See Corsica from Nice

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Can you see Corsica from Nice? It’s a question that often leads to the following answers:

  • No, because of the Earth’s rotundity
  • Yes, thanks to the refraction of light, a kind of mirage
  • Yes, you can see all of Corsica.

In fact, the truth lies somewhere between these 3 statements.

voir la Corse depuis Nice

See Corsica from Nice

The distant island and the rotundity of the Earth

As the crow flies, Corsica is about 170km from Nice. At such a distance, even when you’re high above Nice, Corsica disappears well behind the Earth’s curvature. That’s physics and mathematics. BUT…

This fact is calculated and verified at sea level zero. So you can’t see the foot of the island. However, in its north-western part, the part facing Nice, mountains rise to 2300, 2500m and even Monte Cinto to 2706m.

The heights of Corsica

These mountains, yes, because of their altitude, can be seen from Nice. So, in favorable conditions, you can make out the top of Corsica, say, very roughly from 1800 or 2000m. Anything below this altitude disappears from our view, due to the Earth’s rotundity.

Another theory

In meteorology, we’re all familiar with the Foehn and the Foehn effect. This is the wind that blows over the Corsican mountains. As it descends over the sea, it heats up and becomes more humid. The humidity reflects the Corsican coastline. This reflection, this “mirage”, occurs at an altitude of around 1,000m, making it possible to discern the island’s relief, despite the Earth’s rotundity.

The names of the Corsican mountains visible

Corsica views from Nice and the Corsican mountains
The Corsican mountains, photo Jean-Marc Foulquier, source of identifications: https://www.ovalp.com/fr/comprendre/panorama-hd-de-la-corse-vue-du-continent

The two islands to the east and the one to the west

The three “islands” (2 on the left, 1 on the right of the photo) are just 2300m peaks, so they’re visible. And the empty part has an altitude lower than 1800-2000m, so it doesn’t appear. So they’re not islands, but mountains in north-west Corsica.

What about the refraction of light then?

This well-known physical phenomenon must certainly play a part. Light propagating in curved lines across the surface of the globe should make the island appear a little closer than it is. But this “mirage” remains anecdotal.

The false Corsica from Nice

The island’s relief is easy to spot. Often, the image of Corsica is mistaken for mere fog. In which case, the relief doesn’t match and therefore, it’s not Corsica.

See Corsica from Nice

To distinguish Corsica from Nice, some conditions are necessary:

  • The weather must be fine.
  • The atmosphere must be dry, free of clouds, mists, suspended salt particles, etc.
  • The period and time are important too.

When to see Corsica from Nice?

When to go?

Winter is the best season to see Corsica from Nice, especially sunny dawns, those in December for example.

At what time?

The island can appear, depending on the time of sunrise, just before it appears on the horizon. The sky is illuminated, but the sun is not yet visible. As soon as it appears, the image fades very quickly and disappears rapidly, in 1 or 2 minutes.

Approximately, the island is visible 6 to 8 minutes before sunrise and 1 or 2 minutes after.