome and divine cuisine, or just have a drink in a café on a village square.


 I recommend a 3-day itinerary, in whole or in part, in any order you like, which will give you time to wander around and enjoy each moment as I did. During this road trip I passed through some vibrant and welcoming villages, but also some very sparsely populated ones, seemingly asleep after the summer season, but don't worry! There's always something of interest to discover for those who know how to look beyond the postcard. Isn't Corsica synonymous with peace, quiet and serenity in the off-season?


I recommend a linear itinerary, as the tour of the hilltop villages of Balagne can take place as follows (the distance between each village is fairly short):


  • Lama
  • Belgodère - Belgudè
  • Speloncato - Speluncatu
  • Nessa - Nesce
  • Feliceto - Felicetu
  • Cateri - I Cateri
  • Sant'Antonino - Sant'Antuninu
  • Montemaggiore - Monte Maiò
  • Zilia
  • Longhignano - Lunghignanu
  • Calenzana - Calinzana


Gateway to Balagne, in the Ostriconi Valley: Lama, a cultural village 


When you arrive from Ajaccio or Bastia, head towards Ponte Leccia. The village of Lama is around fifteen minutes away.


 When I leave the main road, the show begins: as if suspended from the mountain, the village of Lama awaits visitors. Seen from "below", the village and its large, impeccably well-preserved stone houses promise an unforgettable discovery!


I begin my visit in the maze of narrow streets in the village, which is sparsely populated at this time of year, but still exudes a warm ambience: pretty stone houses, colourful window boxes, bougainvillea climbing up to the upper floors of the houses, outdoor terraces always set out in front of the entrances - it won't be long before the village falls asleep in this autumnal atmosphere. On the information boards, I discover the places and sights not to be missed: A Casa Monti, A Torra - Casa Lellè Masisani, the village's ancient defensive tower, foundations dating back to the Middle Ages, and other treasures such as the Palazzi and the Belvedere...


At the top of the village, the heritage trail begins: I arrive on a small, gently sloping path and guess that the panorama at the end must be exceptional... indeed, on the small Luzarellu plateau, the view is breathtaking: it's 9am this morning and the October sun is flooding the surrounding mountains, I feel a sense of tranquillity in front of the immensity of the landscape... I then discover the old village gardens in a small valley... At the "Funtana Bona" I quench my thirst... The route ends at an unusual site, the cheese cellars of Maison Corallini... But I won't tell you any more, it's up to you to take the path! On the way back, I made a stop at the Stallò: the old stables, with their impressive stone walls, have now been restored as a cultural venue hosting a number of exhibitions.


U Stallo à Lama qui accueille des expositions toute l'année ©ATC U Stallo à Lama qui accueille des expositions toute l'année ©ATC

Benefits for sports enthusiasts : heritage trail, low gradient and signposted (open to all) 

The most authentic : enjoy a colourful moment at the village café in a warm atmosphere and vintage decor.

The 2.0 bonus : download the Lama Secreta app and let it guide you through the narrow streets of the village and beyond! Available in Corsican, English and French


Belgodère has many facets!


About twenty minutes away, comes Belgudè! Arriving at the village square, it's clear that I found myself in a place of unparalleled dynamism: cyclists, bikers, hikers, villagers and walkers all seem to have made the village square their meeting point, right next to the beautiful church of San Tumasgiu. Whether it's a thirst-quenching stop for some, a place to rest their legs for others, or simply an 'epicurean - curious' stop like mine, the village of Belgudè already promises some great discoveries! The menu at the restaurant (open all year round) in the square has already won me over: lamb à la stretta, brocciu ravioli, chestnut cake, homemade ice creams with evocative flavours such as myrtle, chestnut, mandarin or citron... and Stéphane, my adorable host, who can't tell you enough about his village, won't contradict me! And just for the fun of the anecdote: christened with a male first name because of a civil status problem, she lived with it all her life! In terms of heritage, visit the church of San Tumasgiu, with its remarkable Baroque architecture. Do as I did by wandering through the narrow streets of the village, admiring the front of the houses, knocking on the doors of the local craftsmen and visiting their workshops! From the square, I climb to the very top of the village to reach the 360° viewpoint: the Mediterranean, the Réginu plain, the olive groves, the Château Malaspina... right before my eyes.


Le clocher de l'église San Tumasgiu - Belgudè ©ATC Le clocher de l'église San Tumasgiu - Belgudè ©ATC


Belgudè ©ATC Belgudè ©ATC


The unusual bonus : discover a fully renovated real oil mill

Practical + : gîtes open all year round

The fun bit : exhibitions and meetings are held throughout the year. Ask for the program at the town hall


Speluncatu and its gentle way of life


My next stop is Speluncatu, with its winding stone-paved streets and granite village houses. Every street corner was a new discovery. Immediately seduced by the timeless charm of its centuries-old facades, adorned with flower boxes and colourful wooden shutters, the walk was an immense pleasure. After climbing to the very top of the village, in the direction of "A Cima", I was rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view that will take your breath away - believe me, I spent almost an hour there!


