Corsica, at last

Bonifacio, Corsica

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean southeast of Nice and just north of Sardinia. It’s the birthplace of Napoleon I and a place of rugged beauty with a culture all its own. I wanted to visit Corsica for decades, but despite living in Paris on-and-off for years, I never made it. The time had finally arrived!

After finishing a house-and cat-sitting gig in little Thoiry, France, we flew EasyJet from Geneva to Ajaccio, Corsica, an 1h10m non-stop flight. We picked up a rent car at the Ajaccio airport and drove two and a half hours through rocky mountains to Bonifacio at the southern tip of the island, stopping a long the way to admire views and snap photos. We had nine nights in Corsica and I’d agonized over where exactly to spend our time. With all the winding roads, driving times in Corsica can be long and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of rushing around trying to see everything and being rushed everywhere. I settled on Bonifacio as one of two places to stay because it was just so dramatically beautiful. And given how many dramatically beautiful places there are in Corsica, that’s saying a lot. Wow, was I happy with my choice of Bonifacio!


Medieval Bonifacio sits atop dramatic cliffs overlooking the sea on two sides and a pretty little harbor on another. The hotel I’d chosen, Hotel Santateresa is at the highest point in the old town, at the very tip of the peninsula on which the town sits. The only thing between the hotel and the point of the peninsula is an old cemetery perched high above the Grotte de Saint-Antoine (cave of St. Antoine, also known as “Napoleon’s Hat” for its shape).The cemetery and a large parking area by it are popular with tourists as is the whole town. Happily, the Hotel Santateresa has plenty of guest-only parking, a welcome privilege. We enjoyed the hotel with its pretty views, large room, and easy walk into town. It was just far enough away from the bustle of the old town to be quiet at night, but close enough to walk in and out during the day as we liked. It is a bit of a steep hike down to the harbor, but that’s just a fact of the town layout; you’re going to be walking up and down steps whether you stay up in the old town or down by the harbor. I’d gladly stay at Hotel Santateresa again.

I’ve visited a lot of medieval towns and, at this stage, it takes a lot to really blow me away, but Bonifacio (“The City of Cliffs”) did. It’s just so achingly picturesque and authentic-feeling despite the obvious touristy overlay. The steep, narrow cobbled streets and steps beg to be explored. Terraces clinging to the cliffside give sweeping views of the sea.


Tiny shops and restaurants sometimes reveal a back window opening onto a breathtaking vista. Multiple times, we crossed paths with religious processions carrying a large crucifix (and once a large statue of a saint) and chanting. Participants wore modern clothing and shoes under their robes, but the primary purpose was religion and local culture, not a show for the tourists. Bonifacio has five churches and five religious brotherhoods, the earliest of which date back to the 13th century and trace their origins to Genoa. Throughout the year these brotherhoods make processions through Bonifacio carrying the crucifix and their patron saints.

A friend with family roots in Corsica had recommended we take a boat tour from Bonifacio, saying I’d love the different perspective on the town from the water. There are several large boats that leave multiple times a day from the harbor. I talked to a couple, but the idea just didn’t appeal. It was hot and lots of people (50-90 passengers) on a big boat just sounded hotter and I had a feeling we’d feel trapped. I pondered a private tour, but it was June and I hadn’t booked anything in advance and time was limited, so I was afraid we were out of luck. A stop at the Information building at the end of the harbor changed that. I explained my concerns to the woman there, and she suggested a small tour company with an ad in an information booklet. A phone call later followed by an online payment of €150 for both of us and we were booked for a 3-hour sunset cruise with Corse Nautic Escape.

What an awesome sunset cruise with Corse Nautic Escape!

The boat turned out to be a sleek 42′ power boat that could accommodate twelve people. Instead, it was David and me, one other couple, and the captain. Perfect! The other couple and the captain were French, so I did translation duty for David, but that was no issue. The boat slipped along cliffs and into a sheltered cove of clear water to allow time for a swim and to set out generous charcuterie and cheese plates accompanied by local wine. [Corsican cuisine relies heavily on cured meats (mostly pork), cheese, chestnut products, and wine.] The last portion of the cruise took us a distance from shore to view Bonafacio in the lowering sun, then right up to the cliffs and into the Grotte de Saint-Antoine. We cruised past the steep cliffs rising up to the town opposite the harbor where the 189 steps of the Escalier du Roy d’Aragon (built in 1420) snaked down to the water. Finally, we circled the U Diu Grosso (“Grain of Sand”) boulder for that spectacular sunset view of Bonafacio atop the cliffs before heading back around the peninsula point and into the harbor as darkness fell. It was the perfect way to end the day and our time in Bonifacio.

Cruising around U Diu Grosso
Bonifacio harbor at dusk

We spent our last six nights in Corsica in the capital city of Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon. Our lovely AirBnB apartment boasted a big balcony with sea views of the famous Iles Sanguinaires (“Bloody Islands”) in the distance. (The islands are named for their appearance at sunset rather than anything violent in their history.) We were in walking distance of Trottel Beach and driving distance of several other beaches that lined the Route de Sanguinaires road out to the crumbling tower called the Tour Genoise de la Parata.

Hiking the Tour Genoise de la Parata (and a brave little sparrowhawk) with the Îles Sanguinaires and lighthouse in the distance

We spent our days enjoying the beaches, taking long rambles into the city, and hiking up to the Tour Genoise. We did a 2-tank scuba dive outing from Trottel Beach with E. Ragnole. The owner was friendly and chatty, removing any hesitation I had about booking when I stopped in to ask questions. When I told him I tend to get cold diving, he made sure I got both a long wetsuit and a shorty to wear over it. The staff was great, too, and we were assigned an English-speaking guide who we had to ourselves for the two dives. The price was reasonable and the dives were enjoyable, but the underwater landscape underwhelmed. The monochrome colors below mirror the rugged sand-colored landscape above. We saw barracuda, but missed the colorful coral and fish we’re used to. With other options calling, we opted not to dive a second day.


We also took one more sunset cruise, this time with Neptune Croisière, out to the Îles Sanguinaires. The bar was set so high at Bonifacio that this cruise with a dozen passengers, although enjoyable, couldn’t compete. Still, it was fun and included an apéritif stop on an île with enough time for us to hike through a huge seagull rookery to the lighthouse and an old keeper’s house on an opposite peak.

We loved our time in Corsica and hope to get back someday to explore more of this unique island. Next up: New Zealand via Hawaii and Tahiti.

One thought on “Corsica, at last”

  1. Thank you for sharing your incredible photos, Tamara. No wonder you wanted to go to some place as unique as Corsica! Since my travel days are past, I am vicariously enjoying yours! And so glad you have David to share the adventures with! And I know he always protects you as you share your world journeys together! Momma

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