French Corsica (together with Italian Sardinia) offers some of the most pleasant cruising grounds in the western Mediterranean, especially with nearby Elba (see W Italy section), and the straits of Bonifacio.
There are hundreds of coves with brilliant white beaches, little intrusive development, plenty of anchorages and good marinas. The island can be circumnavigated day sailing. Allow two weeks for only the highlights; but you can easily fill four weeks or more. Some older town centres are very attractive. Some of the most dramatic coastal scenery of the Mediterranean can be seen along the west coast. Periods of brisk westerly winds add excitement, some swell on the west coasts, and strong winds between the islands and past the north cape (Cape Corse). The whole area is very busy in peak season. Corsican separatists have been active in recent years.
The sunny season is long, with only occasional interruptions of unsettled weather, May to early October. Summer winds around Corsica include periods of strong westerlys – an extension of the Mistral. These blow particularly strongly (F7 is quite common and F 9 not unknown) past the north cape of Corsica, and between Corsica and Sardinia in the Bonifacio Strait. Otherwise, quite brisk sea breezes characterise afternoons on the west coasts. Frequent winter Mistrals make winter sailing around W Corsica very uncomfortable indeed, with big winds and significant swell.
Corsica – When to Sail
During peak season (French and Italian holidays; mid-July to late August) the cruising area between Corsica and Sardinia becomes over-crowded. Book ahead or arrive early to guarantee marina space.
The shoulder seasons (the further from the peak the better) are still busy, but cruising is then much more relaxed.
Corsica Harbours and Anchorages
On this page, harbours and anchorages are listed anti-clockwise from Bastia. This uses prevailing sea breezes best. Ports are busy in high season, and it’s best to book ahead if your French is reasonable:
Bastia to Cap Corse harbours
The coast from Bastia to Cap Corse is easily reached from the Tuscan islands, and can make a good one week tour for a short charter from Elba. North from Bastia there are several quiet sandy coves, good for lunch stops.
Bastia, Vieux port, is a delightful place to stop, with a lovely old town centre and a lively market, but it’s never easy to find a berth. If you do find one, and feel like a really good meal, ‘La Citadelle is recommended – not cheap, but very good. It’s in the centre of the ‘La Citadelle’ on the south side of the old port.
Port Toga 3km north of Bastia has big supermarket nearby. If you have a day to spare, take the train over to Ajaccio and back to see some stunning scenery.
Macinaggio. Anchoring off is a possibility if the marina is full. This is a good spot to wait if the mistral is doing its periodic westerly blast past Cap Corse.
The West Coast ports of Corsica
The West Coast of Corsica from Cap Corse to Ajaccio passes some brlliant white sand beaches and holiday country, then leads to some of the most magnificent mountain scenery in the Mediterranean, often with a wind from aft.
Centuri is a tiny but very pretty harbour just around the top pf cape Corse. No room for visitors.
St Florent has a large marina. If full, there are reasonably sheltered anchorages just west, subject to some refracted swell. This is a pleasant holiday town with good nearby beaches. The main square comes to life in the evenings as families stroll around the cafés and restaurants.
L’Île Rousse has a marina with sheltered anchoring nearby.
Beaches. The coast from L’Île Rousse to Calvi is serious holiday country, with many coves and beaches between the two towns. Some are quiet, others are hidden beneath rows of brollies and chairs. Both towns are lively in the holiday season. These beaches are exposed to NE sea breezes which pick up most afternoons.
Calvi looks really beautiful as you approach it, and an interesting town, not to be missed. It’s full of restaurants and cafés, but, as usual in holiday towns, the best value for money lies in the back streets, away from the sea views. The marina at Calvi is likely to be full in season unless you arrive early, but there are plenty of buoys at a reasonable price (includes use of toilets, dinghy mooring when going ashore and water). Alternatively, anchor outside the mooring field. Good shopping for provisions, chandlers and repair facilities.
Réserve Naturel de Scandola‘ 12nm SW of Calvi along the coast is a stunning a headland of amazing slabs of multicoloured rocks, clefts and caves rising straight out of the sea, rich with rare wild life. Just before the Reserve, there is a good, quiet anchorage at Galéria. Seals and dolphins are common around here, and some osprey.
