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Ever since I caught wind of Corsica, hearing stories of mountains dipping into pristine Mediterranean beaches, wild forest walks, crisp white wines, and unruly natives, I’ve wanted to go experience the French island for myself.

Read about my travel adventure Corsica for Two in Curve magazine now out on Barnes & Noble newsstands, subscribe to the best-selling lesbian magazine, or spy my itinerary below to start planning your own trip.

Corsica for Two in Curve

Corsica for Two in Curve

Before departing, may I suggest:

  • Enrolling in the Global Entry program to bypass airport lines.
  • Taking a conversational French class. My neighborhood travel bookstore Idlewild Books’ 10-week course served me well. The Living Language book and app are also great.
  • Buying the Local #345 Michelin map, especially if planning to drive, which you should.

A Two-Week Itinerary for Corsica

Fly Delta/Air France directly into Nice and transfer to Air Corsica for a quick flight to the northern port town of Bastia. Going through Paris often entails switching airports.

Rent a car from Hertz at the airport. Driving is necessary–especially if you want to to reach the hilltop towns, pottery studios, and hiking trails as we did. A U.S. drivers license will suffice; no international license is required. Take note: many rentals require diesel instead of gasoline so be sure and ask.

Hotel La Dimora

Hotel La Dimora

Head for the hills and stay at Hotel La Dimora. Tucked in the craggy northeast, the three-star spa hotel is surrounded by wild fennel, lavender, rosemary, and the fragrant native maquis shrubbery. La Dimora doesn’t offer a full restaurant service, but they do have a delicious a poolside menu, including local brocciu (ewe’s cheese), figs, and rosé wine from the nearby Patrimonio region boasting the must-have AOC stamp of approval.

Breakfast in the lively harbor town of St-Florent and stroll along the seaside promenades, cafés, and boutiques before setting off on D81 for a drive across the green, wildflower Désert des Agriates. Wander along the Strada di l’Artigiani the “Artisan Trail” for tastes of regional delights and handicrafts. Definitely stop by Poterie Terra e Focu by Isabelle Volpei in Occhiatana and follow the signs to Poterie du Nebbiu near Oletta.

You may just catch the potter at his wheel.

Poterie du Nebbiu: You may just catch the potter at his wheel.

I suggest staying at least two nights, but whenever you’re ready to move on, grab the Michelin map and take the scenic route to Corte. The Parc Naturel Régional de la Corse protects nearly two-thirds of the island’s central forests and mountains. Enjoy the craggy, green vistas along D2/N193. This “two-lane” road winds around villages, sky-scraping pine trees, mouflons, purple thistles growing on serpentine limestone, and ancient arched Genoese bridges.

Passing through Ponte-Novo, contemplate the historical significance of the 1769 battle fought here between the French troops and Corsican patriots led by Pasquale Paoli.

Passing through Ponte-Novo, contemplate the historical significance of the 1769 battle fought here between the French troops and Corsican patriots led by Pasquale Paoli.

The Moor’s head on the Corsican flag has symbolized the island’s battle cry for independence for three centuries

The Moor’s head on the Corsican flag has symbolized the island’s battle cry for independence for three centuries

In June of 1769, the French won ownership of the island. Yet, approaching Corte, it is apparent that the dream of an independent Corsica is still very much alive and surging. Black spray paint slashes through French names on bilingual road signs, leaving only the Corsican. From every shuttered window, tourist trap, and car antennae, Corsican flags wave. Tour the Citadelle, where from 1755 to 1769, the castle served as the island’s capital and definitely take a gander from the top of the Eagle’s Nest.

Stay in the valley of the Gorges de la Restonica at the Hotel Dominique Colonna for at least two nights. The three-star, family-run hotel is named after a beloved soccer hero and is surrounded by thick forests and a valley stream perfect for rock-hopping along to secluded swimming spots.

The Gorge

Gorges de la Restonica

Eat lunch and dinner at the restaurant across the pebble parking lot, but enjoy the Dominique Colonna’s bountiful breakfast. Get a jump on the morning foot traffic to the glacier Lac de Mélo (the parking lot fills up by 9AM). The 1.5-hour trek to the first glacier lake was rigorous enough. Before heading back to the room, stop by the giant Casino supermarket in town and stock up on supplies, ranging from water shoes and six-packs of Pietra beer.

