Dra­mat ic moun­tains, his­tor ic citadels and beaches that r ival the Car ibbean com­bine to make Cor­sica the glit­ter ing jewel in the Mediter­ranean’s crown

Motorboat & Yachting - - Contents - WORDS Pe­ter Cum­ber­lidge

Get­ting the most out of a cruise around this Mediter­ranean is­land gem

Cor­sica is prob­a­bly Eu­rope’s most spec­tac­u­lar is­land, a nat­u­ral sum­mer des­ti­na­tion for Mediter­ranean boats. About 100 miles long, this unique French re­gion has a high moun­tain­ous spine fall­ing dra­mat­i­cally to the sea. Per­fectly spaced har­bours await you at the end of each day, when sea breezes die and a rosy light warms the old stone around the quays.

A land­fall here is im­pos­ing. Cruis­ing down from Cannes or Nice you’ll of­ten see moun­tain peaks from 60 miles away – the dis­tance of a mod­est English Chan­nel cross­ing. Grad­u­ally the rugged heights around Monte Cinto come into fo­cus, and some­times you catch a dis­tinc­tive whiff of maquis – an ex­otic blend of aro­matic shrubs, herbs and fra­grant pine.

In sum­mer, the is­land has long bliss­ful calms, though you need to watch for any hint of strong winds, es­pe­cially the west­erly mis­trals that can pounce out of a blue sky. Laz­ing in some en­chant­ing an­chor­age, al­ways be ready to make for the near­est ma­rina if nec­es­sary. No hard­ship this, be­cause bistros abound and you can look for­ward to good Cor­si­can cook­ing and sunny wines.

I have cho­sen 20 com­pelling rea­sons for vis­it­ing this mag­i­cal is­land, whether in your own boat, with Med-based boat­ing friends, or sim­ply on hol­i­day in a comfy ho­tel. Ex­pe­ri­ence Cor­sica once, and you’ll be hooked.


Calvi is of­ten the first port-of-call from the Riviera. You ap­proach around a com­mand­ing steep-sided ci­tadel and the ma­rina over­looks a mag­nif­i­cent bay whose lush coastal plain and cres­cent beach curve away be­neath sun­baked hills. The es­planade is packed with restau­rants and shaded decks at the wa­ter’s edge.

The ci­tadel is a warren of nar­row streets and steps, where tall houses cast some wel­come shade. It’s a fair climb up here in the sum­mer sun, but the views are worth the haul and you can gaze for ages across the har­bour and a jig­saw of pan­tile roofs. Out in the bay, yachts of all sizes lie at an­chor in bright blue wa­ter, wafted by cool­ing breezes.


Cruis­ing south from Calvi, you pass beaches and hol­i­day vil­lages be­fore the coast be­comes more rugged to­wards Punta Palazzo. Around Scan­dola na­ture re­serve, the glow­ing red cliffs are weath­ered into fan­tas­tic sculp­tures. Off Punta Rossa you turn into a fab­u­lous gulf and fol­low a wall of gran­ite to­wards a humped promon­tory topped by a Ge­noese fort. Be­hind it the re­mote vil­lage of Girolata has sev­eral restau­rants and beach cafés. Boats bring in fresh fish and tourist fer­ries ar­rive from Porto.

This lovely an­chor­age is rea­son­ably well en­closed, so in set­tled spells you can stay overnight here. The wa­ter is crys­tal clear and turquoise shal­lows gleam around the bay.


Three miles south of Girolata, the stun­ning Gulf of Porto opens up like an opera set. With binoc­u­lars you can see the har­bour and clus­tered houses at its head, minute against 8,000ft moun­tains just in­land. The pow­er­ful scenery catches your breath, dwarf­ing even the largest su­pery­achts.

The old town of Piana is high on the south shore, reached by a pre­car­i­ous road past jagged gran­ite pin­na­cles tow­er­ing above the sea. Tiny Porto har­bour has grown around a river mouth and a few hol­i­day vil­las. It is now a bustling base for tourist launches that shut­tle out to Girolata and Scan­dola. The har­bour chan­nel is tricky for strangers to en­ter, but you can an­chor off the beach just out­side.


From Cap Rossu, the bold south­ern head­land of the Gulf of Porto, it’s a dozen miles round to the glit­ter­ing Bay of Sagone, a pleas­antly low-key re­sort fringed with gor­geous white beaches and scat­tered vil­las. Af­ter the rocky re­mote­ness of Scan­dola and Girolata, I like Sagone for its so­cia­ble hol­i­day vibes. There are usu­ally plenty of other boats about, with moor­ings at the head of the bay. In east­er­lies or set­tled north­west­er­lies Sagone is a de­light­ful an­chor­age and swim­ming from the boat is sub­lime.