 I then visited the 15th-century parish church of Saint Michel, an architectural gem that bears witness to Speluncatu's rich history. Inside are religious works of art, veritable treasures of Corsican heritage. Inside the church, a surprise awaits me, though I won't say much more about it... On the way back from my walk, I make a well-deserved stop at the café in the square, opposite the fountain. Pablo welcomes me there; he is the 4th generation to run this lively place right in the heart of the village! Passionate and fascinating, he knows the history of his village by heart... where his great-grandmother ran the local grocery shop...


Crypte de l'église San Michele - Speluncatu @ATC Crypte de l'église San Michele - Speluncatu @ATC


La fontaine du village - Speluncatu @ATC La fontaine du village - Speluncatu @ATC


Heritage bonus : discover the ancient 11th-century church of Santa Catalina, now home to the Sant Antone Abbate brotherhood.

The most unusual discover the houses built into the rock, the vaulted passageways and the bread ovens

The most practical : restaurants, cafés and hotels open all year round


A historic stop at Nesce


At this stage of the itinerary, I made a detour to Nesce, a pretty little village nestling in the heart of the chestnut grove. I stopped here for a while because this highly symbolic and historic village is the birthplace of one of the Founding Fathers of the University of Corsica Pasquale Paoli, Don-Gregorio Salvini. Appointed at the Consulte de Corte in 1763, he was one of the 9 men who had the onerous task of setting up the University of Corsica. Don-Gregorio Salvini was also the author of the work La Giustificazione delle Revoluzione di Corsica, which set out in 160 points the mismanagement of Corsica by the Republic of Genoa, a veritable pamphlet justifying the creation of the nationalist movement that began in Corsica in 1729. Don-Gregorio Salvini died in December 1789 in Nesce, and his grave was dug at the entrance to the church.


Heritage tip : discover the 18th-century church of Saint Joseph.


Felicetu and its authentic grocery shop !


Arriving in Felicetu, it was on my way to the pretty church dedicated to Saint Roch that I discovered a tiny grocery shop which caught my eye: a small terrace set up in front of the door, crates of fruit and vegetables from the garden, a Corsican flag and the sign "Chez Margot".

 Like me, take the time to chat with Margot and her husband, who have been running this shop in the heart of the village of Felicetu for almost 40 years, maintaining a certain social link.


L'épicerie de Felicetu en Balagne ©ATC L'épicerie de Felicetu en Balagne ©ATC
L'église San Roccu de Felicetu - Balagne @ATC L'église San Roccu de Felicetu - Balagne @ATC


The sporty one :

Departure from the mule paths

Hike to "A Casa di u Banditu" or "A Casetta di Falcunaghja", a troglodyte house dating from the 17th century where the bandit André Spada is said to have spent a few days. Difficulty average D+ 600

Bring appropriate equipment


 Cateri, its inn and red kites


If you love good, traditional food and authentic products, then this stopover at Chez Léon in Cateri is sure to be a pleasant surprise. Believe me, you've never eaten so well... Courgette fritters, Corsican veal with olives, wild boar in sauce, charcuterie, fiadone or homemade profiteroles to share, all in an unspoilt and very pleasant setting with views over the surrounding villages. During lunch, I was able to watch the sweep of the red kites "i filanci", these majestic birds of prey endemic to Europe that have found a very important breeding ground in Corsica. If you come across Dumè, the owner of the site, please send him my regards!


Beignets de courgettes - Auberge Chez Dumè - Cateri @ATC Beignets de courgettes - Auberge Chez Dumè - Cateri @ATC
Veau aux olives - Chez Dume à Cateri - Balagne ©ATC Veau aux olives - Chez Dume à Cateri - Balagne ©ATC

Discover : Cateri is at the heart of the craftsmen's route. Follow the little signs "strada di l'artigiani", push open their doors and discover the secrets of their precious skills.

The unusual one : visit the church of Santa Maria Assunta, built on the site of St Peter's Basilica in Rome...

Spiritual highlight : as you leave the village of Cateri, you'll come across the Marcassu Convent, dating back to the 10th century. Now occupied by Benedictine monks from the Congregation of Notre-Dame d'Espérance, it is the setting for polyphonic singing during the summer season.


Sant' Antuninu as a medieval treasure



 In the distance, as we round a bend in the road, the view suddenly becomes clearer, and up ahead I can see the village of Sant' Antuninu... Now I know why this village is always referred to as an eagle's nest! Overlooking the valley, blue as far as the eye can see, I can imagine what an incredible ride this is going to be. Once you've parked the car, it's all on foot: cobbled streets, bread ovens, wine presses, ancient fortifications, houses built into the rock and clinging to each other... Everywhere I look there's always something beautiful to see!


Eglise de l'Annonciation à Sant'Antuninu - Balagne @ATC Eglise de l'Annonciation à Sant'Antuninu - Balagne @ATC


Ruelles de Sant' Antuninu - Balagne @ATC Ruelles de Sant' Antuninu - Balagne @ATC

Gourmet tip : stop off for some of Carole's delicious treats: canistrelli with Corsican flavours such as almond, organic lemon and hazelnut. And don't miss the little bag of caramelised hazelnuts from Cervione.

