Bastia is the capital of northern Corsica (Haute-Corse). For a long time, it was under the rule of the city state of Genoa, who built a port here to ship wine from Corsica to the Italian mainland in the fourteenth century. To protect this port, they later built a fortress (Bastiglia), which is where the city got its name from. A large part of the historic city (Terra Vecchia) is well preserved. Until the end of the eighteenth century, Bastia was the island's capital, but then Napoleon made his birthplace Ajaccio the capital. To this day, there has been rivalry between the two cities.
The large square right on the sea (Place Saint-Nicholas, 300 meters long and 90 meters wide) is the center of city life. The square is fringed by trees (palms and sycamores) and cozy cafés, where you can soak up the typical atmosphere of Bastia. Directly behind the square lie the Boulevard Paoli and the Rue César Campinchi, the city's main shopping streets.
The historic city comprises many sights and attractions. One of the main ones is the San Giovanni Battiste Church, in classical style. This church is situated near the old port (part fishing port, part marina), with opposite Bastia's Citadel. You absolutely have to visit the Citadel and the surrounding area. The ramparts date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Besides the Citadel (which houses the Ethnographic Museum), the Genoese also built several churches (Église Sainte-Marie and Oratoire Sainte-Croix) within the ramparts as well as public buildings, including the Governor's Palace.
Between the Citadel and the old port lies the beautiful Jardin Romieu. From the southern pier (Môle Jetée du Dragon) you have a beautiful view over the sea. On a clear day you can see the Tuscan Archipelago, with the islands of Elba, Capraia and Monte Cristo.
If you like gardens and parks, you should also follow the road to Monserrato (Chemin de Monserrato), at only five minutes from the city center. After a walk through a nice green area, you reach the Holy Stairs of the Baroque Chapel of Our Lady of Monserrato.
In and around Bastia
Just north of Bastia lies the historic and typical Corsican town of Cardo. In your rental car you take the Boulevard Paoli and then the road to Saint Florent. Follow the signs to the Saint Antoine Convent (which dates back to the sixteenth century) and you'll reach Cardo. Not only the town itself is exceptionally beautiful, but because of its high location it also provides wonderful views of Bastia and the surrounding area.
From Bastia, Cardo forms the beginning of the Cap Corse, Corsica's northern peninsula that is about forty kilometers long and ten kilometers wide. It's a beautiful, rugged area where you can make wonderful trips in your rental car. Most people visit Cap Corse mainly for its many beaches. On the western side of the cape you'll only find shingle beaches. On the east coast you'll also find (black) sandy beaches, especially when driving further north.
Saint-Florent lies just west of Bastia. It is a fashionable seaside resort with beautiful beaches nearby. From this town, a forty-kilometer-long path starts along the coast of the Agriates desert. A stunning route through a protected area, that you can follow by foot, by bike or on a horse. Elsewhere on Cap Corse, other beautiful walking and cycling routes have been mapped out, for example along the north coast (from Macinaggio to Centuri) and around Castello, which is centrally located on the peninsula.
On the west coast of Cap Corse lies the lovely town of Canari. It has an interesting museum about traditional Corsican costumes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There is also a Romanesque Church (L'église Santa Maria Assunta) from the twelfth century.
Beaches north of Bastia are shingle beaches, but south of the city you'll find sandy beaches, for example near La Marana, about twenty kilometers south of Bastia. This beach borders on a bird sanctuary around the Biguglia Lagoon. Don't forget to visit one of Corsica's most beautiful medieval churches, the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Lucciana, popularly called La Canonica. This beautiful, Romanesque Church dates from the twelfth century.
Like in most old cities, the historic center is best explored by foot. You will have no trouble finding a parking space for your rental car, as Bastia has sufficient parking facilities, for example near the port and around the center. There is a large underground parking near the Citadel.
Bastia has built a tunnel from the southern ferry terminal (in the new port) to the south side of the old town. This road (Voie Rapide) runs in front of the quay, underneath the sea and also underneath the area around the Citadel (Terra Nova). This way you can easily avoid Bastia's center in your rental car.
Bastia does have major roads, but there are no highways. Also keep in mind that the island is mountainous with winding roads.
The airport Bastia Airport is located twenty kilometers south of the city. You can easily reach the airport by rental car via the main road N193.