Escalier du Roi d’Aragon 187 hand-carved steps to the sea

Escalier du Roi d’Aragon 187 hand-carved steps to the sea

Next, head south to Bonifacio. Go N193/D69/D344/N198 and experience the island’s mountains, forests, a super-long tunnel, and ocean views all in one epic drive. At the southern tip, Bonifacio appears to rise directly from the jagged white limestone cliffs. Check into the three-star Hotel Santa Teresa for at least a night. Take a wander around the medieval city center, buy a souvenir Ceccaldi vendetta knife, climb the awesome Escalier du Roi d’Aragon, and treat yourself to the best gelato at Ghjacci Les Glaces Corses.

At this point of the trip, we were ready to stop and soak up the sun. After a petit déjeuner in town, pack up and drive along the Mediterranean coastline to the luxury beach resort Domaine de Murtoli.

Along the way, swap out your compact car rental for a four-wheeler from Europcar at the Figari airport. You’re going to need it. Check out these all-natural hydraulics.

Now, brace yourself. Domaine de Murtoli is one of the most spectacular places on earth. The domain flourishes over 4,900 acres of rugged ancestral land that has been handed down generation after generation since the 16th century and where for the past twenty years owners Paul and Valerie Canarelli have transformed it into the extraordinary Andrew Harper 2012 award-winning destination. Our villa, one of nineteen, was a meticulously restored sheepfold a la Provençal chic with a private pool and outdoor kitchen. Murtoli is so private, with such back-to-the-earth sensuality, that it redefined my notion of an exclusive beach vacation to mean zero tan lines.

Domaine de Murtoli

Domaine de Murtoli’s Sheepfold

Attempt to leave, at least once, and visit Sarténe, the oldest and most Corsican of Corsican towns.

Sartene The Cave

Sartene’s La Cave

Stock up on charcuterie, cheese, olive oil, jam, and honey at La Cave on Place Porta.

Along the way, keep an eye out for a roadside sign for the Vitalba Huiles distillery for local essential oils. The native maquis plant smells like warm maple syrup mixed with honey and when distilled into a healing oil works wonders on sore, tired muscles.

Side note: Skip the megaliths. Unless you’re a real geological buff, trekking in the blazing sun to see them is the stuff of terrible family vacation memories.

Side note: Skip the megaliths. Unless you’re a real geological buff, trekking in the blazing sun to see them is the stuff of terrible family vacation memories.

Back at Murtoli, enjoy the five-mile stretch of beach, the delectable restaurant built into an olive grove and the other in a candlelit cave, the house Clos Canarelli white wine, the garden, daily bread, and horseback riding. Once you’re in the magical hands of Valerie and her expert staff, you’ll believe the land to be enchanted. Everything is so at ease, so thoroughly perfect, so wonderfully timed, all you have to do is say, Merci. The worst part, the only regrettable thing, was leaving. Good luck passing by reception without booking your return trip. We couldn’t. We’re going back in July.

Murtoli's Beach

Murtoli’s Beach

Fly out of Figari airport to Nice. Transfer or stay a night as we did in Monte Carlo. Helicopter is the only way to get there.

The town of Perušić was big enough to be included on a map of Croatia but too small for guidebooks to mention. I had no idea what to expect when my partner, Melinda, and I pulled off the highway and followed the signs to the birthplace of my great-grandfather. When the roads narrowed to single lanes, compact cars gave way to tractors, and concrete turned back into cobblestone, we found Perušić. The farming village spread across the rolling green and golden hills of the Eastern European countryside looked somewhat similar to the place my ancestors emigrated to in Iowa, settled, and never left.

“A kokoš!” I cried, as a rooster ran into the road. A real one. As far back as I could remember, Grandma’s called out, “Who’s my kokoš?”

