The marvelous Lavezzi islands on board ASTRA
Perched out in the Mediterranean, south of Genoa and west of Rome, the French island of Corsica is a lush, volcanic destination with a distinctly Italian flavour. Two thirds of the landscape comprises mountainous national park and the strikingly unspoiled 600-mile coastline offers two very different charter experiences.
On the east coast, the terrain is flat and beachy with a scattering of compact harbours, while in the west, a wild cascade of steep cliffs and stacks plunges unchecked into the open sea. Here, the complex deepwater shoreline creates a coast that’s not just more dramatic but also more versatile for roaming superyachts. Wherever you cruise, however, the island’s resolutely Corsican culture, cuisine and custom are a world apart from the mainstream charter destinations of France and Italy.
The compact 15th century Genoese citadel of St Florent nestles in a northern inlet, on the edge of some renowned fishing waters and wine producing regions. It is one of Corsica’s most vibrant port towns, with plenty of restaurants and some fine local beaches, not least in the form of Plage de Saleccia. Some of the local beaches are accessible only by boat, enabling you to anchor up for a secluded picnic before heading back for alfresco drinks in Place des Portes by the harbour.
While Riviera-style Ile Rousse was originally conceived as an 18th century competitor to the port of Calvi, it has never been able to match this very authentic and engaging destination. As the nearest port to mainland France, its superyacht facilities are excellent and its convoluted web of ancient sun-drenched streets wrapped in vast fortifications is pure Corsica. The self-sustaining fishing industry and commercial port of this steeply stacked town also make it a much more three-dimensional charter yacht option than most tourism-dependent resorts.
After the effervescence of St Florent and Calvi, the region to the south of the 1,900-hectare Scandola National Park offers a welcome dose of pristine Mediterranean wilderness. At Porto, the 16th century watchtower, pretty marina and impressive landscapes are tempting; at Osani, the Plage de Gradelle offers great views of the famous cliff structures at Calanques de Piana, as well as easy access across the bay to the elaborate headland at Capu Rossu; and at Girolata, the heart of the Nature Reserve is right there on your doorstep.
Tucked among close-packed hills in an inlet on the northern shore of the gulf, Ajaccio is a very relaxing place, with a casual appeal born of not really trying too hard. The scenery on this southwestern section of Corsica is delectable, the old town is a traditional cluster of washed pastille walls and shaded streets and the cafes, shops and restaurants are well up to par for the chic clientele that tend to emanate from the large and lavish marina at Port Tino Rossi.
As you enter the Bonifacio approaches, protected from the open swells by a long knifelike cliff face, it’s impossible to imagine a more enticing charter scene. At the end of the narrow inlet lies a sun-bleached Italianate citadel strewn with interwoven alleyways – and if the craggy hilltop fortifications are impressive, the ancient harbour is just as memorable. Like a mini Valetta with an even more dramatic setting, Bonifacio is a shining beacon for the gruff, organic loveliness of this salt-soaked island.
As home to various TV celebrities, the fortified town of Porto Vecchio has acquired a reputation as a distinctly prestigious destination. Easy links with the Italian and French Rivieras no doubt plays their part in this, but so too does the energetic beach scene (Santa Giulia and Palombaggia are first class) the narrow streets of the elegant old town and the pretty, café-lined marina. The Place de la Republique is languorously decadent and the beautifully preserved buildings are a treat.