Tag Archives: France

Bonifacio – a brief history

Although I said previously that Bonifacio has been a harbour since they invented the boat, that is somewhat obvious as Corsica is an island, and I doubt anyone swam or flew there in antiquity!

Apparently human remains dating from  6500 BC have been found in caves nearby.   The first time Bonifacio appeared in written records is in Homer’s Odyssey.   Because Bonifacio is such a unique place the description Homer gave of the harbour that Odysseus’ fleet used could only fit Bonifacio.  Whilst here Odysseus met the local tribes people, called Laestrygonians, allegedly giant cannibals! Following this meeting Odysseus came a very poor second, loosing his entire fleet to the Laestrygonians who stood on the cliffs and threw rocks and spears on the ships below. Odysseus only managed to save one ship anchored closer to the sea than the rest.  This is apparently the only reference to Corsica’s early inhabitants who disappeared into obscurity again.

The Romans had a settlement in Bonifacio  but it wasn’t linked to the main road network and it wasn’t until 828AD that the town and port assumed any significance.   Count Bonifacio II from Tuscany, returning from fighting the Saracens, built the first fortifications there turning Bonifacio into a secure naval base.

The Tuscan were replaced by the Pisans in 1092 when the Pope handed it to them and they remained the dominant power for the next 200 years.  In the 12th century the Genoese captured the town, massacred the population and replaced them with people from Liguria! They then set about fortifying the town properly and making it ‘impregnable’.  And they pretty much succeeded.

In October 1420 the Aragonese tried taking the town.  King Afonso VI was fairly confident of success being at the head of a professional army equipped for siege warfare and up against a town with only a small military garrison. How wrong they were. The town held out until December when resupplyed by a Genoese fleet at which point Alfonso discovered a pressing need to return home to be named his mother’s successor.

In 1553 the French successfully took the town, but by subterfuge rather than assault.  Henri II of France, allied with the Turkish pirate Dragut, besieged the town.   Despite overwhelming firepower and numbers they failed to take it even when the buildings had been reduced to rubble and the occupants were starving.  The town sent a messenger to Genoa for help but he was captured by the French and returned to the town with the message that Genoa refused to help. The town, believing there was no hope, finally surrendered, and the Turks promptly massacred the population.

After a brief occupation by France the island was returned to the Genoans in 1559, remaining under their control until the French regained the island in 1768 under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  It has remained French ever since.

Apparently the French began interfering with the way in which the merchants operated.   Fairly predictably the merchants left and Corsica’s fortunes began to decline.   Apparently Bonaparte spent time in the town before his rise to power and following his fall the population continued to support him.

During World War II Bonifacio regained it’s significance.   It aquired more fortifications and coastal gun batteries to return it to its position as as a defensible naval base.   The final military chapter in its history saw the French Foreign Legion  based there from the 1960 to the 1980s.

The harbour is now home to local fishing boats and the marina and tourism appears to be the mainstay of the economy.

As I said previously, well worth the visit.



From Cala Lunga we headed for Bonifacio in Corsica about 12 miles across the Straits.    This we managed to proper sail there in about 3 hours, arriving mid afternoon.    The marina office, the Capitanerie, was closed for the weekend when we arrived but there were plenty of free berths, again the advantage of starting our season early.

Bonifacio was not originally in our sailing plan, but after advice from our new friends in Olbia we decided to add it in and spend all day Sunday there.  And we are glad we did because it was an unexpected gem.

Bonifacio port

Bonifacio is a fantastic natural harbour which has been in use since they invented the boat.   It is an awesome natural cleft in the cliff parallel to the coast and is approximately … metres wide over its entire length.   Over the centuries it has been fortified and the citadel stands massively over the port and the town is plainly visible from miles away.

The walk up to the citadel is steep but well worth the climb.   The path leads you up to a saddle in the headland and to the left is a coast walk and to the right the old town, we went left first and the views were simply fantastic.   The town is built right on the edge of the cliffs and many of these have been worn away by the sea so the buildings are perched very precariously on rock over hangs.   The sea below is crystal clear and coloured every blue green shade you can imagine.

Looking east towards Bonifácio

Looking east from Bonifacio
Genoese Gate

The promentory was first fortified in 828AD by Count Bonifacio, a Tuscan nobleman who secured the harbour as a base against the Saracens who regularly raided the islands.   Over the years these fortifications have been reinforced and what is now visible are the remains of the old Genoese walls in places buried within the newer Bastion built to withstand new fangled cannons!

The old town is accessed through the original Genoese Gate in the  original town wall which is part of what is now know as the Bastion d’Etenard, the Bastion of the Standard.    The Bastion itself is worth the 2.50 euro per person and will give you the entire history of the town  on display panels.   Really interesting and well presented!

The Bastion of the Standard over looking the harbour
Church of St Marie Majeur

The old town itself  is quite small and  many of the buildings are of Genoese origin, 15th century or thereabouts.   They are all 3 or 4 storeys high and tower over the narrow streets like canyon walls.   It was busy, but not crowded and walking around the town was very relaxing.