“Me!” I’ve cawed my entire life. Perhaps my childhood nickname piqued my curiosity about our Croatian heritage. Maybe it was because I looked the most Croatian—of all my third-generation American ethnicities—with olive eyes, hair the color of dark honey, and Mediterranean skin. Or it could have been that once I discovered Croatia’s landscape included over a thousand islands bobbing in the crisp Adriatic Sea along the country’s craggy 3,000-mile shoreline, I couldn’t wait to go there.

When my trip was booked, Grandma sent a stack of dusty airmail envelopes from her old-country cousin in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. They dated back four decades. Most were Easter greetings between two devout Catholics. There were a couple of long, laboriously translated letters explaining our ever-expanding relations. And three photos. Running my fingers along the typewriter ink that over the years had blurred into a fuzzy gray font like Grandma’s hair, I traced my roots. Actually, I Google-mapped them across the heartland of Croatia.

Melinda and I landed in Zagreb on a Sunday to find the capital almost entirely closed. Over 90 percent of Croatians professed to be Christians, nearly all of them Catholic. I planned to visit the monastery at the return address listed on the nun’s letters but thought better of dropping in on the Sabbath. We bided our time exploring Zagreb–a treasure map of outdoor sculptures, brightly tiled rooftops, and gardens ranging from an enchanted beer garden on top of a funicular to a botanical garden in full July bloom.

The next morning we pulled up to a coral church at Mošćenička 3. Inside the atrium, I tried to explain myself in the halting Hrvatski I’d been practicing in Teach Yourself Croatian on my iPod for months. I knew how to request a room with a view or white wine, but “I believe I’m related to a nun who lives here—if she’s still alive” was never covered. Eventually between Melinda’s Spanish and the nun’s knowledge of Italian from Vatican prayers, they cobbled together the explanation: Madre de la Madre. Escribe. Esta aya. The mother of the mother write this girl.

Ah yes! The nun escorted us into a visiting room that had clearly been decorated with care where a gaggle of nuns greeted us from behind a locked gate in the far wall.

“She’s upstairs sleeping,” they explained, lifting their jubilant faces heavenward. Melinda and I cheered. We yelped and laughed at the luck. We almost kissed out of habit but pulled back for a prolonged high-five hug. Until they got the priest, who explained in perfect, projected pulpit-like English that my cousin was really upstairs, really, really sleeping.

“The nun you are looking for…” he said, “is dead.”

There was no time to mourn. Miraculously, one of the three photos I carried was of the nun’s niece, my distant cousin, Anica. She belonged to the parish and lived nearby.

“What does ‘just up the hill’ mean?” Melinda asked.

“We’ll see,” I said, turning the hand-drawn map upside down or right side up or sideways. After a couple of wrong turns and knocking on a deserted house with the same address number on a different road, we rounded a corner and saw them. Three generations of family on the lookout from every level of their two-story home. Grandma hung half out of the upstairs’ picture window. Mom and Dad surveyed the streets from the second floor balcony. And the three teenage daughters spread out oldest to youngest from the front door to the end of the yard. They were all shouting in different levels of accent and belief: “From America?!”

They welcomed us in and despite being separated by time, countries, religion, and language, they felt like relatives and their hospitality, a homecoming. My cousin, Anica, taught me how to pronounce Grandma’s maiden name, Marinac, Marine-natz instead of Mare-rin-nack. I drew our family tree, showed them Iowa on a map, and Facebook friended the three daughters. Anica challenged the love story my great-grandparents had passed down on our side of the Atlantic Ocean. We heard that Grandpa emigrated, made good, and then sent for Grandma. According to my cousins, they met on the boat. Two independent travelers on their way to the new world, which sounded like my stock.

They sent us on our way with raspberries from their garden and boxes of hazelnut cookies. “Eat lamb in Perušić,” they shouted by way of goodbye.

Driving through my great-grandfather’s birthplace, there were plenty of sheep braying through pastures but no restaurants. Short of knocking on someone’s one-story stone home door and joining them for lunch we were out of luck. After ten-minute laps from one end of town to the other, we turned toward a pink church on the hill. I was drawn to it even though I’ve steered away from religion for most of my adult life.

