15 Best Things to Do in Bastia (France)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Here’s a fact to give you a sense of Bastia’s Italian legacy: There are more Baroque churches in this city than any other on Corsica.

The Genoese, aided by the medieval Maona investors, were in charge for hundreds of years, and the city is flush with exciting clues from their stay.

The citadel is still guarded by bastions and protects the Palace of the Governors, where the truth about Bastia’s past is revealed.

Dawdle around the old port, which has a likeable, timeworn quality, have a lively conversation over dinner or lunch on an Italianate square, and be bowled over by the baroque and rococo richness of those many churches and chapels.

Lets explore the best things to do in Bastia:

1. Old Port

Old PortSource: flickr
Old Port

Saunter along the quays of the U-shaped harbour, where the houses are densely clustered on the city’s slopes.

These buildings are painted pale shades of ochre, and pushing above all of them are the twin cupolas of the baroque Church of St.

John the Baptist.

At the foot of almost every building is a restaurant or cafe where you can take a seat outside and gaze over the forest of masts in the water, imagining the Genoese fleet anchored in these waters.

In the other direction you can walk along the piers for photos of the quayside houses and get a closer look at the old lighthouses that guard the entrance.

2. Church of Sainte-Marie

Church of Sainte-MarieSource: locationencorse
Church of Sainte-Marie

This marvellous 17th-century baroque church was in fact Bastia’s cathedral for centuries until the diocese of Mariana was dissolved and Bastia came under the diocese of Ajaccio.

The current architecture is from a rebuild between 1604 and 1625, and is a shining example of the Genoese baroque style, as you’ll notice before entering when you see the pilasters and pediments that festoon the western facade.

The three naves of the interior are extravagantly decorated with marble and gilt: See the golden statue of the Assumption of Mary from the 1700s which is paraded through Bastia every 15th of August.

3. Bastia Citadel

Bastia CitadelSource: flickr
Bastia Citadel

Get some comfy shoes on to explore the citadel high on the cliff-tops to the south of the old harbour.

This walled district was known as the Bastiglia and is where Bastia’s name comes from.

It was constructed from 1380 under the behest of the Genoese governor Leonello Lomelli.

The Genoese controlled the citadel from this date, right the way up to 1768 when the island was ceded to France.

The ramparts were bombed in the Second World War, but have been completely restored.

4. Le Palais des Gouverneurs

Le Palais des GouverneursSource: flickr
Le Palais des Gouverneurs

Those Genoese governors controlled all of Corsica from this palace, built at the same time as the rest of the citadel.

In the earliest days its main purpose was defensive, as a watchtower standing over the entrance to the port.

A few highly innovative features would make it difficult to conquer by siege, including two massive underground water reservoirs to ensure a supply that would last months.

By the end of the 15th-century it had become a plusher permanent residence for the governors and was suitably decorated.

The interior is now the Museum of Bastia, which follows.

5. Musée de Bastia

Musée de BastiaSource: flickr
Musée de Bastia

The provincial museum was revamped at the start of this decade and is now in 17 rooms.

Detailed information boards will give you a complete summary of the birth and growth of Bastia, its role as a seat of power, the culture that flourished here and the people who ruled the Governor’s  Palace.

There’s a large scale model of the city, furniture, paintings, liturgical treasures and  a host of maritime artefacts including sailors’ chests, shedding light on the importance of the sea to the Genoese.

You can also go outside for a supreme view of the old port from the cannon positions.

6. Chapelle Sainte-Croix

Chapelle Sainte-CroixSource: flickr
Chapelle Sainte-Croix

Also in the citadel is a baroque oratory with an almost overwhelming rococo interior, bursting with gold, statues, carved marble and rich murals.

With all the fretwork, gilding and cherubs you  might wonder if you’ve stepped into a salon belonging to Louis XV. One fascinating detail is in the Chapelle du Christ Noir des Miracles: In the niche above the altar there’s a blackened oak statue of Christ with an unknown origin, discovered floating in the sea by anchovy fishermen in 1428. This became the patron saint of Bastia’s fishermen, and is carried on a procession through the Terra Nova district on May 3.

7. Place Saint-Nicolas

Place Saint-NicolasSource: flickr
Place Saint-Nicolas

At 300 metres by 70, Bastia’s main square is one of the largest in France, and almost twice the size of Venice’s Piazza San Marco.

The seafront location is special, and the square is bounded to the west by 19th-century townhouses and with open views of the commercial port to the east.

Plane trees and palms line the square, and when the sun’s beating down in summer you can retreat to the shade of the cafes’ parasols for a cool drink.

You’ve got a couple of curious monuments to find too: The conning tower of the legendary Q813 submarine, Casablanca is by the water, and there’s a rather flattering statue of Napoleon in the guise of a Roman emperor.

8. Place du Marché

Place du MarchéSource: flickr
Place du Marché

Another photogenic plaza, Place du Marché is surrounded by elegantly decaying apartment buildings with painted shutters, and has a border of planes affording shade for outdoor restaurant tables.

On weekends the square is unrecognisable, as the region’s farmers, artisans and florists come to town to sell their wares.