Practicalities : the village is entirely pedestrianised (except for residents), and the car park at the entrance is open to motorists.

The heritage bonus : discover the Church of the Annunciation, near the car park

A + in terms of responsibility : there's a charging point for electric vehicles in the car park.


Majestic Monte Maiò


Here I am at last, in Montemaggiore or Monte Maiò, the picture postcard of the Balagne! When I arrived in the village, Sant'Austinu, the Baroque-style church dating from the 18th century, stood before me. Its façade dominates the bay of Calvi and the view is breathtaking. I'd heard about a walk through the narrow streets of the village, and indeed it's a must: flower-filled houses, pretty facades with colourful shutters, beautiful carved doors, everything here is an opportunity for a photo. Cyclists pass by, and I remember that the GT20 "Grande Traversée" passes through here... Just follow the little green and white signs. These landscapes make me want to try the adventure... A stage to start with, with an electric bike of course!


Façade colorée à Montemaggiore - Balagne@ATC Façade colorée à Montemaggiore - Balagne@ATC
Montemaggiore - Balagne @ATC Montemaggiore - Balagne @ATC

The fun bit : every year in July Monte Maiò hosts A Fiera di l'Alivu, the olive fair. Craftsmen, farmers and olive growers celebrate this tasty fruit and age-old know-how.


Zilia, its water, its cuggiulelle, its Franciscan convent and its vineyards!


After Calenzana, here I am in Zilia, famous for its water, which is sold all over Corsica, and even elsewhere... whether still or sparkling, you'll find it on every table! Zilia is also famous for its cuggiulelle, authentic biscuits from the Balagne region, which I quickly sample on the spot, where they are made!


Vignoble @ATC Vignoble @ATC

Discovery tip : visit the Domaine Alzipratu cellar, which is open to the public all year round, and take advantage of the unusual tours (sensory or introductory). By appointment only


Lunghignanu and its hidden treasure



Rarely have I come face to face with a church so pretty and so different from other religious buildings. A Ghjesgia San Vitu (and its Sant'Antone chapel) is a must-see monument in the small village of Lunghignanu. It was built between 1801 and 1812. It wasn't open when I visited, but its walls exuded such emotion that seeing it from the outside was already wonderful. A discovery not to be missed.


A Ghjesa San Vitu - Lunghignanu - Balagne @ATC A Ghjesa San Vitu - Lunghignanu - Balagne @ATC

A must see : the incredible, unobstructed view over the valley 

Calenzana and its gentle way of life


When I arrive in Calenzana, what really catches my eye is the gentle way of life that emanates from this village: a game of pétanque, friendly, welcoming cafés, young and old chatting away in the main square, it's the middle of autumn but the seasons don't seem to have any hold on this place. Join me in discovering the village's religious heritage: Saint Blaise, Saint Antoine, Sainte Restitude and A Casazza, the chapel of the Santa Croce brotherhood.


The best food : watch your taste buds, I tasted the Calinzana cheese and it was a real firework display! Strong and spicy, with lots of character, you'll taste all the flavours of Balagne!

Wine testing bonus : this is a wine-growing region through and through, with vineyards and cellars such as Figarella, Orsini, A Ronca, Camellu and Cardi. Free wine tasting with or without an appointment. Before entering the village (from Calvi), I visited the Domaine Orsini shop: a veritable Ali Baba's cave! Wines, spirits, aperitifs, liqueurs, sweets, jams, jellies, fruit jellies, nougat... everything here is made in Orsini, in the purest respect for tradition. An impressively large tasting room is also available to visitors.

Practicalities: accommodation and restaurants open all year round 


A final word...


After criss-crossing the winding roads of the Balagne region, I ended this road trip with my heart full of wonderful memories.  The diversity of landscapes, from hilltop villages to vineyards and green mountains, was an unforgettable immersive experience. The touching encounters with the locals added a human touch to this journey, making each stop an authentic discovery. Between tasting local produce and exploring monuments steeped in history, Balagne proved to be a destination full of surprises. This road trip will remain engraved in my memory as an adventure where nature, culture and history intertwined, leaving behind moments of happiness and wonder.

Other places to visit if you still have a bit of time: Pigna, the village of craftsmen, Muru and its remarkable natural environment, Avapessa and its unique botanical garden, Occhjatana and the tomb of the sculptor Damaso Maestracci, a former student and first prize winner at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Marseille, Ville di Parasu and its church of San Simone, Cassanu and its imposing buildings.


Discover the road trip in pictures, as if you were there!


To find out more : 


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Follow  route des sens authentiques  to meet producers, craftsmen, farmers and winegrowers... and soak up the ancestral skills that make up the Balinese landscape.


Find useful information about the Balagne region on the websites of the Ile Rousse Balagne nad Calvi Balagne Tourist Offices .



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