Established in 833, Bonifacio's rich history offers visitors a fascinating and bustling base from which to explore the south of the island. Its isolated position with ramparts perched high on Corsica's only limestone plateau, give Bonifacio a timeless charm.
Perched on a limestone pedestal, Bonifacio is one of the most spectacular towns in the Mediterranean. The citadel walls and ancient houses appear to rise seamlessly out of sheer cliffs that have been hollowed and striated by the wind and waves. Beneath, an inlet about 100 metres wide forms a natural harbour, home to a buzzing port. Only 12 kilometres from Sardinia, the town is distinctly more Italian than French in atmosphere, and even has its own dialect based on Ligurian Italian.
Mentioned in Homer's Odyssey (it is the lair of the fearsome Laestrygonians), the precipitous cliffs overhanging the sea are honeycombed with old watery grottoes. These cliffs enclose the restaurants and the smart yachts in the marina and the views of the citadel from here are impressive, however it must be said that the most amazing view of the town and port is from the sea. Excursion boats head out from the town throughout the day to the best vantage points, including the Lavezzi islands a scattering of islets just out to sea.
The cafés around the port are an excellent place to watch the world go by, and there are numerous restaurants. There's also a tiny but interesting aquarium on the port which children and adults enjoy. Walk or take the tourist train from the port up to the old town at top of the hill. Look over the wall here and you'll see the grain de sable, a massive chunk of limestone cliff that's fallen into the sea, which is the subject of thousands of postcards. The steps here seem never-ending but do lead down to a tiny scrap of beach where you can then turn left to start the clifftop walk.
Alternatively, you can drive up to the old town and leave the car in one of the car parks by the cemetery. From here it's a flatter walk into the old town, which is a delightful place to explore. The view from the cliffs is superb. You can visit the churches and ramparts with narrow streets full of shops and cafés. The marine cemetery at the far end of the cliff top by all the car-parks is much visited as it's full of extraordinarily elaborate mausoleums.
Heading north up the coast from Bonifacio is a series of spectacular sandy bays, all breathtaking in their natural splendour. The closest being the hamlet of Santa Manza, set 10 kilometres east of Bonifacio. With a family friendly beach and a gently shelving shore it is perfect for children and popular with water sports enthusiasts, particularly windsurfers due to the favourable winds.
Rondinara is a natural formed horseshoe bay with fine white sands which slope gently into the turquoise waters. A simply stunning beach, it is flanked on one side by pine trees and a protected nature reserve on the other.
Things to See & Do
- Wander the sheltered harbourside of Bonifacio Port and take a trip from the port to the nearby 'grottes et falaises' (caves and cliffs) or to the Iles de Lavezzis providing the opportunity to view the magnificent coastal rock formations from the sea.
- Why not take a trip to Sardinia for the day? Take the ferry across (1h crossing) - market day at Santa Teresa di Gallura is Thursday.
- Wander along the citadel walls and ancient houses of Bonifacio's old Town, with its interesting churches, narrow streets full of shops and cafés and fabulous views from the remparts. See the grain de sable, a massive outcrop of limestone cliff that's fallen into the sea, which is the subject of thousands of postcards. You can see this by looking over the wall at the top of the hill in the old town.
- Witness superb views from the clifftop walk. Steps from the old town lead down to a tiny beach from where you can start the walk and visit the marine cemetery at the end – People often visit, as it's full of extraordinarily elaborate mausoleums.
- Walk along the cliffs of Bonifacio to the Pertusato lighthouse and admire the stunning views back towards the town and out over the Straits towards Sardinia.
- Try a round of golf at the magnificent Sperone Golf Course. The 16th hole has a nautical challenge not to be missed and is surely a test for the best, but if you are looking for something a little more relaxing why not catch some sun on Petit Spérone beach (just after the 13th hole).
- Drive inland more than 1200m up to the spectacular Col de Bavella, one of the most dramatic passes in Corsica with stunning views across extensive forest, ocean and mountains. Also visit the surrounding mountain villages in the area. Try canyoning or take a dip in a rock pool in the rivers of the Bavella massif. There are many walks through the forests to the hidden waterfalls of the Alta Rocca, including Piscia di Gallo, or Cockerall falls.
- Most people love the sleepy little village of Ste Lucie de Tallano, with its grand old granite houses grouped around a picturesque square - la Place du Monument aux Morts - looking over the valley of the Rizzanese River. From here it's only a short distance to the fabulous rock pools at Zonza. The sides of the river have flat rocks which are excellent for sunbathing, and the rock pools along the length of this stretch of the river provide tranquil and crystal-clear (if sometimes a little chilly) water in which to bathe.
- Choose from a myriad of water sports on the numerous sandy beaches.
- Pack up a picnic and head for one of the beaches between Bonifacio and Pianotolli just before the sunset. The beaches are usually quiet in the evening and the scenery simply marvellous.
- Try the circular coastal walk around Roccapina in the south west (approx. 1h40), which affords breathtaking views across the beaches of Roccapina and Erbaju. Look out for the lion-shaped rock formation 'le lion de Roccapina' which overlooks the dazzling turquoise-blue bays from its perched position.