You’ll get a feel for Corsican culture in every sense, whether its specialities like brocciu cheese, fritelli (Corsican doughnuts) lonzu (smoked pork) and coppa (cured pork), or in the earthy “magagne” humour of the stallholders.

9. Corse Miniature Animée

Corse Miniature AniméeSource: hautetfort
Corse Miniature Animée

In the Citadel’s old gunpowder magazine is a peculiar attraction that will bring a smile to both the young and young at heart.

Over the course of more than three decades the model-maker René Mattei has lovingly crafted a miniature 19th-century Corsican village from ten tons of material.

The village is inhabited by a large cast of animated figurines: There’s a blacksmith working at the lathe and villager washing clothes in a stream.

You’ll need to pause in front of the model for a while to catch every minute detail and moving part, from the blades of the mill to the steam railway.

René Mattei will also be on hand if you have any queries.

10. Église de Monserrato

eglise de monserratoSource: wikiwand
eglise de monserrato

Tucked in the countryside just outside Bastia and walkable in around 20 minutes, this baroque church deserves the effort because it contains something that you’ll only find in a few Christian buildings in Europe.

There’s a Scala Santa, a stairway that religious penitents have to climb up on  hands and knees to be absolved of their sins.

Bastia was granted the right to have a Scala Santa by Pope Pius VII in the early-19th century as a reward for providing asylum for 424 Roman prelates banished from mainland France by Napoleon following the Concordat in 1801.

11. Rail Trip

Rail TripSource: flickr
Rail Trip

You can come to Bastia car-free and there’s still a way to soak up the majesty of Corsica’s wild interior landscapes, and that is by train on CFC network.

Many tourists come to the island for exactly this reason, as the rail network was a triumph of 19th century endeavour and engineering.

The terrain should have made rail travel impossible but from the 1870s lines scurried out to all four corners of the island.

This was achieved with the help of many tunnels and cutting-edge viaducts, one of which, at Vecchio, was designed by Gustave Eiffel.

One choice would be a return to Corte, in the centre of the island, and you’ll see the mountains, gorges, olive groves, stone pines and chestnut trees pass by in the comfort of an air-conditioned carriage.

12. Chemin des Glacières de Cardo

Chemin des Glacières de CardoSource: tripadvisor
Chemin des Glacières de Cardo

Just next to the church in the nearby village of Cardo is the trailhead for a hike that will wind up to an unexpected slice of Genoese history.

The walk is well signposted and runs through scented maquis shrubland and past a couple of natural water sources.

Eventually you’ll come to two ice houses, both in relatively good nick when you realise they’re from the 1500s and 1800s respectively.

There’s an information plaque at the site that will tell you how the ice houses worked, and that the path you have just taken would have been used by donkeys to carry the ice back to Bastia.

13. Beaches

Plage de MiomoSource: flickr
Plage de Miomo

Bastia has four beaches within moments of the city, all with pebbles.

Plage de Miomo is a short way north and is still guarded by a Genoese watchtower.

If you don’t mind a drive you can journey to those incredible white sandy bays that Corsica is known for: Starting five kilometres to the south are a long string of beaches on the strip of land between the Biguglia Lagoon and the sea, accompanied by little more than campsites and discreet holiday homes.

And less than 20 kilometres up Corsica’s east coast is Plage Marine de Pietracorbara, a site of heart-rending natural beauty.

The course white sands give way to deep green mountainscapes and only a few huts and houses are bedded in the maquis.

14. Diving

DivingSource: flickr

Old wars, many hundreds of years of seafaring and colourful underwater wildlife come together to give Corsica some astounding dive sites.

And when you reckon with the supreme water clarity in this part of the Mediterranean, Bastia may be the place to take the plunge if you’ve always felt like giving diving a try.

The dive centres in Bastia offer trips to eleven sites in the area, including historic shipwrecks and the remains of an American p47 Thunderbolt fighter plane.

There are three dive centres to choose from in Bastia, and all have the equipment and tuition to help kids make their first dives.

15. Corsican Cuisine

prisuttuSource: flickr

While browsing the market you might like to have a better idea of what the Corsican delicacies are, and where they come from.

We can’t go much further without talking about the chestnut, which was introduced by the Genoese and has long been a cornerstone of the island’s traditional diet.

They are still dried out over a fire and then ground down to make a flour, or eaten by the pigs that are reared for the island’s tasty charcuterie (lonzu, prisuttu, panzetta and coppa). As for that flour, it goes into almost anything from Corsican polenta, beer, porridge, cakes and those fritelli whose scent is so enticing when they’re fried fresh at markets.

15 Best Things to Do in Bastia (France):

  • Old Port
  • Church of Sainte-Marie
  • Bastia Citadel
  • Le Palais des Gouverneurs
  • Musée de Bastia
  • Chapelle Sainte-Croix
  • Place Saint-Nicolas
  • Place du Marché
  • Corse Miniature Animée
  • Église de Monserrato
  • Rail Trip
  • Chemin des Glacières de Cardo
  • Beaches
  • Diving
  • Corsican Cuisine