The lovingly maintained medieval gothic church was the pride of the town as well as the surrounding region of Lika. I imagined my great-grandfather walked this very way for services, weddings, funerals, and potlucks. I found it surprisingly meaningful to stand where my ancestors surely stood. I took in the country breeze, fresh scent of growing corn, and blue sky on the kind of day that inspires picnics. Wildflowers bloomed along the path interspersed with puffy granddaddy dandelions just waiting for a strong wind to carry their seeds to faraway places.

“Ready?” Melinda asked, taking my hand. We were only driving through. There were no hotels in Perušić, nor was it the place for tourists.

Days later, while lounging on the sun-soaked island of Hvar where lavender grows like grass and the sea is the color of emeralds wrapped in Tiffany blue, I was beach-reading Croatia: A Nation Forged in War by Marcus Tanner. I was nearing the end of the 18th century in his expansive thousand-year overview of the nation’s history when Tanner mentioned Perušić. He quoted an Italian traveler and scribe, Alberto Fortis, who witnessed a same-sex union between two women at the church in Perušić and recorded it in his Travels into Dalmatia (1778), saying: “The satisfaction that sparkled in their eyes when the ceremony was performed gave a convincing proof that delicacy of sentiments is found in minds not formed, nor rather not corrupted, by society.”

“Lesbians got married at that pink church in Perušić,” I gasped. “We were there! That’s where I come from,” I said in awe.

Buy a copy of Curve‘s September travel issue at B&N or subscribe here!

On the newsstands now! The latest issue of Curve magazine featuring my travel essay, Croatian Heartland.

Subscribe here or buy a copy at Barnes & Noble.

In the meantime, spy my recommended itinerary for indulging in Croatia’s world-class luxury, spectacular scenery, and inclusive hospitality.

St. Mark’s Square in Zagreb

Fly to Zagreb on Air France (Affaires class offers unlimited champagne). Check in to the centrally located, five-star Regent Esplanade Hotel and delight in the luxurious 1920s charm with modern amenities. After savoring štrukli, a specialty noodle ricotta dish, that will make your waiter’s face light up upon ordering, meander though Zagreb’s gardens hosting sculptures by renowned artist Ivan Meštrović, and others, including the life-sized silver bust of poet Anton Gustav Matos on a hillside bench gazing over the capital cityscape. Rent a car when you’re ready to move on. Yes. Drive.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Plitvice Lakes National Park in the heartland region of Lika. Stay at the private home Sobe San Korana in the bordering village. After marveling all morning at countless emerald waterfalls cascading into sixteen interconnected lakes from the park’s dusty, wooden pathways, the owner, infamously known as “Boris’ Dad,” will show you a solitary swimming spot.

Trogir

Island hopping is a must in Croatia, and Split is a gateway port for ferries. However, I recommend staying a 30-minute drive up the road in the UNESCO town of Trogir at the Trogir Palace where you can park the car and wander over the footbridge into the old city. Cobblestones guide the way to architectural wonders. Carved doorways lead to fresh whole fish dinners. A medieval castle hosts concerts, raves, and football matches.

Hvar

If you must pick one island, choose Hvar. The dazzling sun soaked island is pure pleasure-seeking bliss. Rejuvenate at Hotel Podstine, an unpretentious four-star nestled on a limestone cliff. Reinvigorate your five senses at their holistic AMO spa where couple treatments use local lavender, grapes, olive oil, and salt. After a sunning on the private beach, don designer nauticalwear and walk fifteen minutes seaside to Hvar Town. Kickoff the nightlife—likely to include yacht-hopping with bottles of  local white wine—by dining at Maconda, a seafood restaurant to relish.

Dubrovnik

Affectionately referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” the Dubrovnik Old Town is constructed almost entirely of marble and perpetually polished by visitors shuffling along its surrounding 10th century walls for elevated vistas. Follow the weather-beaten wooden signs Cold Drinks with the Most Beautiful View to Buza Bar. Be sure to let the five-star Hotel Villa Dubrovnik whisk you away from the baking, stone streets in a Venetian speedboat. There you may overlook the Adriatic Sea from a chic suite with a jacuzzi balcony or dive in from a tiered sundeck over the rocky shoreline. The Skybar sunsets live up to their promise of “Romance Forever.”

That’s me floating there.

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