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

Townsville Bulletin - - Weekend Extra / Travel -

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

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