A Visit to Corsica — Part One

We used the Villa Ndio visit of my daughter Kristina and her husband Julian as a ready excuse to spend a few days, for the first time, in Corsica.  We planned a three-day trip to include sailing on a car ferry leaving Nice and arriving in Bastia at the northern end of the island, but returning from Ajaccio to the south, over to Toulon.  We stayed two nights at a bed and breakfast not far from Bastia. The third night was aboard the ferry to Toulon. Here is part one of a short description of our experience.  A gallery of photographs is included at the end.

Note: This post is one of an on-going series focusing on my own personal experiences visiting interesting places and events throughout Europe. A full list of blog posts can be found on the “Peppy’s Blog” drop down menu.  All of the photos in this post were taken by me.

I had no preconceived notions of what to expect to see and do in Corsica, and I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.  Despite damp and dark weather on arrival and in the forecast, things cleared up enough for this photographer to feel blessed with a broad range of fascinating distractions.  Corsica is quite mountainous, with a very jagged coastline, especially on the western side, has beautiful flora and a history that includes claims on Napoleon Bonaparte (legitimately so, since he was born in Corsica) and on Christopher Columbus (competing for this claim with Genoa, which, in any case, was the governing authority over Corsica in his day).

Coming into Bastia just before sundown the sky was clearing from earlier rain, leaving low hanging clouds shrouding over and lurking between the mountains running down to the sea. The ferry was guided into port by a pilot boat, and disembarking with quick and orderly. We punched the latitude and longitude coordinates for our guest house in Oletta, 35 minutes away into our navigation device and found the comfortable accommodations effortlessly.

The neighbourhood looked quite different under incandescent light than it did in the morning.  Seeing Oletta in the daylight was a sweet introduction to the villages, towns and cities we were about to enjoy.  We planned a route for the two full days, prioritising key destinations and sights while mindful of our constraints, particularly the need to be in Ajaccio to catch the evening ferry on the second day.







We headed over to the east coast, stopping for breakfast on the go — croissants, pain au chocolat, coffee and juice in Biguglia, and then we found the highway south.  We had Bonifacio in our sights, all the way down at the southern tip of the island.  We passed by Porto-Vecchio on the way, wishfully thinking if we had time we would pay a visit on the way back.

Bonifacio is amazing.  We were straight away stunned by the grandeur of the citadel with its commanding position over the port and the narrow passage out to the sea. We found parking easily and oriented ourselves to the options in front of us — lunch on the docks, a boat ride out to see the calanques, and a visit to the old town atop the citadel.

Lunch was pleasant. We chose a place on the quay under the citadel that served both fresh fish and traditional Italian pasta dishes. Two of us chose the fish, while the two pasta lovers got their favorites. Delicious. After lunch we walked over to the boats for our ride out to sea. We positioned ourselves on the bow. Most of the other passengers took seats in the rear covered area. I think we chose wisely. 

The boat chugged out to sea through a narrow, with ancient fortifications on the citadel (port) side and jagged rocks and inlets on the other, leading up to a bright red lighthouse, the Phare de la Madonetta, at the inlet’s mouth. The boat then set a course off the port side. We sailed into and around several calanques — rocky inlets — and seaside caves, many with stalactites as much as a meter long. The rocky cliffs were at once jagged and colourful, complementing the many shades of green blue and violet in the waters of the sea. A highlight of this part of our ride was a cave that we actually sailed into.  In the cave the waters were especially colourful and there was a large hole in the ceiling through which one could see the sky.

The captain headed out to sea just a bit so that we could all look back upon the village in the citadel, crowding right up to the edge of a high cliff. Awesome! At the far left (western) end of the main cluster of buildings there is a long stairway leading all the way down to the water’s edge. These are the fabled Escalier du Roi d’Aragon (King Aragon steps), 167 in number depending on how you count them.  We left for another visit any attempt to climb them.

Nearby, we sailed completely around the “Grain De Sable”, a rock formation that at one time was connected to the mainland. Further down along the coast we saw stunning views of the coastline and another faraway lighthouse.

For the return trip the captain took us to the far side of the Bonifacio inlet to visit a beautiful pool nestled behind a cluster of large rocky outcrops.  The waters there were particularly colorful.  We then sailed back to the port, past the brilliant red Phare de la Madonetta.  We disembarked and headed for our car to climb up to the citadel.

Inside the fortress walls the sights are as varied as we had seen so far.  We parked at the far end of the peninsula that the citadel sits on, and walked to the other end. There are a surprising number of abandoned buildings along that stretch, as well as a fair amount of construction. We presumed, or at least hoped, that the construction was for improving facilities and amenities for residents and visitors alike. I took photographs of many unusual facades, ruins and other curiosities.

The town is honeycombed with narrow interconnecting streets, reserved for pedestrians, except for the occasional special permit vehicle.  We had a peaceful stroll to the far end of the town and enjoyed the views of many of the same scenes we saw on the boat ride. These views we saw from high above, looking over a broad wall. at the Place du Marché.  We wandered back and around through the back streets, and saw scenes with ancient windows and stairways and artifacts of ancient technology, including a large stone grinding wheel.  We walked around the impressive Église Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Bonifacio, with its flying buttresses connected to surrounding buildings.  I poked my head into the Église Saint-Dominique de Bonifacio, appreciating the light cast by a clutch of tapers in an otherwise very dark nave.

We drove the three hours back to our guest house stopping only briefly along the way for the irresistible photo ops.  Unfortunately we had to skip a visit to Porto-Vecchio, a priority destination for our next Corsican visit.  Our first day was a long one!


See the photo gallery below.  Click on any image to enlarge it and/or start a slide show.

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