Why you should care
Because the only way to get there is mermaid-style.
Corsica … a beautiful island, no doubt, but quirky. It’s more like being in Italy than France, and the locals — some the offspring of bandits and anarchists — speak a dialect that feels more like Italian than French. But distinctly Corsican. The region boasts the best beaches in the Mediterranean, but it also offers up a blissful, secret shoreline that is only reachable by the power of your arms and legs.
When I visited Desert des Agriates last summer, it was the first time I’d seen a desert. On one side are sand dunes, mountains and suffocating heat. On the other side stretches a Maldives-like beach with palm trees and iridescent blue water. You can get there via taxi boats leaving from the picturesque village of St. Florent; for 10 euros (about $11) they’ll drop you off on the baby-powder sand and take you back in the evening. There are very few roads that run through this desert. To get to the second beach, I suggest getting into the water mermaid-style. Because if there’s one activity that allows you to avoid the crowds in usually packed paradise spots like Desert des Agriates during the summer — the best time of year to visit — it’s swimming.
After just 10 minutes, I felt the sense of unbounded freedom that must come close to that of flying.
To reach the second beach (there’s no name for it other than Agriates 2) you’ll need to be a good swimmer and feel comfortable switching from front crawl to breast stroke to avoid getting bored … and you’ll also need stamina: You’ll be swimming for an hour straight. Rule No. 1: Always stay close to the shore.
After just 10 minutes, I felt the sense of unbounded freedom that must come close to that of flying: weightless and flexible, and all aches disappearing. “Swim-trekking in a natural, protected marine park is gorgeous, but doing it in a desert is the utmost treat for all open-water swimmers that long for wild nature and a still, shimmering sea,” says Roberto Cossu, a native of St. Florent who takes tourists on solo Agriates swimming tours — just you and the guide —for 15 euros ($16) an hour. There is no match for what you can discover via water, he says, not even by air.
The best parts? The silence and the scenery — both under and above the water. With no buildings, huts or roads along the shore, you are alone with pure, unadulterated nature and vibrant colors. It feels like swimming in a primeval bath, with curious fish following you on your journey. When you come up for air, all you’ll hear is the wind blowing across the sand dunes — a sort of lost sea paradise you get to admire on your own.
There are dangers, of course, when swimming the open seas. It can get cold, and the longer you’re in the water, the more body heat you can lose. In addition to the usual swimming apparel — goggles, nose and earplugs — you’ll want to bring a long-sleeve scuba suit to keep warm. Salt is another factor. Swimming for two hours, there and back, might result in swollen lips and tongues. Best to slap on some sunblock or chapstick before you head out.
But the journey is bucket-list worthy. For two hours, the world disappears. It’s just you, your beating heart, your breathing, the saltwater caress of the sea and the desert’s voice … with a slight Corsican twang.
Correction: The original version of this story stated there were no roads running through this desert.