We really enjoyed Bonifacio, especially as our visit was completely ‘last minute’.  Our thanks to Claire and Jayne for their glowing recommendation.

U Cantu Veneziana – The Venetian Corner

Non !

We got to Cannes but then found that we couldn’t get a berth in Nice or Monaco, in fact there wasn’t a berth for us in any marina on the French Riviera to the east of Cannes.  In fact the only place we could find was San Remo, Italy, luckily also on our list of places to visit.     So we had to re assess our plans to visit Nice and Monaco.    Nice we did by train from Cannes and Monaco we plan to visit by train from San Remo.

20161004_124106So instead of going from Cannes to Nice, we went from Cannes to the Rade de Villefranche, just round the corner.   In leaving Cannes we sailed passed the Ile de Marguerite, most famous for its fortress prison, the Fort Royal, in which the so-called Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century, not the Chateau D’If in Marseille.

20161004_17521820161004_180849Arriving in the Rade de Villefranche we anchored opposite the marina we couldn’t get into.    This was a very pleasant anchorage, sheltered and quiet 20161004_191704and very picturesque.   We were anchored in 6 metres of water and it was so clear you could see the sea bed with worrying clarity …. It looked far shallower!   If we hadn’t been wanting to move along we’d have stayed another day just to chill!

Seriously, this water is 6 metres deep …..

Another worryingly clear sight was naked Germans.  This isn’t an isolated sighting either, in almost every anchorage we have been to, we have observed that the crew of any yacht wearing a German ensign has a remarkably consistent lack of clothing; ‘naked German yachtsman’ is a phrase you could classify as a ‘tortology’, like saying ‘fatally dead’.   But they do seem to have towels, but no deck chairs …

Mind you even in marinas we have seen some disturbing sights.   In Toulon there was the guy on the boat across the jetty from us who didn’t appear to own any clothes other than his underpants …… and then, on Sunday, his underpants and a t shirt – he did have guests after all.   It was only on the Sunday evening when he left his boat we realised he actually owned trousers.   Or the guy in Cannes on the next yacht who I christened ‘Captain Underpants’ ….. always seemed to be wandering around his boat in the morning in the same pair of baggy grey ‘Y’ fronts.   Honestly, it wouldn’t be so bad if they were ‘the beautiful people’, surely there are standards, this is the Cote d’Azur for goodness sake!   But no, unfortunately these people are not Boat Bunnies, and obviously their boats don’t have the luxury of mirrors.

They say that if you have it flaunt it, well surely the unspoken flipside is if you haven’t, don’t.

Seriously, please, don’t.


We couldn’t get a berth in Nice and so stayed an extra day in Cannes and visited Nice by train.  

Quai des Etas Unis
Quai des Etas Unis


The old town of Nice is over looked by what used to be a fortress before it was completely dismantled following the Spanish Wars of Succession, guessing they back the wrong side.   Now it is a public garden with great views over the entire city.   There is a lift to get to the top of the rock which is built in the old water well of the castle.

In one of the main streets through the old town was a large bric-a-brac market but once away from the main streets the old town is a maze of dark narrow streets and alleyways, not a right-angled junction anywhere; that combined with not being able to see the sky makes it very easy to lose your bearings and get lost.   It is a lively place with plenty of shops and restaurants and it has loads of shabby character.  

Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais

Leaving the old town we took a walk along the Promenade Anglais and passed the memorials for the victims of last year’s terrorist attack.  A sombre moment.   Almost everywhere we have been in France there have been armed soldiers patrolling the streets; it is strange to see but somewhat reassuring.   I am not sure they could stop anything happening, but the response would be immediate.

What we saw of Nice was nice …..


There isn’t really much to say about Cannes.  Another town famous for being famous, although much bigger than St Tropez and much busier, with a large number of big hotels, exhibition centres and plenty of very big super yachts.   In St Tropez the original character remained, here it has been well and truly absorbed.

Can you spot Windependent?
Can you spot Windependent?

dsc_0279The old town is very small and compact and is set on a hill over looking the marina, the top of the hill being occupied by the church and the remains of the castle.  The steep streets lead down to the port and are full of souvenir and craft shops and numerous restaurants.








Cannes proper then stretches out to the east of the old town along the sea front behind the Boulevard de la Croisette; here there are all the big name boutiques crammed between the hotels.   One street back and the shops are far more down market and realistic in price, further into town and it is a busy, lively place.

Boulevard de les Croisettes
Boulevard de les Croisettes

Cannes lives up to the image I had of it and I am glad we visited, although I think 2 days is more than enough to see the place.

Tomorrow we are off again but as yet we don’t know where to. Nice is fully booked and can’t give us a mooring, Villefranche sur Mer has yet to answer and Beaulieu is closed till Monday morning, and we still don’t know if we can get into Monaco dharlings.


Frejus to Cannes

Still in no rush I decided to take two days to cover the 20 odd miles between Frejus and Cannes, 10 miles each day with an over night stop in the Rade d’Agay.

The weather was ideal for sailing on both days, lots of up wind work from Frejus to Agay and a following wind from Agay to Cannes – 20 knots of wind is great for running down wind but make mooring in a crowded marina fraught!

