Jewel in Mediterranean
The Mediterranean island of Corsica is famous as the birthplace of French emperor Napoleon, but it has many other attractions. JAMES SHRIMPTON reports from Bonifacio
BONIFACIO, on the southern tip of Corsica, has just about anything a discerning tourist might want of a Mediterranean island.
It has history — the city was founded in 828AD by Toscane Boniface, count of Tuscany, and has a hilltop citadel built in the 13th century by the Genoese.
Its favourite son was French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte — although he was actually born in the French territory’s capital Ajaccio, on the west coast; the ‘little general’spent some years here in the 1790s as a lieutenantcolonel.
Bonifacio is also within easy reach of around 200 fine beaches and has a marina lined by shops and outdoors restaurants serving local specialities — try the ‘marrizzane’, aubergine stuffed with cheese, tomatoes and herbs.
It’s a popular call for cruise ships including the two SeaDream luxury yachts which carry just 55 couples on various voyages in regions around the world — we were on SeaDreamIIfor a sevenday round trip from Rome to islands off Italy’s west coast.
The approach by sea is through a channel beside 65m-high limestone cliffs; passengers are taken ashore mostly by tender for a short walk to the marina.
From there up to the main part of Bonifacio, the ‘Ville Haute’ including the citadel, is a steep climb up narrow streets and steps — but the town sensibly provides a little train to save tourists’(and locals’) legs.
Views from the train and the upper town provide constant photo opportunities of the port, centuries-old churches and buildings, narrow alleys, and views of Sardinia 11.5km to the south.
The citadel figured largely in Bonifacio’s history; the town was attacked several times over the centuries by the Barbarians, Aragons, the French and the Genoese.
According to legend, the King of Aragon’s Stairway — 187 steps down from the southwestern corner of the citadel to the sea 60m below — were carved in a single night by the king’s troops during the 1420 siege.
(One guide says it’s more likely that ‘this impressive scar down the side of the cliff was used to reach an underground cistern discovered by monks.’)
A local boat takes visitors to grottos at the base of the white cliffs — not as good as those on Capri but at least you don’t have to compete for room with hundreds of other tourist boats.
Bonifacio has many shops selling Napoleon-themed souvenirs; the emperor’s one-time home has a plaque near the front door giving details.
Napoleon’s Corsican family is described by one biographer as ‘poor and pretentious’.
Lawyer Carlo Buonaparte’s social climbing (the family omitted the ‘u’in their name later) helped his son Napoleon enter military academies on his battle-strewn way to becoming emperor in 1804.
Two other islands figured prominently in his stormy life; he was exiled to Elba, off Italy, in 1814; regained his throne in 1815 then was defeated by the British at Waterloo and exiled again to St Helena in the South Atlantic where he died in 1821.
IF YOU GO...........................
Among scores of cruises scheduled around the world in 2007, SeaDream has two roundtrips from Rome (Civitaveccia) to islands to the west of Italy, departing on June 23 and September 15. Details: see travel agents or visit www.seadreamyachtclub.com.
HISTORY . . . looking back at the town and citadel from the coastline walk at Bonifacio, Corsica
WINDSWEPT . . . trees in a mountainous region of Corsica