A seaside jewel in north-eastern Corsica
Seafarers have been stopping off in Bastia for millennia, helping make the city one of the French island’s main ports and commercial hubs. Today, there’s just a hint of faded grandeur about the place – it was once the Corsican capital, after all - making it an intriguing spot to explore, stay and play, especially in mid-summer when the ferries from France and Italy bring continental visitors.
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More than 40,000 islanders live in Bastia, so there’s plenty in the way of shops and services. Notable outlets include Cap Corse Mattei (15 boulevard du Général de Gaulle), open since 1872 and still boasting an atmospheric interior – it specialises in selling Cap Corse, the local aperitif from which it takes its name. Elsewhere, worth a visit for fans of literature is Le Point de Rencontre (Montée Sainte Claire), a well-stocked bookshop which holds various arts events. For enjoyable knick-knack browsing, meanwhile, there’s a good flea market held at Place St Nicolas on Sunday mornings.
Food & Drink
The region has a number of tasty specialities, with some especially good meat and fish dishes. Cured ham (known as prisuttu) and dark, smoked pork sausage (known as figatellu) are perhaps the best known items, but there’s no shortage of other local dishes to try. The old port area is heaving with restaurants – strong choices include Grazie Mille (Place du Marché), an Italian-influenced joint which serves good seafood dishes, Petite Marie (2 rue des Zéphyrs), which is renowned for its langoustines, and La Tomate Noire (33 rue César Campinchi), which combines Corsican and Middle Eastern flavours. Bastia is also famous for its wines.
Brocante des Remparts
Held on the first Saturday of each month under the ramparts of the citadel, this brocante, or flea market, attracts locals and tourists with its range of antiques, vintage prints and jewellery. It runs from 8am until 6pm, and is open only to vendors selling items of a decent quality.
Festival du Cinéma Italien
A good illustration of the continuing importance of Corsica’s Italian heritage, this annual festival showcases a week’s worth of films from Italy. It’s been running for 25 years and forms an important part of the Théâtre de Bastia’s annual calendar.
Bastille Day is celebrated with fervour across France, and Corsica’s cities are no exception. Expect to find Bastia in full regalia, with plenty of parades, celebrations and open-air merrymaking. Food and drink generally play a big part in the festivities.
A Notte Di A Memoria
Held each July to commemorate the ‘relève du gouverneur’, this historical event sees a costumed re-enactment of the arrival of the French governor at the Bastia Citadel. It involves a drum parade through the streets, alongside dancers, drum-throwers and musicians.
Shining a spotlight on film and arts from the Mediterranean region, Arte Mare is one of the most important cultural events on the Corsican calendar. It’s been drawing crowds for three decades, making it the oldest film festival on the island.
The small port city of Bastia, with its busy harbour front and its peeling, pastel-coloured buildings, gives visitors a heady dose of urban Corsica. There’s some good accommodation close to the heart of the action – Hôtel Central Bastia (3 rue Miot) and Best Western Hôtel Bastia Centre (Avenue Jean Zuccarelli) are both strong options, offering 21 and 71 rooms respectively. For something more geared to coastal relaxation, try the laid-back Hôtel l’Alivi (Route du Cap), which overlooks a pebble beach, or head a little further out of town to Hôtel Pietracap (20 route de San Martino-Pietranera), set within its own garden.