Girolata is a tiny village only accessible by sea with some well organised moorings. It’s just south of the impressive Ile de Gargalu. In peak season trippers crowd the place by day, but many disappear at night, leaving a quiet bay in a lovely stetting. The restaurants are nothing special.
Cargèse is a good visit, with a cemetery right by the harbour and two churches, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox facing each other across the valley. Uniquely (probably), they share the same priest. Take exercise by climbing to the village to a supermarket. Buy enough and they bring you and the shopping back to the boat.
Porto, at the head of the gulf just south, is an anchorage only in fair winds with some shallow berths, but again, stunning scenery – especially the needles of pink granite on the south side as you exit the gulf. It’s misnamed on the map – cross off the “pollo” bit!
Sagone anchorage and moorings are quiet at night after the day boats and water skiers have gone.
Ajaccio is a good stop when going north or south having two marinas (crowded in high season, as usual round here) and an area for anchoring off the town. Wintering is feasible, with the airport close by; but book well ahead. From the north you approach around the Iles Sanguinaires – so called because of the reputation for taking lives. Anchoring is possible in settled weather.
Harbours from Ajaccio to the Straits of Bonifacio
There are several anchorages leading to the Golfe de Valinco, and in the Gulf, several more, so it is usually easy to find one sheltered from the wind of the day
Propriano at the head of the gulf is a holiday destination, with first class beaches nearby. It is quite likely to be full in season and can be expensive.
Porto Pollo, on the north as you enter the gulf, is better, offering free hot water showers and a superb Spar supermarket. On the map, it’s position is wrong!
The Straits of Bonifacio
Westerly winds through the Bonifacio straits, channelled between Corsica and Sardinia, often reach F7. This area is a popular cruising ground, sharing the extensive Maddalena and Lavezzi Arhipelagos, together with a host of local anchorages on the main island coastlines.
Bonifacio, at the southern tip, is a ‘must see’, just for its exotic cliff-top setting above layers of limestone carved by the strong straits winds. The harbour is excellently sheltered, and the town above (big flight of steps to climb) is an interesting place to explore. Restaurants and cafés up top are much better value for money than the posh joints around the marina.
The Lavezzi Archipelago, east of Bonifacio, offers some challenging pilotage around the nature reserve (great for rock dodgers) a 3nm x 2nm mass of islands, islets, rocks and lovely small anchorages. The area is ‘regulated’ to control potential damage to the sea bed.
North of the Lavezzi, after the first rather muddy inlet, is a 20nm succession of spectacular bays and beaches until theGolfe de Pinarellu. Some are big, some small.
Golfe de Porto-Vecchio is the biggest inlet, with a marina, a brilliant turquoise bottom, lots of anchoring space, and some fine stretches of sand, although ugly developments spoil parts of the shoreline. The town of Porto-Vecchio is a lively holiday resort. Watching smart Italians displaying around the square of the old town is good entertainment in high season. Hundreds of makes of beer available at the noisy ‘Pub de Bastion’ in the NE corner of the old town.
Corsica – East Coast Marinas
If you’re returning north to Elba after cruising S Corsica, use the east coast. It’s less interesting, but easier than beating north along the west coast against the sea breezes. After the Golfo Pinarellu, There are two marinas in the middle of nowhere in particular, thus reasonable value:
Solenzara is a thriving, pleasant small town with good provisioning and chandlers. Marina is suitable for economic over-wintering; travel lift.
Campoloro (PortoTaverna) is somewhat sleepy. The bottom is thick glutinous mud and the entrance can get blocked by decaying seaweed. Its main attraction is its proximity to the south of Elba and lower prices. Try the Cinderella restaurant.
- Attractions. Circling the island with a two or three week cruise is very rewarding, with lots of variety. Stunning west coast scenery, white sand beaches, picturesque holiday towns.
- Snags. Peak season crowding.
- Ports of Entry. Rarely needed, most major ports – as apart from marinas.
- Layup or Wintering. Ashore or afloat, Ajaccio. But book well ahead. Solenzara
- Transport. Year round scheduled flights via France, plus seasonal charter flights to UK
- Boat Charter. Limited, from Bonifacio.