The north-west shore has a short stubby pier and low quay where you can land with a dinghy. Here, the con­vivial Restau­rant Pe­tra Ma­rina is one of my favourites in Cor­sica – ex­cel­lent cook­ing and mod­er­ately priced.


Cor­si­can char­cu­terie is un­ri­valled in France. Free-range pork and wild boar (san­glier) go into the spicy saucis­sons and the pâté de san­glier is scrump­tious. Creamy sheep’s milk cheeses such as Fleur du Maquis and Tomme Corse de Bre­bis are per­fect with juicy sun-ripened toma­toes from a mar­ket, sliced and dressed with olive oil.

The is­land has some no­table vine­yards whose reputations are grow­ing. In the north-east, the chalky soil and sunny slopes around Pat­ri­mo­nio pro­duce Niel­luc­cio grapes for reds and rosés and Malvoise for the whites. Muscat du Cap Corse is a lus­cious dessert wine, that tastes heav­enly when chilled. Out­side Ajac­cio, Cor­sica’s main city, the Do­maine Clos Capi­toro pro­duces a dry, fruity Clos Capi­toro rosé, which is our house wine of choice when in Cor­sica.


Cruis­ing south from Sagone you reach the ma­jes­tic Gulf of Ajac­cio, with moun­tains tow­er­ing be­hind. Cor­sica’s cap­i­tal lies at its head and near the har­bour you pass the golden walls of a 16th-cen­tury ci­tadel. Be­yond this un­mis­tak­able land­mark is a lively vieux port with colour­ful fish­ing boats, quay­side cafés and the old town just in­land.

Port Or­nano ma­rina is in the crook of the bay, an ideal base with a panoramic out­look. Ships come and go in the gulf and planes cir­cle to­wards the air­port. The south shore has sev­eral sandy coves where you can an­chor for lunch and a swim. The city is an easy stroll from the ma­rina, a chic shop­ping cen­tre with some im­pres­sive im­pe­rial ar­chi­tec­ture.


A while ago I was de­liv­er­ing a Guy Couach 1280 from Sar­dinia to Cannes via Cor­sica. The leg from Boni­fa­cio to Ajac­cio started in a calm, but a north-west­erly was fresh­en­ing as we en­tered the Ajac­cio Gulf. Halfway across, our star­board en­gine fal­tered and I pulled back to neu­tral, then the port en­gine did like­wise. An evil blue net was trail­ing to wind­ward. We rolled as I wres­tled with the boathook, be­fore a fish­ing boat ap­peared and of­fered us a tow. Soon we were in Ajac­cio be­ing helped along­side by a band of lo­cals. Within an hour a diver had cleared our props free of charge and we were all drink­ing wine to­gether. I have never for­got­ten this warm-hearted kind­ness.


About 33km east of Ajac­cio, Lake Tolla is an un­ex­pected plea­sure – a long scenic reser­voir cre­ated by a dam across the Prunelli River. Tolla vil­lage stands above the lake, with views across the val­ley and its fine ex­panse of wa­ter. At 550m above sea level, this cleft in the moun­tains is of­ten much cooler than the coast, and there’s noth­ing more re­lax­ing than hir­ing a ped­alo

The wa­ter at Giro la ta is crys­tal clear, and turquoise shal­lows gleam around the bay

and me­an­der­ing around the shores of over­hang­ing wal­nut trees.

In the vil­lage you can lunch at the fam­ily-run Restau­rant à L’epica but get there by mid­day. A hire car from Ajac­cio is the way to visit Lake Tolla, an easy day out if you are at Port Or­nano.


A short hop south of Ajac­cio around Cap Muro, friendly Propriano lies at the head of the Gulf of Val­inco. Green hills fall steeply to the north shore, while the lower slopes be­hind Propriano look wel­com­ing as you come in. White sandy beaches cir­cle the gulf. Propriano is a thor­oughly like­able re­sort where nor­mal life thrives along­side tourist ho­tels and gift shops. The har­bour feels agree­ably homely. Fish­ing boats rub shoul­ders with yachts and mo­tor boats of all sizes. Size­able ships tend to use the more spa­cious outer quays.

The Hô­tel Le Lido is west of the har­bour right on the beach. Opened in 1932 as a sim­ple beach bar, Le Lido is a mem­o­rable place to eat, its feet vir­tu­ally in the Mediter­ranean.


