Bonifacio is a city at the south tip of Corsica. It has a spectacular location on white limestone cliffs, sculpted and undercut by the sea, so the buildings overhang the edge. It's named for Boniface II of Tuscany, who beat the Saracens, and (circa 828 AD) thought it wise to fortify this spot against counter-attack.
The city is in two parts. All transport arrives in the Port, with its marina, ferry terminals and waterfront bars and restaurants. Looming above it, the Citadel or "Haute Ville" is the walled old town, a warren of alleyways, restaurants, museums and historic sites. 5 km south of the city, Cap Pertusato is the southern tip of Corsica, with a lighthouse and the Gouvernail rock.
- 1 Office de Tourisme, 2, rue Fred Scamaroni, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com.
- 2 Bureau d'information touristique de la marine (Information point at the harbour), Port de plaisance.
- Bureau d'information touristique du Bastion de l'Etendard, Place d’Armes.
- Point d’information touristique de l’Escalier du Roy d’Aragon.
The closest airport is Figari-Sud Corse FSC IATA, some 20 km (12 mi) north of Bonifacio. This has a midsummer bus service to Ajaccio and Porto Vecchio but no link to Bonifacio - a taxi will cost around €50.
Frequent ferries by Moby Lines and Blu Navy link the town with Santa Teresa Gallura in Sardinia. They take cars, and their schedule often allows for a day-trip in either direction. They provide an unforgettable approach to Bonifacio, negotiating the rocky Lavezzi Isles which mark the southernmost point of France, then steering in under the white cliffs. The ferry terminal is at the western edge of town at 1 Gare Maritime, Quai Sotta Portigliola.
The main road in is the N196/N198 (or T40) from all points north. With your own car, park in the main parking lot next to the harbour (€2.80 per hour) and hike or take the Petit Train up to the citadel. The upper town can be accessed by car, but it's congested and has limited public parking.
A navette (minibus) runs between Bonifacio and Scopetto, where it connects to the bus for Ajaccio (via Sartene and Propriano). In July & Aug this runs three times a day, 7 days a week; Sept-June it runs twice a day M-Sa. Total journey time to Ajaccio is 3½ hours, fare €20.
A direct bus runs between Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio taking 30 min, fare €9. In July & Aug this runs four times a day, 7 days a week; Sept–June it runs twice a day M–Sa. The first bus of the day from Bonifacio connects with the onward service from Porto Vecchio to Bastia.
It's a stiff hike up to the Citadel, though if you've arrived by ferry at the western edge of town, it's as quick to stride off up the slope as to walk into town centre for alternatives. A touristy but easier approach is on Le Petit Train, which runs every 30 min April–Oct. Buy your ticket in advance from the kiosk next to the marina TIC - but they won't sell if the next train is booked out. It clatters away up Ave Charles de Gaulle into the ramparts, does a little circuit of the headland plateau, then drops off and picks up by the town hall before trundling back down. €5 flat fare, many people choose to ride up and walk back but there's no reduction for that.
The Port is a pleasant area for strolling and eating, but it's probably best saved until you've seen the Citadel and are thinking about your onward transport. The Citadel is the big draw, and there are several ways up. Ave Charles de Gaulle is the main vehicle route, so it's gradual and has a sidewalk, but it's ratty with traffic. More scenic are the stairs, Montée Rastello, which begin by the 1 Église Saint-Erasme. They ascend to the saddle of the hill where they cross Ave Charles-de-Gaulle, then onward (now called Montée St Roch) to enter via the Genoa Gate. A steeper stair ascends from further west, crossing Quai Sott a Portigliola. Pedestrians can't enter the citadel via the tunnel under Porte de France.
The saddle of the hill below the Citadel is called the Pass of St Roch. It's the starting point for several walks and has a small chapel. It commands a sweeping vista over the straits, and affords one of the best land-based views of the "Grain of Sand" or 2 Grain de Sable. Also called U Diu Grossu or "big finger" in Corsican, this is a peculiar rock just offshore, look down and east (left) from the road.
- 3 Chapelle de Saint-Roch. This tiny chapel marks the spot where the last victim of the plague died in the outbreak of 1528. St Roch/Roque, a 14th-century Montpelier martyr, is particularly venerated for his intercessions against plague, and on behalf of bachelors, falsely accused people, and dogs. His Saint's Day is celebrated annually here on Aug 16.
Enter the Citadel via the 4 Porte de Gênes or Genoa Gate. This was for centuries the only entrance to the upper town, until the Porte de France was created in the 19th century. The impressive drawbridge is an 1830 replacement of the 17th-century original. The bastion which guards the gate is now a museum. You can't walk the path on top of the walls (the Chemin de Ronde or Patrol Path) as this is closed for safety reasons.
- 5 Bastion de l’Etendard (Bastion Memorial). Apr–Oct. The Citadel's main museum, chronicling the turbulent life and times of the city. €2.50; combined with Escalier du Roi d'Aragon €3.50.
Once within the massive walls, the main street straight ahead is Rue des Deux Empereurs (the two emperors who lodged here being Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1541, and Napoleon Bonaparte in 1793.) It's pleasant to wander the narrow old streets at random, though it will feel claustrophobic if hundreds of other tourists are doing the same. The Church of St Marie is more or less central. Adjacent is the Palace of the Podesta, the city ruler under the Republic of Genoa: 6 Maison du Podestat (Palazzu Publicu). It's closed to visitors.