Pte de l'Esquine de L'ay
Pte de l’Esquine de L’ay
Ile d'Or
Ile d’Or

The coast here is all red rock, very Martian, apart from all the water and the breathable atmosphere!   We passed the Ile d’Or approaching Agay, it is so called because apparently in certain light conditions the red rocks look golden.

Sunset in Rade d'Agay
Sunset in Rade d’Agay

Rade d’Agay has a very small fishing harbour in it but buoys have been laid in three areas of the bay and we decided to hook up to one of these for the night; unfortunately the southerly winds from earlier had set up a decent swell which was quite uncomfortable over night when the wind moved round and held us ‘beam on’ across it.  Still we only had 10 miles to do the following day so we could sleep in!

Le Cap Roux, south west of Cannes
Le Cap Roux, south west of Cannes

By the following morning the swell had almost died away and we had a relatively restful morning.  We left the buoy just before 1, and actually sailed off the buoy without needing the engines, although they were on, jut in case.  As we left Agay and there was stiffening breeze behind us, reaching 20 knots as we got towards Cannes and we made the trip in just over 2 hours, making 6 knots at times.

Port Frejus

Street off the main square
Street off the main square

We decided to visit Frejus because it was an old town with a cathedral and allegedly some Roman ruins.  I say allegedly because although there were stretches of Roman walls and a support for an aqueduct, the ‘ruin’ of what appeared to be an amphitheatre was simply a wall of a scrubby little garden; rather disappointing.   The Place Agricola, which is where this was had a car park ‘P’ symbol on the map.   What I didn’t realise until we got there was that Place Agricola WAS the car park.  Anyway, we had a nice wander around the streets which were colourful and quiet, apart from the road sweepers clearing up after the market!   We had coffee and a light lunch in the town square and then headed back to the marina.

The town hall and main square
The town hall and main square
Frejus Cathedral
Frejus Cathedral


Les Voiles

We left Grimaud at lunch time on Tuesday and found the Golfe de St Tropez rammed full of sailing boats of all shapes and sizes.    Although the wind was only about 5 or 6 knots and exactly from the direction we wanted to go in there was no way on this earth I was going to motor, so we spent about three hours tacking back and forth along the north side of the Golfe of St Tropez trying to stay out of the way of those in the parade of sail or in the marshalling areas for the races.   Valeria’ took some amazing photos and they say more than I ever could.

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St Tropez and Port Grimaud

In trying to get a berth in St Tropez I found that they don’t accept reservations, you have to take pot luck on the day and so whilst at anchor in Anse de Canbiers, just round the corner, I rang up and found they couldn’t take us.    Unfortunately we arrived in the run up to ‘Les Voiles’, an annual yachting event, so it was like finding a berth in Cowes during Cowes Week.    So instead of St Tropez we found a mooring in Port Grimaud, 3 or 4 miles further on at the head of the Golfe de St Tropez.   It was pretty urgent to get alongside as we had our blocked toilet to fix and as it turned out it must have been fate that sent us here, of which more later.

20160924_114004-p-grimaudPort Grimaud is a relatively new development, dating from the 1980s, turning marsh land into a housing development around a network of canals so that you can park your boat outside your back door.  Deliberately Venetian in concept and really cool but a little dated with shops, boutiques and restaurants on the touristy end of the scale; but it is a pleasant enough place to wander round.

20160924_114428-p-grimaud 20160924_112532-p-grimaud

There is also a ferry from Port Grimaud to St Tropez.   St Tropez started life as a deep water port and fishing village, fortified in the 1500’s.   More recently it was discovered by Bridgit Bardot and some films were set here, and boom, St Tropez became the place to be seen.  As a town it is almost quaint, loads of character, old buildings and narrow streets and passageways, and very little modern development, but I can’t see what all the fuss is about.  St Tropez appears to be famous, for being famous. 

Place de la Mairie
Place de la Mairie
Sentier du Littoral
Sentier du Littoral



Rue Etienne Berny
Rue Etienne Berny
Rue Etienne Berny



St Tropez via 3 anchorages

We left Toulon on Tuesday, the 20th and set off towards St Tropez. We had two days of almost perfect down wind sailing conditions and one of little wind at all and spent each night in a different anchorage. Rather than be a bore with technicalities here are the photos.

20th September – Baie d’Alicastre, Ile de Porquerelle.

Sunset over Fort d'Alicastre, I'll de Porquerelle.
Sunset over Fort d’Alicastre, I’ll de Porquerelle.
Sunset, Baie d'Alcicastre
Sunset, Baie d’Alcicastre

21st September – Mouillage de Jova, Baie de Cavalier sur Mer.

Sunset over Cavalier-sur-Mer.
Sunset over Cavalier-sur-Mer.
Shoreline of Mouillage de Jova near La Croix Valmer

22nd September – Anse de Canebiers, St Tropez

Sunset off St Tropez
Sunset off St Tropez
.... the depth here was 6 metres .....
…. the depth here was 6 metres …..

They don’t accept berth reservations in St Tropez and it is now quite important we get alongside to fix our blocked toilet.