Port Spotlight: Ajaccio, Corsica

[caption id="attachment_16709" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Star Clipper sailing into Corsica.

Ajaccio is a dazzling city located on the west side of Corsica, a mountainous Mediterranean French island.

Likely settled in the 2nd century, Ajaccio’s old-world charm and architecture juxtapose urban buildings built after a recent economic boom.

Once you’ve stopped for a fresh-baked croissant at traditional French bakery, the opportunities to explore are endless.

With exclusive boutiques, museums, beaches and picturesque walking paths, Ajaccio is certain to please even the most discerning passenger.

Not-to-be-missed sites include the Fesch Museum established by Napolean I’s uncle that includes one of France’s finest painting and Napoleonic collections.

Have you sailed to Ajaccio? Share your tips in the comments below!

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Playing tourist in Bonifacio, Ajaccio and Calvi

Debbra Dunning Brouillette sailed a fabulous Balearic Islands itinerary on Star Flyer. Take a look at an excerpt from her feature in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram!

[caption id="attachment_16510" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Calvi’s picturesque palm-lined harbor is the starting point for exploring the town and its 15th century Citadel. Photo by Debbra Dunning Brouillette.

Passengers congregated on the top deck as we neared Corsica’s southern tip into Bonifacio.

Its chalk-white limestone cliffs, separated from the Italian island of Sardinia by a seven-mile-wide strait, are among the island’s most distinctive sights, in contrast to its mountainous granite interior.

Leaving the ship, we walked past an impressive row of yachts to the tourist train, which transported us from Bonifacio’s Old Town to the upper part of the city, built on the site of a ninth-century citadel. We walked through the battlements of the reconstructed fortress, and then along the wall of the medieval city, where buildings appeared to teeter on the edges of the cliffs.

After seizing the opportunity to descend to ocean level via the legendary King Aragon’s steps, a steep stairway of 187 steps cut into the limestone cliffs, we stopped at a cafe near the fortress for a glass of wine and a fortifying snack of local cheeses, crusty bread and fig preserves before walking back to the harbor down a sloping set of steps.

The star of our second Corsican port is Napoleon Bonaparte, born in Ajaccio in 1769.

Bonaparte’s name graces everything from the airport to a hotel, street, shops, bars, and even a gelateria. The French first gained control of Corsica the year of Bonaparte’s birth. Before that, it had spent more than 500 years as an Italian Genoese republic. A brief period of independence followed, but since 1796, when Napoleon moved in with his army, Corsica has been a department of France.

From the top of a double-decker sightseeing bus, we passed multiple monuments to the ex-emperor and military leader on our way out of the city. Soon, we reached the nearby Sanguinaires Islands, a popular resort location for vacationers from the French mainland, then toured his birthplace, a Bonaparte family home until the 1920s and now a national museum.

While Bonaparte left his mark on Ajaccio, our final Corsican port claims another major historical figure as its own. Although still in dispute, Calvi is widely believed to have been the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. A statue at the site of his presumed home commemorates his birth in 1436, with one wall remaining within the 15th-century citadel.

Given a full day in port, we explored the town and citadel, then toured two medieval villages in the Balagne region north of Calvi, which is known for its figs, olive oil, and wine.

The first was Sant’Antonino, a ninth-century village said to be the oldest inhabited village in Corsica and officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Its hilltop location at an elevation of 1,800 feet is often compared to an eagle’s nest, as it offers bird’s-eye views of the Balagne plain and the bay of Calvi.

Pigna, one of several villages on the Balagne Craft Trail, was our second all-too-brief stop.

Its distinctive blue-shuttered stone buildings line narrow streets branching out from a central courtyard, and we spied several artisans’ workshops offering pottery, music boxes, woodcarvings and other traditional crafts. I purchased a small ceramic plate incised with a fish design as a memento of our day.

For more of Debbra's story, including calls at Menorca, St. Tropez and Monaco, click here.

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Jazz and a Journey

Jochem Laabs is a jazz aficionado and former advertising and PR pro who recently sailed on Star Flyer. He sailing was from Cannes with calls at St. Tropez, France; Calvi, Corsica; Rapallo, Italy; and Monte Carol, Monaco. He is also an avid sailor and was kind enough to put together this video to share the experience of a Star Clippers cruise.

To visit Jochem's YouTube page for more travel and jazz videos click here.

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Video: Star Flyer Sails Southern France & Italy

Want to sail from the glamour of Cannes to the rugged cliffs of Corsica and the old-world charm of Monaco? Hop aboard Star Flyer and cruise around the Med with Helen & Albert Heinel, the creators of this lovely video:

This fabulous itinerary kicked off at the Cannes International Film Festival, May 17, 2014, and returned to the port the following Saturday, May 24, 2014. Along the way Star Flyer called at Calvi, Corsica; Portoferraio, Italy; Lerici, Italy; Monaco and St. Tropez, France.

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Sailing the Med on a Clipper

The following is an excerpt from Preferred Magazine. For the full article visit the website or, if you live in Canada, look for the next issue on your local newstand.

By Bart Card

All my working life I have traveled; first while working in the hotel industry and more recently as a travel writer. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to include my children on my trips. Each of them has joined me individually, some more than once. In more recent years however, the children have all grown. I manage an annual trip with my wife but she has never travelled with the children separately. This year both she and our only daughter passed milestone birthdays and decided that it was time that they took a vacation together, on their own.

Collectively, we started planning the Thirty/Sixty trip earlier this year. First they had to decide what kind of vacation they would enjoy most. Both appreciate historical sites, reading, the sea and a more intimate setting. With those things in mind, we settled on a voyage that both my wife and I had enjoyed several years ago on one of the tall ships of the Star Clipper fleet. The following is their experience in their own words.

