If you’re planning to sail in western Mediterranean sea, then Corsica is a good place to think about. Between Sardinia and the Côte d’Azur, Corsica is said to be “l’ïle de beauté”, literally the island of beauty and sailing along its coast make the trip to Corsica even better.
A 10 to 15 day sailing cruise along Corsica’s South West coast is an amazing opportunity to discover great moorings, beautiful turquoise sea, old cities and wonderful landscapes (mountains, rivers, waterfalls, sand beaches, rock beaches, white cliffs, etc.). The best periods for a sailing trip to Corsica, to avoid too much traffic, tourists and overcrowded bays are Mid April-May and September. You’ll find places in marinas easily. The main wind is W-SW generally under 5 and temperatures are between 22C° and 26C° (72-29 F°). Mistral can blow strongly from NW but the frequency is quite low in May and September. Mistral gets up fast but is predictable. It usually blows for 3 days and can reach 7-8 with gusts at 9 creating big waves. A light Mistral (6) though is an excellent help for sailing, surrounded by blue dolphins, at a good pace from Metropolitan France or Spain to Corsica. Plan for an arrival early in the morning, you’ll see the sun rising on Corsica’s coasts and you’ll have time to enjoy you’re first day on the island.
Since you’re sailing along the west coast, it might be good to be in a zone where you can quickly reach a shelter from Mistral. Very few creeks or natural moorings are well protected from NW wind. This is why I recommend planning for a trip between Ajaccio and Bonifacio (SW of the Island), because it is in this area that you will find marinas to take shelter if you have to. Ajaccio, Propriano and Bonifacio are all great places to land and relatively modern marinas. Moreover, with 30 nautical miles between Ajaccio and Propriano, and between Porpriano and Bonifacio, and more than 30 amazing moorings in the area, this corner of Corsica offers the perfect environment for a thrilling sailing cruise.
If you’re landing in Ajaccio, then your first sight will be “les îles sanguinaires” meaning the bloody Island. Back in the old days, a lot of ships sank and their crews where crushed on the rocky landscape of those sharp islands. There is a beautiful 1608 Geonese tower on one of the main island from this small archipelago 10 miles SW from Ajaccio.
Stop in Ajaccio, find a place in the old harbour and feel the Corsican way of life at the terrace of a café, reading your favourite journal or magazine. I recommend the restaurant “Neptune” for Dinner, on “route sanguinaires” where you will eat great grilled fish with a great view on the sea. Ask to any cab, he’ll know the place. Another interesting thing to do is to visit the house of Napoleon.
- After a night in Ajaccio, you can sail south. A first great mooring is available 12 Nautical Miles South, in the “Anse de Cacalu” or “Anse de Cacao”, a beautiful cove in which to have a swim, and contemplate the bay of Ajaccio. Definitively a great place to eat the mackerels you just caught. You caught some ? Right ? GPS: 41°45,055 N ; 08°40,290 E.
You have then a great navigation coming heading to Propriano, at the bottom of the Valinco bay. It’s a beautiful 17 NM long leg. Propriano is a great place to stay when the Mistral is blowing too heavily, a good place to rent a car and discover the amazing lanscapes of the inland. If you have time ashore, grab your Lonely Planet Corsica and rent a car. A thrilling drive is to come.
- At 12 Nautical Miles SW from Propriano stands a really wonderful mooring, called “Scoglio Bianco” where you can anchor in 7 m of turquoise Water, in the middle of a tiny creek surrounded by incredible white granite rocks, to which the sea has given surprising and graceful shapes. Protected from W-SW, this is one of the most amazing Mediterranean wild anchorage. In May, you might be the only boat and have this spot all for yourself. GPS Position: 41°34,090 N ; 08°46,271 E.
- Plage d’argent: 8 NM SE from Scoglio Bianco, you can anchor in front of the “Plage d’argent”, a sand beach, very quiet but with no protection from West our South. A great stop for lunch on a calm day. GPS Position: 41°30,830 N ; 08°,52,874 E.
Roccapina Cove is 3 NM SE from la plage d’argent: Roccapina is probably the most famous mooring of Corsica. This cove gathers all the elements for a typical picture of a mooring in Corsica (granite rocks, white sand, a genoese tower uphill. It’s a good mooring in early May or September, but it will be the first spot to be overcrowded, both on the beach and in the mooring zone, when comes the high season. GPS Position : 41°29,522 N ; 008°56,018 E.
- Bonifacio, 15 NM South East from the Roccapina cove. Now it’s time for the strait of Bonifacio, its white cliffs and its wind. The strait between Corsica and Sardinia is 6 NM wide and creates a massive venturi effect that results in a stronger wind. It’s strongly recommended to engage the strait of Bonifacio only under calm weather, as
you will sail with a venturi effect, between cliffs, rocks, etc. My advice is to enter there under 5 Beaufort W and under 4 Beaufort when the wind is blowing from East. Though the entry of Bonifacio, between 2 cliffs, right after the “Madonetta” Lighthouse is quite large and easy, the few miles between the strait entrance and the lighthouse might be uncomfortable if wind comes too high (consider rising automatically 1 to 2 Beaufort from previous condition when you enter the strait of Bonifacio). After the magnificent entry of Bonifacio, a 900 meters long corridor in the cliffs, you’ll see the harbour at the bottom of the corridor, with the old city on top of the cliffs on your right. Bonifacio is a great stopover. Nice city, a few good restaurants*, and you can walk through an open tunnel dug in the cliff for sensations. You can also plan for a golf party on the great golf of Bonifacio (see Picture of hole#11′ green).
- Number 9 is not a spot for sailing cruisers, but I can’t write about Corsica without mentioning hiking. If you find yourself immobilised by a strong Mistral in either Propriano, Ajaccio or Bonifacio and can’t sail for one day or two, do not be troubled, there are lots of great hiking for a day or two. Ask local tourism office for advices depending on the time you have, they’ll give you good advices. FYI, there is in Corsica one of the most beautiful mountain hike in Europe, but also one of the hardest: The GR20 . You don’t necessarily have to go through the entire GR20, that takes usually 2 weeks walking 7 hours a day…but leaving Corsica without hiking any of its famous trails would be a shame.
- From Bonifacio, go diving in the Lavezzi, or go for a good snorkeling moment. the natural protected reserve offers a fabulously rich aquatic fauna and flora.
The great local speciality in Corsica is the traditional Corsican delicatessen, but you should know there is unfortunately no controlled origin label, meaning some stores sells “traditional Corsican delicatessen” that is made of Brazilian wild boar. In general, try to shop from real butcheries or cheese makers, not multi purpose tourists shops.
Great Books and Guides for a better cruise:
* Restaurant in Bonifacio for a nice head to head: “Ciccio”, 6 rue Saint Jean Baptiste, 20169 Bonifacio, Corse, France. Their “Raviol aux oursins” (Ravioli with sea urchin) is really amazing, the place is typical in the old city.
Please give me feedback if you sail in Corsica.