In the Midst of the Mediterranean: Corsica and Sardinia

We are fond of “slow travel”, and less fond of flying, so we decided to use ferries as our primary means of getting around the Med this summer. We found the website/app Direct Ferries to be the most helpful at helping us arrange our passages and keep all our boarding passes in one place.

Our home for 12 hours

From Genoa, we boarded a Moby ferry boat at 8 pm, watched as the city receded into the distance, and retired to our cabin for a shower and a good night’s sleep. When we awoke at 6 am, we were arriving in Bastia, Corsica.

Bastia Harbor

Corsica is a semi-autonomous region of France, but it has a varied past including several centuries under the rule of Pisa and then Genoa, a short independence, and then “suzerainty” under the French (slightly different from “sovereignty”). As such, people who live there speak French, but also a lot of Italian, and even a local language called Corsu that has ties to Latin. Aside from the beaches and lovely small towns, many people come to Corsica to hike the GR20.

In Bastia we dropped off our luggage, had a leisurely breakfast on the quay, and took a “tiny train” tour up to the walled city and through some of the historic sites of the town. We also had time for a swim in the Mediterranean and lunch overlooking the brilliant blue waters. That night, our town was hosting a big concert and DJ in the main plaza, so that was fun to listen to as well.

Inside Bastia’s walled city

After a couple of days exploring Bastia, we took a bus south to Porto Vecchio. We actually arrived in the midst of a huge, weekly farmers market, every stall selling various sheep’s cheeses, cured meats, honey, herbs, French bread, and pastries. We put together the makings of a picnic, and had lunch next to the church in the center of the historic fortress city. Once the weekly market closed down, Porto Vecchio turned out to be a much quieter town, full of high end shops advertising the sorts of items you’d see wealthy people wear on their yacht vacations.

Napoleon was born in Corsica

After missing our bus out of Porto Vecchio- but 30 minutes later getting one that would be “twice as much time but half the price”- and a meandering route through four mountain villages (which I quite enjoyed), we arrived in our final Corsican town, Bonifacio. Talk about #yachtlife! The harbor here was filled not only with boats, but yachts, and superyachts at that! Some you could rent for a day, sone for a week, some for a month. Our hotel, the Solemare, featured a pool next to the harbor, and I was content to float there while watching these amazing boats maneuver their way in and out of the harbor.

Now that’s a boat

We walked up the hill to the walled city- Chris took a detour and explored the beautiful cliffs nearby- and we could see the town from above, which was stunning. In the far distance, we could see Sardinia, our next stop. On our last day, something strange happened as we were walking towards our ferry- the sea level began to rise- quite quickly!- and the waters began bubbling up out of the storm grates in the roads. Shopkeepers hastily closed their shop doors as water began to pour in. Boat owners came out of their cabins and looked around in confusion. After a few minutes, the waters began to recede and after just 10 or 12 minutes the boats were actually now lower than normal, their gangplanks tilted sharply up towards the docks. Everyone was talking excitedly but no one seemed to know the cause- perhaps a spring tide, perhaps a small underground earthquake. We never did find out, but it was quite interesting to watch!

The view of Bonifacio from the cliffs opposite

It’s just a one hour ferry to Sardinia from Corsica. From the Nuragic to the Phoenicians, Carthaginians to Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, and Aragonese, it seems everyone has wanted to conquer this island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Now a semi-autonomous region of Italy, Sardinia is known for its food, its beachy coastline, its archaeological finds, and its hiking trails. We arrived in Santa Teresa de Gallura, a small town full of B&Bs (the kind you used to be able to stay in before AirBnB took over the market). We stayed at a family home full of heirloom antiques, featuring a delightful homemade breakfast. There was a lovely nearby beach, so we were able to enjoy another swim in the sea.

View from a cross-island bus

We took the bus to Olbia, on the eastern side of the island. Here we visited the museum, which told of all the invading and conquering of Sardinia, and featured artifacts from shipwrecks and a harbor attack centuries ago. The museum is not quite finished, but what they had was great.

Amidst the recovered shipwrecks at Olbia’s museum

After Olbia, it was a train ride across and down the entire island to Cagliari, the capital. A free walking tour by Catch the Pink! showed us the highlights and also informed us of the main foods we must try while in town. We stayed in a private room in a hostel which was formerly a monastery- their female dorm is actually a converted chapel.

The sights of Cagliari

In the hot part of the day, we nap or sit in a shaded cafe and drink Aperol spritzes, which I don’t actually care for, but they are giant and they are refreshingly cool. Often they come with tagliere (salami and cheese tray), gratis. We’ve also tried culurgiones, a stuffed and braided pasta filled with potatoes, basil, and cream (delicious), pane fratau (a lasagna-like dish made with very thin Corsican bread), malloredus alla campidanese (a rolled pasta with indentations, sometimes tinted with saffron), and freggola (small pasta balls similar to pearled couscous) served with mussels or other seafood. For dessert, cheese wrapped in pastry, fried, and covered with honey called seada, followed by a nightcap of myrto, or myrtle liquor.

Malloredus pasta, which gets its shape from being rolled against the side of a reed basket

After three days in Cagliari, it was time to catch our next ferry. Visit our site next month- or hit the “Follow” button below- to find out where Chris and Deah wind up next. Ciao!