Corsica, where the people speak their own Italian dialect, has all the attributes of a mini-continent.
There are tropical palm trees, vineyards, olive and orange groves, forests of chestnut and indigenous pine, alpine lakes and cool mountains torrents filled with trout.
Most distinctive of all is the perched maquis (scrub), heavy with scent of myrtle, which Napoleon swore he could smell from the sea.
The third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia, Corsica has been a problem and a bafflement to mainland France ever since 1769, when it was "sold" to Louis XV by the Genoese for 40 million francs.
Before that, following years of struggle, the Corsican people had enjoyed 15 years of independence under
the revered leadership of Pasquale Paoli.
They understandably felt cheated by the deal with the French, and have resented them ever since.
To holiday-makers visiting the island - in July and August tourists outnumber the inhabitants six to
one - the Corsican/French relationship may be a matter of indifference.
However, there is a strong (and sometimes quite violent) separatist movement which does deter some tourists.
As a result, Corsica's wild beauty has been preserved to an extent not seen in the rest of the Mediterranean.
For 200 years, from the 11th to the 13th century, Corsica was a colony of the old Tuscan republic of
Pisa, whose builders founded beautifully proportioned Romanesque churches.
These buildings are, along with the megalithic stone warriors in Filitosa, the noblest monuments to be seen here.
For the rest, the birthplace of Napoleon is a place of wild seacoasts and mountain peaks, one of the last unspoiled corners of the Mediterranean: poor, unpopulated, beautiful, old-fashioned and doggedly aloof.