Bastia, Corsica's second largest city with a population of about 40.000 people, sits pretty on Corsica's east coast, facing Italy with views out to the Tuscan archipelago. Directly to the the north, and accessible by car or bus is le Cap Corse, a wild peninsula studded with Genoese towers and a vast natural preserve that has become a hiker's paradise.
Bastia is often overlooked for other destinations considered more picturesque. When we visited the city was alive with people going about their business--and that's one of the keys for us when we measure a city's "authentic-ness." What bridges the gap between such a "real" city and a touristy destination is the attention to details that serve to enhance everyone's leisure time--the enormous Place St. Nicolas, lined with cafes, shops and restaurants with a view of the ferry port is just one example. The many Baroque churches, some with the pebble mosaics in front that identify them with Liguria and Genoese traditions offer the traveler coolness, shade, and free art to ponder. Then there's the Citadel and the old houses that make up the colorful "new town", with views out over the vieille ville, the old city and the sea. People still live and shop here; Bastia is a real city.
The cuisine of Bastia is simple and based largely on what the sea provides. The crisp Corsican white wines are a good match for a plate of mussels, but on your trip you'll want to try a beer called Pietra, an amber chestnut beer. (The brewery has a Brasserie on Route de la Marana in Furiani if it turns out you really like it.)
So join us for a little tour of Bastia, from how to get there to where to stay and what to do
Getting to and Getting Around Bastia
Bastia has an airport called Bastia Poretta, located in Lucciana southeast of Bastia. Autobus Bastiais buses run from 6.30-20.30 to the city center and main station in about 35 minutes.
Day and Night you'll see a line of ferries crossing the horizon to land at Bastia's commercial port. You can get ferries from Livorno, Italy (4 hours) or Toulon, France on Corsica Ferries. Other ferries can get you to Bastia from Marseille, Nice, and Savona.
There's a very pleasant crossing from Livorno to Bastia, which passes by the islands of Capraia and Elba. The ship has a lounge and employs a piano player for part of the journey, and is a good place to settle in and have one of those Pietra beers. You can get a snack or a formal meal on the boat.
You'll find bus stations scattered through town, depending upon their destinations. It's best to ask at the tourist office in the corner of the Place St. Nicolas that is nearest to the ferry port. You'll find buses to all the major cities.
The (very cute) train station is a bit uphill from the port at av Maréchal Sébastiani. Trains serve Ajaccio, Ile Rousse, Corte and Calvi.
Bastia Attractions - Starting at the Place Saint Nicolas
The first place a tourist should visit is the Place St. Nicolas, the sprawling plan tree-lined square where you'll find everything you might need, from shops to cafes and bars to the tourist office on the north side of the square. Around it are many bus stops. Get to know it. It's just across from where the ferries dock in Bastia.
Sundays a flea market is held in the Place Saint Nicolas, and there is a garment market there on the second Friday every month. The traditional open-air market is held on weekends in the Place de l'Hotel de Ville, south of the Place St. Nicolas.
From the tourist office, a walk west along the wide Av. Mal Sebastiani brings you to the little train station which is surrounded by bus stops. It's central to getting around Corsican destinations from Bastia.
The street on the west side of the Pace Saint-Nicolas is the Boulevard De Gaulle, following it south brings you to the little shops along the Rue Napoleon. Stop at the Oratoire St-Roch and take a peek at the rich Baroque interior. A little further along is the Oratoire de l'Immaculee Conception (1611) which has a pebble mosaic in front, an indication that the Genoese had the church built.
From there, if you're feeling fit enough for the uphill, you'll continue on to the somewhat ramshackle Vieux Port which has been gussied up a bit and is ringed by restaurants, the next stop on our tour.
Bastia's Old Port
The Vieux Port is the heart of old Bastia. Towering above the ramshackle buildings is Corsica's largest church, the 17th Century Saint-Jean Baptiste. You'll likely find folks fishing in the basin amongst the yachts. For a good view of the old port while you dine, an outdoor table at the somewhat pricy Chez Huguette would do nicely.
Bastia's Market Square
Bastia's market square is really the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, or the City Hall Square. It's right next to the previous church, Saint-Jean Baptiste.
If you don't want to enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the area restaurants, you can buy something at the little market between La Table du Marche and the Saint-Jean Baptiste. They are very helpful if you're selecting a wine or cheese.
The Citadel and the Palais des Gouverneurs
Walk up from the old port and you'll come to the Genoese Citadel. Inside the walls is a village called the Terra Nova, the new town. The building of the Citadel began in 1378 and went on until about 1530.
Here is where the Governors from Genoa had their palace, Palais des Gouverneurs, which now houses the Musée à Bastia, where you can learn about the evolution of society in Bastia and Corsica.
There are many restaurants with advantageous views over the sea and the old port here; it's a good place to stop for lunch.
Shopping in Bastia
You'll have many opportunities to purchase Corsican goods on your Bastia holiday. Like nearby Sardinia (actually a part of the same land mass as Corsica), knives are a specialty here. On your way up to the Citadel, you'll come upon quite a few shops selling them.
You might also want to try the aperitif called Cap Corse in a restaurant. It's a wine infused with orange and other fruits found on the island. If you want to purchase a bottle, Cap Cose Mattei is a very well done store in which to buy this aperitif--or other Corsican wines.
Where to Stay in Bastia
You might enjoy a stay at the Hotel l'Alivi, just outside Bastia in the small village of Ville-di-Pietrabugno. It has a fine restaurant with seaside terrace called l'Archipel, which has a view of the sea and the Italian islands on the horizon. Good food, great service and views. You can easily walk into town from the hotel.
A popular hotel in town is the Best Western Corsica Hotels Bastia Centre.