Up in the hills be­hind Propriano, the 16th-cen­tury walled town of Sartène looks across a no­ble vista of moun­tains fold­ing away in the dis­tance. Al­though Sartène is pop­u­lar with tourists and Place de la Libéra­tion alive with cafés, the hid­den cor­ners of this his­toric place are quiet and still.

You can visit Sartène from Propriano by bus or taxi. The wind­ing road ap­proaches an an­cient, al­most fairy­tale prospect of tall, ram­shackle houses with red pan­tile roofs, cling­ing to the side of Val­lée du Riz­zanese. Wan­der­ing the som­bre labyrinth of shady streets and pas­sage­ways, you feel the in­de­pen­dent spirit of old Cor­sica, steeped in the is­land tra­di­tions of vendetta.


Boni­fa­cio is a cav­ernous fjord at the is­land’s south­ern tip, with an at­trac­tive ma­rina at its head. You en­ter through a dog-leg cleft in sheer white cliffs of stri­ated lime­stone. Perched high above this amaz­ing nat­u­ral har­bour, Boni­fa­cio’s 9th-cen­tury

ci­tadel is the old­est in Cor­sica. In­side its walls you find a slightly crum­bling town with an Ital­ian flavour. Wan­der­ing the cob­bled streets you hear the con­stant sound of chat­ter − out­side shops, on shady cor­ners or echo­ing down from shut­tered win­dows.

You can take a boat trip from Boni­fa­cio to see the caves and in­lets west of the en­trance. The boats go right into the larger caves and visit lime­stone la­goons and turquoise pools.


The Boni­fa­cio Strait be­tween Cor­sica and Sar­dinia is fringed with reefs and small is­lands, a tan­ta­lis­ing cruis­ing ground. To ex­plore this area from Boni­fa­cio, leave early in the morn­ing, partly to bag an an­chor­age but also to catch the best pi­lotage con­di­tions be­fore ther­mal winds get go­ing.

There are par­adise an­chor­ages around Cav­allo and Lavezzi is­lands, and Cav­allo has a tiny ma­rina. Cala Laza­rina is tucked into the south coast of Lavezzi, pro­tected by a low cor­don of moon­scape rocks – an idyl­lic spot if no other boats are there!


Porto-vec­chio lies at the head of a long buoyed in­let on Cor­sica’s south-east cor­ner. Wooded hills climb gen­tly from the shore, a rest­ful change from rugged cliffs and loom­ing moun­tains. With its back to the west, this part of the is­land has a mild cli­mate rem­i­nis­cent of the Côte d’azur. The water­front has a mel­low at­mos­phere where time ticks slowly.

The old walled town is right above the ma­rina. Built by the Ge­noese as a refuge from pi­rates, it is set around Place de la République and a 12th-cen­tury church, with lots of pave­ment cafés where you can linger over cof­fee. The east ram­parts look over the har­bour and the grand reaches of the gulf.


North of Porto-vec­chio, you soon pass a long coastal plain backed by rolling hills and forests, a softer land­scape than the moun­tain­ous west. Solen­zara has a pleas­ant ma­rina next to a river, with a small but lively town nearby. Be­tween Solen­zara and Bastia there are salt­wa­ter lakes be­hind the low, flat shore.

In the tran­quil Étang de Biguglia, de­li­cious mus­sels, oys­ters and clams are cul­ti­vated in shell­fish ponds, and the mus­sels in par­tic­u­lar are a treat. Large and suc­cu­lent, they are best served raw like oys­ters (ask for moules crues), with a squeeze of le­mon juice be­fore they slip down. The paths around the ponds are fas­ci­nat­ing to wan­der and you’ll see barges work­ing the mus­sel beds.


Port Tav­erna is a use­ful east coast stop, though its ap­proaches are shal­low. Cervione vil­lage stands high in the hills be­hind the ma­rina, a de­light­ful 6km walk in­land up the Cam­poloro val­ley. Try to leave early while the sun is low and not too hot. The vil­lage stacks up in lay­ers of tall, aus­tere houses, with a bell tower and a cathe­dral.

Cervione lies at the sea­ward end of La Castag­nic­cia, a vast chest­nut for­est stretch­ing from Monte San Petrone. These eerie woods are dot­ted with ham­lets, many al­most de­serted. The chest­nuts were once har­vested for mar­ket and many lo­cal recipes use chest­nut flour and pork. Con­tented pigs roam freely here!


