Despite only being only a two-hour flight from London, Corsica still feels like a hidden gem in Europe.
While tourists flock nearly all-year round to every corner of the continent, Corsica, which has been a region of France since 1769, still feels relatively untouched. In fact, it seems to be a well-kept French secret, with holidaymakers from the mainland making up the majority of visitors.
Even lesser known is Bastia, a small port city located on the tip of the island in the Cap Corse region. With one of Corsica’s main airports just a short drive away (you can also fly into Ajaccio, Figora, and more recently, Calvi), Bastia has mainly been an entry point into the island, with travellers quickly leaving upon arrival in search of rambling countryside, quaint villages, and sandy beaches. But leave Bastia too quickly and you’re sure to miss out; the city boasts a rich history, a picturesque harbour, and more recently, an exciting gastronomy scene that showcases the best of contemporary Corsican cuisine.
Read on for Citizen Femme’s guide of how to enjoy 48 hours in Bastia, one of the most underrated cities in France.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Hôtel Castel Brando
It might not be in Bastia itself, but a stay at the nearby Hôtel Castel Brando offers the best of both worlds on a trip to the Cap Corse; choose from luxuriously lazy days by the pool in four-star comfort, or drive just 20-minutes to enjoy all the sights of the city.
Set in the tiny fishing village of Erbalunga, the hotel gives an authentic look at the region and the chance to stay in what the Corse call “les maisons d’Américains”, properties built by rich Corsican seafarers after making their fortune in South America. This former private home now houses nine of hotel’s guest rooms, furnished with original details such as tomette tiles and antique furniture gathered from flea markets. Alternatively, book into one of the villas for more privacy and your own terrace. As well as two pools the hotel also offers yoga classes and spa treatments, or if you’re feeling more active, borrow an e-bike or kayak or hike around the surrounding mountains, which make as an impressive backdrop to the hotel. By night, guests can dine on seasonal and local dishes in the hotel’s restaurant, or relax sipping on Corsican wine on the pretty terrace.
Hotel Central Bastia
If you want to stay in Bastia itself, then the family-owned Hotel Central Bastia is a charming boutique abode located right in the centre of the city. Founded as a hotel in 1941, vintage lovers will fall in love with its old-fashioned style, with each room uniquely decorated with a mix of patterned wallpaper, heavy drapes, and the family’s own collection of antique furniture.
The odd piece has even been designed by the owner Frederic, who also works as an artist and produced the series of drawing that line the hallway to honour those who have supported the hotel, from staff members and local artisans to loyal regulars. Don’t miss a peek downstairs at the salons which are dedicated to Frederic’s paintings.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Le Coude à Coude
Le Coude à Coude occupies a lovely spot in the heart of the old citadelle, with a charming terrace set under a large leafy tree and twinkling fairy lights. The sharing-style menu offers a small but delicious selection of tapas dishes which highlight Corisica’s bounty of local produce. A gorgeous restaurant to enjoy a light dinner and linger over a bottle of wine.
This popular and quality cheesemongers (A Tinella also supplies many of the city’s best restaurants) doubles up as a wine bar come aperitif time. Grab a table outside to enjoy a chilled glass of Corsican wine and plates of French and local cheeses.
An institution in Bastia, the family-owned glacier Raugi has been serving locals summer-infused ice creams since 1937, and is a must on any trip to the city. There’s plenty of childhood classics on the menu, as well as ice creams blended with local specialties such as figs, hazelnuts, and cedrat (huge green citrus fruits), but it’s more the atmosphere that makes it so memorable; sit out on the terrace to observe a slice of Bastia life as kids enjoy an after-school treat and retired Bastiais gentlemen gossip in Corse as they tuck into their sundaes.
Café des Gourmets
A Bastia hotspot, Café des Gourmets serves up everything you could possibly crave for breakfast or brunch, from buttery pastries to stacks of syrupy pancakes, eggs as you like them, and fresh fruit topped with granola. You can also stop by for a goûter, the French version of afternoon tea time. Everything is homemade in the restaurant’s first floor laboratory, including the bread and the pastries, and the team are focused on only serving great coffee. The décor is also on point, with antique tiled floors, pastel-coloured furniture and huge pots of leafy foliage all crowned by a glass verrerie.
Le Petit Vincent
With a view over the Mediterranean from its pretty terrace, Le Petit Vincent makes for one of the prettiest spots to enjoy an early evening drinking in Bastia, when the sun starts to set and cast a golden glow over the city walls. Just makes sure to get their early, before the diners arrive, to snag a table for an aperitif.
Whilst its neighbours around the Vieux Port (Old Port) are serving up the usual seafood fare, Col Tempo dares to be different with its contemporary take on French and Corsican cuisine. With a focus on seasonal, market produce, the menu changes frequently according to what is available, but it’s guaranteed to be excellent every time. It even has the approval of the Michelin guide, and like many of the best restaurants in Bastia, booking is essential.
WHAT TO DO
Maison L.N. MATTEI
If you’re not familiar with Corsica’s most famous aperitif, Cap Corse, then a visit to the concept store Maison L.N. Mattei will give you a thorough introduction. Not only is there the full range of drinks in the Mattei collection, but there’s also a bar to enjoy free tastings of Cap Corse, which is similar to vermouth but blended with herbs local to the island. There’s also a great selection of Corsican wine and liqueurs, and regional products ranging from honey to condiments.
Previously known as the Bastia and now better known as the Terra Nova district, a walk around the former citadel will make you feel like you have stepped back in time. Wander down the narrow higgledy lanes and past burnished orange buildings to immerse yourself in Bastia’s history, not forgetting to look out for some of the city’s main attractions including the Palais des Gouverneurs on Place du Donjon, the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bastia, and a great selection of bars and restaurants.
Musée de Bastia
Housed in the Palais des Gouverneurs, the former permanent residence of the Genoese governors in Corsica, the Musée de Bastia is the city’s main museum and tells the story of its history covering everything from politics to culture. Even if you don’t go inside you’ll easily spot the museum’s striking orange-hued façade, and its location on Place du Donjon makes an ideal starting point for exploring the citadel.
Bastia’s many churches are also some of the small city’s main sights, but if you want to priortise just one, then Chapelle Sainte-Croix is perhaps the most beautiful. It looks fairly unassuming from the outside, but inside you’ll find an ornate rococo style with gilded gold cherubs adorning the ceilings. The Baroque-style Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bastia (St. Mary’s Cathedral) and Église Saint Jean-Baptiste (Saint John the Baptist Church), whose two towers jut out above the skyline of the Old Port, are also both worth a visit if you have time.
Place du Marché
At the weekend head to Place du Marché, or Market Square, when local Bastiais flock here for the farmer’s market. Some of the specialities to try included brocciu cheese (also found on many restaurant menus in Corsica), freshly fried fritelli (Corsican-style doughnuts), lonzu (smoked pork) and coppa (cured pork), and syrups infused with local oranges and rosemary.
Bastia in Cantu
If you’re interested in experiencing the traditional music of Corsica, then see if you can catch a concert of Corsican polyphony. Throughout the summer, the city organises one-hour concerts of polyphonic singing in Corsican every Friday evening as part of a series named Bastia in Cantu, which are held in the impressive setting of Saint John the Baptist Church. Just get in touch with the Tourist Office to find out times and purchase tickets.