The ul­ti­mate re­gatta

Sail with the rich and fa­mous in Cor­sica

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - NIGEL TISDALL

Say “Cor­sica” and you prob­a­bly think of moun­tains, brig­ands, earthy food and Napoleon. Noth­ing wrong with that as this tow­er­ing “French is­land basking in the Ital­ian sun”, as Balzac put it, is in­deed home to the tough­est longdis­tance walk­ing trail in Europe, the GR20, and its res­i­dents were once so in­clined to bloody feud­ing that they gave the world “vendetta”, an Ital­ian word that was hi­jacked by these is­landers who have a mixed lin­guis­tic history. Vil­lage mar­kets of­fer a feast of wild-boar sausages, pi­quant cheeses, thick maquis honey and ro­bust wines, while the sou­venir shops in the cap­i­tal, Ajac­cio, won’t let you for­get it was the birth­place of that lit­tle man with big am­bi­tions for an em­pire.

How strange, then, that the Cor­sica I’m vis­it­ing is noth­ing like this. I look south over a blue sea dot­ted in yachts, the coastal road adorned with um­brella pines and views to Sar­dinia. Sandy coves are speck­led with well­turned-out fam­i­lies in straw hats and es­padrilles en­joy­ing the sun­shine and hyp­not­i­cally clear waters.

Shaped like a bunch of grapes, Cor­sica is a fruit that many trav­ellers have been strangely re­luc­tant to taste and that’s our loss. But there is one so­cial set, the yachties, who have wised up to the charms of the so-called Ile de Beaute. Ev­ery year, a 15-day jam­boree of rac­ing and par­ty­ing known as the Cor­sica Clas­sic takes place. Started in 2010, this re­gatta hops around from Ajac­cio on the west coast to Saint-Florent in the north, in a fabulous flotilla of her­itage sail­ing yachts. Last year the 28 en­trants in­cluded sev­eral ves­sels more than a cen­tury old, such as the grace­ful teak-decked 55ft schooner Mor­wenna, which was built in Sus­sex in 1914. Ev­ery one of these nau­ti­cal jew­els has a story to tell, with own­ers such as Louis Re­nault, Jascha Heifetz and Pierre Coin­treau, and a guest list that’s in­cluded Humphrey Bog­art and John F. Kennedy.

De­spite the aura of wealth and pedi­gree, the mood here is not elit­ist. Bil­lion­aire or bow­man, both are united in a shared en­thu­si­asm for the thrills of ocean rac­ing aboard these im­mac­u­lately re­stored craft. In fact, there’s no charge for yachts to en­ter, while each mem­ber of crew pays a regis­tra­tion fee of the equiv­a­lent of about $225. I catch up with the re­gatta in the har­bour at Porto-Vec­chio (known as the “St-Tropez” of Cor­sica) and have my first glimpse of these vin­tage ves­sels with their var­nished woods, leather de­tails and pol­ished met­al­work. Moored be­side them are gar­ish mod­ern-day gin palaces as bright as a supermarket freezer with pot­ted orchids and pur­ple light­ing. I know which deck I’d rather be on.

“This is one of the best clas­sic re­gat­tas in the sea­son,” ex­plains French art dealer Alain Moatti, who sails the 62ft sloop Ser­e­nade, built in Cal­i­for­nia in 1938. “The weather and coast­line of Cor­sica are both so beau­ti­ful.” And, of course, there are the par­ties, where rose wine flows be­side quay­side ta­bles piled high with pas­tries,

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