- 7 Église Sainte-Marie-Majeure (Church of Ste Marie). This is the city's principal and oldest church, mostly Romanesque and probably built in the 12th century but much modified over time. It has a prominent bell-tower and three naves, with the central nave containing the relics of St Boniface. At the front, note the loggia, the covered walkway for medieval bigwigs to discuss city business. Beneath this is a large water cistern, fed from adjacent buildings by aqueduct-buttresses spanning the streets. In 1980 they tried to turn the cistern into a conference centre but, strange to say, it filled with water every time it rained.
- 8 Escalier du Roi d'Aragon (Steps of the Aragon King). May-Sept 09:00-20:00; April 09:00-19:00; Oct 10:00-17:00. From the SW edge of the citadel, 187 steps lead down the cliffs (their diagonal notch is very visible from the sea) to the Cave of St Barthelemy's Well. This cave, which nowadays can't be entered, has a pool of fresh(-ish) water percolated down from the limestone above, so it was an important water supply for the city. A well was also drilled down directly from near the church of St Barthelemy on the headland. The steps are named for Alfonso V, King of Aragon, who was awarded control of Bonifacio in 1421 by the Genoans but the city held out against him. Fanciful legend has his men fighting up the stairs and being beaten back, but more likely he simply tried to block the water supply to force the city's surrender. He was unsuccessful and left. €2.50; combined with Bastion de l'Étendard €3.50.
There is talk of rehabilitating these and other ancient cisterns, as an eco-friendly way to boost the city water supply, which has always been precarious.
The citadel is only about 200 metres long, so within a few minutes stroll you pass the car entrance of Porte de France, the town hall, the monument to the French Foreign Legion, and the western gate exiting onto the limestone headland. Here find the Church of St Dominique, the Tuscan watchtower, and the Loggia de l'Arsenal. Westwards stretches the headland or Plateau Bosco, once wooded ("bosco") with olive trees but now bare and windswept. Rue des Moulins leads past derelict military buildings and the stumps of ancient windmills to the marine cemetery and, last but not least, the main citadel parking lot.
- 9 Église Saint-Dominique (just outside the western Citadel gate). A rare example of Gothic style in Corsica, this church dates from the 13th century. The bell-tower is of no known style: it starts square, turns octagonal, then tops out in battlements. Occasional concerts are held in the church.
- 10 Il Torrione (Tuscan watchtower), Rue des Pachas. The watchtower is the only citadel structure that remains from the original 9th-century Tuscan fortifications. It's been smashed down and rebuilt several times: the most recent destruction was in 1901 (as it gave enemy artillery too good a marker onto the town) and what you see now is a 1980 reconstruction.
- 11 Loggia de l'Arsenal. St Dominique was built as a Dominican convent; all that remains is the church (listed above) and this Loggia, the former refectory. Its colonnaded square hosts a Farmers Market on Friday mornings.
- 12 Cimetière Marin (Marine Cemetery). Packed with 18th- & 19th-century family burial chapels and funerary art.
- SPMB sea trips (Société de promenades en mer à Bonifacio). 1-hour and ½-day trips by a consortium of local companies, heading out to the Lavezzi isles. You'll see their boats and hear them barking for customers by the marina TIC.
Scuba-diving in the Straits is excellent, though you may have to drive out of town (e.g. to Porto Vecchio) to find a commercial dive shack running trips there.
Visit Cap de Pertusatu, the southern tip of Corsica, 5 km south of Bonifacio. You could hike there (but think about the coming back) along the Campu Romanellu. Or cycle or drive south from city centre onto D58 then D260 as far as it goes. There's a lighthouse, the "Gouvernail" rock, and views over the Straits towards Sardinia, barely 12 km away.
- 1 Le Gouvernail (Rudder of Corsica), Quartier St-François, ☎ . Jul-mid Sep: 09:00-20:00; May-Jun: 10:90-19:00; mid Sep-end Oct: 10:00-18:00. The Gouvernail is a rock formation that on the map looks like the rudder of the boat-shaped Corsica. Follow the 168 steps down; there's a late 19th-century bunker dug into the rock for a cannon firing position. € 2.50.
- 1 Market Hall (In the old city). In the morning there is market where you can buy fresh fruit, pieces of vegetable pies, beignet, etc. Then sit outside on a bench and enjoy a cheap high quality breakfast or brunch with a stunning view.
- 2 Les Terrasses d'Aragon, Rue Simon Varsi 21, ☎ . Spectacular view if you get a table on the terrasse to the sourth. €23 menus.
- Restaurant Les Quatre Vents, 29 Quai Banda del Ferro, ☎ .
- La Place, 1, Monte Rastello, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Catali Cook, Ldt Cavallo Morto, ☎ .
- Auberge Le Licetto, Route du Phare de Pertusato, ☎ (Faby Antoine), fax: , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Rocca Serra, Quai Jerome Comparetti.
- Au Jardin d'A Cheda, Cavallo Morto, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The restaurant is located in the countryside where guests get a professional and friendly service.
Most of Bonifacio's hotels are by the port. You could also stay in Porto Vecchio and travel in.
- 1 Santateresa, Quartier Saint François, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Friendly hotel on spectacular location on the highest ground in Bonifacio upper city on the southwestern pinnacle. Only the marine cemetery is between the hotel and the limestone cliffs overhanging the sea 70 meters below. €130.
- 2 A Cheda, Cavallo Morto – BP3, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. €180.
Sardinia is only a ferry ride away, landing at Santa Teresa di Gallura. This can be done as a day-trip but Sardinia deserves an extended stay. Then from Cagliari in the south, another ferry runs to Palermo in Sicily: so you can hopscotch across three islands, and onward to Malta and Tunisia, without setting foot on mainland Italy. Though Italy of course is always a good place to go.