Trouble in Paradise | History | Smithsonian
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Trouble in Paradise

The idyllic Mediterranean retreat of Corsica, where seaside villages and rugged scenery beckon, also harbors homegrown terrorists, bent on achieving the island's secession from France

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When writer Robert Wernick journeyed to this 3,300-square-mile fist of rock rising straight out of the sea southeast of Nice, he encountered an island steeped in charm—and conflict. It is no accident that the term "vendetta" is the only Corsican word to have passed unchanged into the dictionaries of most of the world's languages. Blood feuds were still going strong only a generation or so ago and continue even today. "You must never forget," one observer admonishes, "that the vendetta was, for thousands of years, the only law a Corsican could trust."

Hidden away in the island's impenetrable interior, local terrorists have maintained a tradition of violence, orchestrating an unrelenting campaign for separation from France. (The island has been a part of that country for something like 234 years—but who's counting?)

Visitors to this Mediterranean redoubt, however, are likely to encounter only the rustic splendor that has entranced sojourners here since the 18th century. Pristine beaches, hiking trails set in forested wilderness, unspoiled beachfront hamlets and villages, draw two million vacationers annually. One traveler, seduced by Corsica's trackless mountainsides and uninhabited coastline, has written that the island "evokes no association except, perhaps, travellers' tales of Tibet."

Predictably, though, it is the Corsicans who have the last word. "We would welcome the French back," shrugs an islander, "—as tourists."

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