Wednesday, 8 September 2010


We’d woken up to cloud over the bay, so after a leisurely breakfast and a spot of work on the balcony, we decided to head down to Bonifacio and see if we could find a spot of sunshine, and a change of pace from the beach.

After a short contre-temps with a bloke in a van from the Haut-Rhin (Alsace) over the right of way in the car park (clearly it was mine as I was in the middle of the road!), we finally found a spot in the car park behind the Marine cemetery.

I know it sounds morbid to visit a cemetery, but this one is particularly special. Perched at the very edge of the town overlooking the sea, the silence is a stark contrast to the bustling atmosphere of the rest of the Citadel, and the collection of small white tombs almost resemble a troglodyte village.

It’s always great to visit somewhere you know with someone who has never been there before as it really helps you see it through new eyes. Today our attention was caught by the advert for the visit to the gouvernail.

This is an underground tunnel which is made up of 168 steep steps leading down to a lookout point. It was built in 1880 and amazingly was dug out by hand. Picking my way down with my gammy knee and clinging to the rope hand rail, it made me wonder why…

Of course, during the occupation of the German and Italian armies during the Second World War, this proved to be a strategic point from which to survey the straits of Bonifacio. The first ‘gallery’ is home to an electrical generator which apparently provided electricity for the whole tunnel and all the rooms and ‘galleries’ leading off it.

One or two information panels on the walls explain that troops actually lived down here – some for more than 3 years. We were just 3 visitors, but the narrow/low tunnel made it feel crowded at times, so it was almost inconceivable to imagine how cramped conditions must have been.

At the bottom the tunnel opens out to a bomb shelter with the most amazing views to the lighthouses on either side and Sardinia, just 12km away. Today was a little hazy, but on a clear day you’d almost be able to wave from one side to the other!

The bomb shelter opens out onto the ‘gouvernail’ which is an enormous rock 10m above sea level. This rock is the most southern point of the island, and so the fishermen of Bonifacio have named it the ‘rudder’ of Corsica.

After all that excitement (and steps!) we decided to retire to a little restaurant at the top of the citadel for a lazy lunch. We settled for an omelette and a couple of savoury crêpes washed down with some refreshing Diablo Menthe (mint syrop and lemonade) and a beer.

Now I know that the hunting season has started in Corsica, but I was a little worried that it might have started in the centre of Bonifacio citadel when we heard a ‘shot’ while sitting at the table. Luckily (well for the rest of us of us anyway!) it turned out to be an exploding lighter in the pocket of one of our group! Who would have thought it? Lucky he had a tissue in there otherwise that could have made a very interesting blog entry! I was almost disappointed there was no need to call the pompiers…

The excitement of a small explosion mobilized us into action, and we headed down to the lower town for a walk along the harbour and a nosy at all the boats before heading home. Right in the widest part of the harbour we came across the superyacht TRIDENT. 65m of pure luxury…

What was interesting was how the shops and restaurants changed as we walked along. At the far end where the boat excursions leave and the little ribs are moored were the snack style restaurants and souvenir shops, and as you move further up towards the yacht berths, you see more sophisticated (and expensive!) menus, authentic looking ‘trattoria’ style restaurants and chic clothing boutiques.

Even the small grocery shop was seriously up-market and at 42 euros, the bottles of Rosé on display were slightly more than I was prepared to pay!

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