Friday 28th – Saturday 29th June 2019
Our overnight ferry from Toulon, originally scheduled to depart at 21:00, was delayed by several hours. We had hoped for a picturesque departure at sunset but it was already dark when we finally boarded at close to 23:00. The concierge proudly informed us that our cabin had a window but it was not until the morning we realised we were right at the stern with views over the wake.
Unfortunately, this also meant that we were above the engine room.
Although we were safely tucked up in bed and dozing by the time all the cars, motorhomes and lorries had been loaded and the ship was ready to depart we were wide awake as soon as the captain and pilot revved up the engines to manoeuvre their way out of port. Everything in the cabin – the doors, the prefabricated shower and toilet unit, the aforementioned window, the bed and the metal ladder for the optional extra berth – seemed to rattle, shake or squeak in a discordant cacophony.
Fortunately, as we braced ourselves for a sleepless night on board we must have reached open sea; the side thrusters were turned off and the engine sounds became a quieter and more restful hum.
Although we had been told we would still arrive in Bastia at the scheduled time of 07:00, we did not quite make up all the time and arrived just before 09:00 to deposit our luggage, at our hotel, and go in search of breakfast: check-in was a very Mediterranean 16:00 although we were told our room might be ready earlier than this.
The pleasant and welcoming receptionist at the Hotel Port Toga advised us to eat either in the main square or in the Citadel but, in either case, to eat after walking to the Citadel otherwise, “in this heat on a full stomach you will never make it up the hill”.
Bastia Citadel was built by the Genoese in the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries as a fortress to protect the port. Arriving by sea, the outline of the Citadel was partially obscured by other, newer buildings but towers and ramparts are visible as you approach.
This is the second largest city in Corsica and is relatively compact, contained as it is by the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, but in 35 degrees, any walk uphill is exhausting.
Our route to the Citadel took us past the Place du Marché, the heart of the Terra Vecchia area and on to the Vieux Port.
We entered Bastia Citadel by the Louis XVI Gate. The views are worth the walk even in this unseasonal heat.
In the citadel is the Cathedral Sainte-Marie with an impressive tromp l’oeil ceiling.
Walking back down from the Citadel we went through a park and past a chapel, which was unfortunately closed.
We returned to the Vieux Port where the Church of St. John the Baptist is partially hidden by buildings which we assume are a more recent addition.
After returning to check in and freshen up, we walked to the Place St-Nicolas for our first, very welcome taste of Pietra, the locally brewed Corsican beer . . .
. . . where bands were doing sound checks for the forthcoming Corsica Party Bastia later that night.
This was followed by a stroll along the Quai des Martyrs de la Liberation and past the Palais Monti Rossi [which survived the American bombing in 1943 which destroyed 90 per cent of the Terra Vecchia] and back towards the Vieux Port and then the Place du Marché for another re-hydrating libation.
Due to the Corsica Party Bastia, many restaurants, and certainly all those around the Place Saint-Nicolas, have been fully booked for some time but we found a charming restaurant serving food “your Corsican grandmother would have cooked” offering us the “Friday night special” of sardines.
After a well-deserved lie-in to compensate for the overnight ferry, we breakfasted and walked away from the city along the coast line. Temperatures were still punishing and as the beaches offered no shade, we opted to return to the hotel and venture out after the heat had subsided slightly.
Refreshed by some time in an air conditioned room, the Maison Mattei is the Corsican equivalent of Harrods’ Food Hall and we had to pay a visit.
It predominantly sells prestige food and drink, and the interior is beautifully laid out, complete with a feature original Fiat 500 and a tasting bar but we restrained ourselves as any purchases would have to be carried in our luggage for the rest of the holiday.
We also passed the Oratory of the Brotherhood of Saint Roch which also had a tromp l’oeil ceiling.
One of our favourite pastimes in Bastia has been sitting on our balcony watching the port traffic as the Moby boats have cartoon characters painted on them.