From Bastia you can take a nar­row­gauge train right across the spine of Cor­sica to Ajac­cio, a to­tally ab­sorb­ing four-hour jour­ney through sen­sa­tional land­scapes. The first stretch runs south along the coast to Casamozza, where the sin­gle track heads in­land to­wards the moun­tains. At Ponte Lec­cia a branch turns

off to Calvi while the main route climbs through val­leys and canyons to the pic­turesque old town of Corte, with its dra­matic ci­tadel bal­anced on a rocky out­crop. The rail­way crosses old viaducts and at Bocog­nano, at the foot of Monte d’oro, you pass cas­cad­ing water­falls. Start­ing early gets you to Ajac­cio in time for lunch, with an af­ter­noon train re­turn­ing to Bastia by evening.


Bastia is Cor­sica’s sec­ond largest town and busi­est port, the is­land cap­i­tal un­til de­moted by Napoleon in favour of Ajac­cio. Its fine old quar­ter looks and feels Ital­ian, and has some su­perb trat­to­rias. While Port Toga is a con­ve­nient ma­rina, the his­toric vieux port is the con­nois­seur’s choice for a short stay. Tra­di­tional Ge­noese-style apart­ments climb six storeys above the quays, their win­dows strung with wash­ing. Above them, smaller houses and ter­races cling to each other and the steep hill­side.

A short taxi ride to the north, the beau­ti­ful vil­lage of San Martino di Lota seems to hover above the sea, look­ing out to­wards the Tus­can is­lands of Elba and Pianosa, 30 miles away.


The is­land’s ‘big-toe’ penin­sula juts north 20 miles from St Florent on the west side and Bastia on the east. This is a great area to ex­plore if, hav­ing ar­rived in Calvi or St Florent, you have lim­ited cruis­ing time. Choose a quiet day for round­ing Cap Corse and its neat white light­house. A few miles down the east coast, Maci­nag­gio ma­rina lies in a gor­geous bay where lush green coun­try slopes down to the har­bour and a golden beach. This side of Cap Corse has sev­eral small fish­ing vil­lages and Er­balunga is one of the pret­ti­est. Lean­ing to­gether on a rocky point, its sim­ple houses were once hung with nets and the tiny har­bour piled with crab pots.


On the west side of Cap Corse is a strangely rocky and des­o­late stretch of coast called Le Džsert des Agri­ates. Bar­ren it may be, but there are sev­eral an­chor­ing bays. From here you can turn to­wards St Florent ma­rina, at the head of a spec­tac­u­lar gulf.

St Florent feels a bit like St Tropez, with chic water­front brasseries and colour­ful houses look­ing across the har­bour. The town oc­cu­pies a low point near an el­e­gant round ci­tadel. A back­drop of hills lends grandeur to the scene and a gleam­ing white beach around the bay adds a fi­nal touch of lo­tus-eat­ing lux­ury. Up be­hind St Florent, some of Cor­sica’s best vine­yards grace the ter­raced slopes around Pat­ri­mo­nio.


If you are in St Florent in late July, don’t miss the gui­tar fes­ti­val at Pat­ri­mo­nio, a vine­yard vil­lage above the sea. The hills form an am­phithe­atre for Les Nu­its de la Guitare, a fa­mous event at­tract­ing some of the world’s finest play­ers. Here, in the dusky sum­mer evenings, you can lis­ten to sev­eral styles of gui­tar mu­sic, from clas­si­cal recitals and blues to fla­menco and gypsy. The fes­ti­val has been run­ning for 30 years and a finer set­ting you can hardly imag­ine. Buses or taxis take you up to Pat­ri­mo­nio, but a re­lax­ing walk down­hill is the best re­turn op­tion.

TheBo ni fa­cio Strait be­tween Cor­sica and Sar­dinia is a tan­ta­lis­ing cruis­ing ground

Boats bring fresh fish into the re­mote har­bour at Girolata each morn­ing

Cor­sica’s cap­i­tal, Ajac­cio, is a lively, colour­ful base from which to ex­plore

At 550m above sea level, Tolla vil­lage is a cool oa­sis when tem­per­a­tures soar

Boni­fa­cio’s ninth-cen­tury ci­tadel is perched high on the cliffs above the strait

Lay­ers of stri­ated lime­stone form a fas­ci­nat­ing coast­line around Boni­fa­cio Fish­ing boats and yachts jos­tle for po­si­tion in Propriano

Bastia has an Ital­ian feel and was the is­land’s cap­i­tal un­til it was de­moted by Napoleon in favour of Ajac­cio

You can take a boat trip from Boni­fa­cio to ex­plore the caves and in­lets to the west

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.