Sailing in Corsica: 6 enchanting ports you must explore
Corsica is an ideal cruise destination, cherished by sailors for its mild climate, rugged coastlines and mountain peaks in the hinterland. It is the fourth-largest island in the Mediterranean, located southwest of mainland France, west of Italy and north of the island of Sardinia. Besides being a beach lover’s dream, Corsica is surrounded by a rich history spanning centuries of traditions, with ancient buildings at every corner, winding cobbled streets, extraordinary cuisine and a thriving artistic and musical scene.
Granite shores, vibrant forests and the fragrant flowers
An ideal island for navigating through its secluded bays and sun-drenched beaches. The landscape is highly scenic, thanks to the vibrant colors of the granite rocks. The coasts are incredibly diverse; mountains descend steeply in parallel chains to the west, where the coastline is cut into steep gulfs and marked by high cliffs and promontories. To the east, the mountains slope down in broken escarpments, reaching extensive plains that line a coast with many coves, perfect for sheltering your boat.
Contrasting with the blue and green hues of the sea is the lush vegetation. In fact, much of the island is covered by a Mediterranean scrubland whose scents waft to the sea and can be sensed even when dropping anchor in one of Corsica’s numerous bays and inlets. This is why Corsica has earned the nickname of the ‘scented island.’
An island for all skippers, both beginners and experts
In terms of sailing, Corsica is a beautiful sailing destination suitable for both beginners and experienced skippers. Since sailing conditions can be challenging on the western coast and in the Strait of Bonifacio, it is recommended for less experienced skippers to navigate in the southeastern part of the island. Tides have a small range of 10-30 cm, causing no major difficulties for skippers during anchoring.
However, winds, depending on their direction, can significantly alter water levels and navigation conditions. Therefore, it is advisable to keep an eye on the wind and, if necessary, reef the sails. The most challenging winds are the Mistral, blowing from the Northwest, and the Libeccio from the Southwest. For each cruise, it is essential to check the weather forecast every time you leave the port or anchorage.
Now, let’s explore the must-visit ports in Corsica that should definitely be included in the cruise itinerary.
This beautiful seaside town surrounded by mountains is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit while navigating in Corsica. Calvi’s most spectacular site is the citadel, which will amaze you with its towers and bastions. The fortress was built between the 13th and 16th centuries and resisted French attacks several times until the end of the 18th century. Inside the citadel, you will also find the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the ancient palace of the Genoese governors and the Oratory of Saint Anthony. If you love hiking, you must visit the Bonifatu forest, which will captivate you with its trails and natural pools for swimming in the river.
Ajaccio, the lair of Napoleon
Another must-visit stop in Corsica is Ajaccio, the city where Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, and where he spent his childhood. While exploring the city, you’ll notice that many places bear the name Bonaparte. The house where Napoleon lived is now a museum that preserves some of the original furniture and the Bonaparte family’s family tree. If you visit Ajaccio in August, don’t miss the Napoleon Days, a three-day festival organized in tribute to the emperor, featuring military parades in costumes, historical reenactments, exhibitions and concerts.
The most emblematic place in Bastia is Saint-Nicolas Square, one of the largest squares in France, right in front of the harbor, welcoming sailors from all over Europe. The main square hosts numerous events and performances throughout the year. Surrounded by tall exotic trees and bars and restaurants, Saint-Nicolas Square is the ideal spot to enjoy a drink on a terrace. We highly recommend trying the sweets from the Grimaldi chocolate shop. Another important place to visit is the Citadel of Bastia, built on a natural promontory in 1380 by a Genoese governor.
Also of interest is the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie, featuring a beautiful baroque interior adorned with many Italian paintings and the Governors’ Palace that houses the Historical Museum of Bastia.
Saint Florent, what a view of the gulf…
The city of Saint Florent is the second largest tourist port in Corsica, welcoming many sailors and offering nautical facilities with reasonable prices and good services. A stroll to the citadel through the beautiful village streets will take you to the top, where you can enjoy spectacular views overlooking the Gulf of Saint Florent. Another point of interest is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the Nebbio Cathedral. The 12th-century Romanesque church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Inside, you’ll find the fresco of the 12 apostles and the remains of Saint Florent, the patron saint of the town.
Scandola Nature Reserve
The Scandola Nature Reserve is also one of Corsica’s must-see attractions and is best explored by sea to admire its unique landscapes. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Scandola Reserve hosts an exceptional and well-protected marine and terrestrial fauna. Therefore, do your best to respect Mother Nature and minimize your impact on this extraordinary area, as walking, hunting, fishing or diving are strictly prohibited. If you plan to visit the reserve, consider making a stop in Girolata, an ancient fishing village accessible only by boat or through a hiking trail.
The spectacle of Bonifacio
Bonifacio is one of the must-visit cities in the heart of Corsica, where you can also find shelter at Port de Bonifacio. Since navigation conditions in the Strait of Bonifacio can be quite challenging, it’s always advisable to check the weather forecast. One of the first things that will amaze you while sailing in Bonifacio is the houses perched atop the white cliffs, overlooking the sea and commanding the famous Strait of Bonifacio, the stretch of sea between Corsica and Sardinia.
The village of Bonifacio is divided into the lower part, more focused on the tourist aspect, where you will also find modern shops for those who want to indulge in shopping, and the upper part, which remains tied to a more ancient and traditional appearance. Among the attractions of Bonifacio to visit are the staircase of the King of Aragon, the Bastion of Etendard and the Pertusato lighthouse.