My Place: Discover historic Corsica with Vanessa Couchman

Today, I welcome back my author friend, Vanessa Couchman, whose wonderful stories take you to rural France, in particular to the beautiful rugged Mediterranean island of Corsica. Reading her novels makes me want to visit, and I will, one day. 

So, for now, escape this rainy autumn day to your summer destination – to Nonza on Corsica! 

Nonza, Corsica: Inspiration by Chance

Sometimes you feel your footsteps are steered in a certain direction. We discovered the captivating Mediterranean island of Corsica in 2003. With its majestic, mountainous scenery and its clear blue waters and miles of beaches, it’s a wonderful place to spend a holiday. 
Nonza, Corsica
 But I soon found that Corsica is much more than just a holiday location. It also has a fascinating history and culture, stemming from its strategic position in the Mediterranean and its island customs. The island has been invaded and occupied countless times over thousands of years. Intermittent but disorganised rebellions failed to dislodge its conquerors.

On one holiday, serendipity drew us into Cap Corse, the stunningly beautiful peninsula in the north-east corner of the island. Cap Corse was accessible only by mule tracks until the late 19thcentury, when a zigzag road was constructed around the cape.

We stayed in Nonza, a village clinging to the rocky coastline. Chance led us to choose one of two B&Bs, just off the tiny square. On the walls we found framed letters. The owner explained that they were written by the village schoolmaster to the daughter of the house in the 1890s. Her parents would have disapproved of their liaison, and so they met in secret and left notes to each other in a hidden letter-drop. The letters were discovered walled up in the attic when the present owners restored the house. 

Unfortunately, none of her notes has survived, but those of the nameless schoolmaster testify to a passionate and sometimes stormy relationship. Thus began my relationship with Nonza, which has led to two novels, both based loosely on the village and the house: The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow.   

Although its tranquillity is only ruffled by summer tourists today, Nonza itself is steeped in history. Down a long flight of steps, you find a shrine to the martyred Santa-Giulia, who came to a nasty end during the Roman occupation for refusing to renounce her Christian beliefs.

Dominating the skyline is a foursquare stone tower, the Paoline Tower. Pasquale Paoli, who led Corsica’s short-lived republic in the mid-18thcentury, ordered its construction to survey Genoese troop movements in the Bay of Saint-Florent. A Corsican captain, Casella, held it single handed against French invaders in 1768. They offered a truce, persuaded that he commanded a unit of troops in the tower, although his men had already deserted him.

Close by, the remains of a château now play host to a summer restaurant. Here you can feast on seafood and strong Corsican cheeses while coloured lights play over the walls at dusk. The aromatic scent of the maquis, the scrub that covers much of the island, mingles with the salt tang of the sea.

Best of all is simply to wander around the little squares and alleyways of Nonza. The size of some of the houses affirms its former prosperity, which declined in the 19thcentury. Now it lives largely from tourism.

And I’m willing to bet I haven’t yet unearthed all of Nonza’s secrets.

About Vanessa:

Vanessa Couchman has lived in southwest France for more than 20 years and describes herself as a history nut. French and Corsican history and culture provide massive inspiration for her fiction. She has written two novels, both set on Corsica, and a collection of short stories set in France. Vanessa has also contributed many short stories to anthologies. 

Follow Vanessa:

Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

International buy links:


Thank you, Vanessa, for this wonderful post. It makes me want to book the next ferry!


  1. Thanks for hosting me today, Cathie. I hope you get to Corsica soon! I might stow away in your luggage.


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