Told by Catherine Card

We arrived in Rome in the early morning via Toronto. Anyone who has been to Rome before knows that it is impossible to see the city in a single day, so we settled for a coffee and a tomato and mozzarella baguette at a local shop instead. Later that day, we boarded a coach and headed to the coast to catch our ship. My mother had been on the Royal Clipper a few years before and had absolutely loved the experience. I, on the other hand, had never been on a cruise, much less a tall ship in the Mediterranean. When we pulled up to the port, I was surprised by the size of the ship; it looked much smaller than I had envisioned. We boarded, found our room, and spent the evening exploring. I quickly discovered that there is a lot of hidden space on this magnificent vessel.

Built in 1992, and refurbished in 2011, the ship is intimate, with room for 170 passengers. Although seemingly small, the spacious accommodations and expansive teak decks provide ample space for relaxation or recreation. There is an indoor-outdoor Tropical Bar, Piano Bar, and an Edwardian-style library with a variety of books in a multitude of languages. Antique prints and paintings of famous sailing ships line the walls, while teak and gleaming mahogany rails add a feeling of nautical nostalgia to this incredible sea going experience. All cabins have marble-lined bathrooms with showers and include double or twin beds that can be converted to queen-size. On our first night aboard, we decided to head up to the deck for the sail away. The sails were breathtaking. Having travelled for the better part of two days, we called it an early night so that we could enjoy our first port, Portoferraio.

Portoferraio is the largest city on the island of Elba, Italy; a small Tuscan island boasting 145 km of Mediterranean coastline. For those traveling on foot, the waterfront with its elegant shops and the town-square with its old churches and terraced streets are a great way to spend the day. The most popular excursions include Napoleon’s country home in San Martino, the port town of Porto Azzurro, the fishing village at Marciana Marina, and the pebble beaches. We opted to wander through the town and take in the sights. Portoferraio is all that you would imagine a quintessential Italian town to be.

Back on board, we got ready for dinner and headed to the dining room. Even though we had dinner aboard the night before, we were far too weary from travelling to fully appreciate all that the Star Clipper had to offer. Dinner on the Star Clipper is an adventure in itself. The elegant dining room is accentuated by the chef’s finest culinary creations designed to please the eye and the palate, and is complimented by a selection of exceptional wines. Dinner is a seven-course masterpiece that never gets boring. Each night you can choose to dine with guests who you have inevitably already met, or you can choose to be daring and meet new people. Either way, the conversation always flows and the laughter never stops.

The next morning we were up early and ready to go. Next stop, Porto Vecchio on the island of Corsica, France. According to legend, the ancient Greeks named Corsica ‘The Island of Beauty’, because of its rugged coastline of jagged peaks and its scented vegetation of eucalyptus, honeysuckle, lavender and wild mint. The island certainly lives up to its name. Porto Vecchio, the walled southeastern town, is lined with medieval streets. Visitors to French Corsica enjoy the beautiful beaches and the Golfe de Porto Vecchio. It’s warm, sandy shores rest before the island’s only cork forest.

When planning this trip, there were two ports that I wanted to experience. The first was Monte Carlo, Monaco and the second was St. Tropez, France. As with most things in life, neither destination was what I had expected. Monte Carlo is an amazing city. A favorite destination for the rich and famous, Monte Carlo is a great place to people watch. The streets are lined with elegant boutiques and cafes, and the choice tours include the casino, the posh Hotel de Paris, the Oceanographic Museum, and the cathedral where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier are entombed. We opted for a hop-on hop-off bus that allows tourists to see the city in one day and choose where they want to stop. We visited the gardens, had a coffee and photo opportunity at the casino and Café de Paris, and took a walk and shopping stop in the old town. All in all, Monte Carlo was a pleasant visit.

Our next port was the city of Calvi, on the island of Corsica in France. Calvi sits on the northwestern tip of the island of Corsica. Above the town’s marina is the Citadelle, and below the Citadelle extends the elegant Quai Landry, lined with restaurants and cafes. Having seen a few small port towns, we decided to take a tour of some neighbouring citadels instead of remaining in Calvi. Well worth the ride, the countryside of Corsia is lined with olive trees, cork and small villages. When travelling, both my mother and I like to purchase local goods, specifically kitchen or household items and foods. Corsica is a dream for anyone looking to bring home local olive oil, honey, salt, wine or cork. After a day on the island our bags were full of local treasures.

Nearing the end of our trip, the second last stop on our journey was Palamos, Spain. Palamos is located at the foot of the coastal mountains in the heart of Spain’s Costa Brava region. The area’s seven beaches have shorelines that range from rocky to smooth and sandy. Interesting archaeological sites include the Iberian settlement at Castell beach, the Iberian archaeological ruins dating to 6 B.C., and the medieval castle of Saint Esteve at La Fosca beach. The 16th-century church of Santa Eugenia Villarroma is located in the town center. I was desperate to swim in the Mediterranean, and since our trip was coming to an end, it was looking like Palamos would be my last chance. Lucky for me, the port is located directly adjacent to a beautiful stretch of beach. The water was a little cold, but we both braved it and took the plunge. Afterward, we rewarded ourselves by sampling some of the regions famous prawns. We were not disappointed.

Our Thirty/Sixty trip was a fantastic way to spend a milestone mother-daughter year. For anyone who enjoys being on the sea, reading, fine dining and exploring foreign cultures, the Star Clipper cruises are ideal. Not only do they offer an exciting and ever changing itinerary of ports, but the crew are amazing and truly make you feel right at home. Each night there is entertainment put on by the cruise director and piano music with a live in musician. Back home and reminiscing on our incredible adventure, only one question remains: how can we top this for our Thirty-Five/Sixty-Five trip?

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