Bonifacio Old Town is an irregular grid of streets and narrow alleyways, with medieval townhouses five or six stories high yet often just one room wide yet. Enclosing the Old Town are the ancient walls of the citadel.There are two routes into Bonifacio’s Old Town, which is fully encircled by the citadel walls. Access by foot from the marina is via the steep Montee Rastello and Montee St-Roch steps (next to the Eglise St-Erasme) then through the Porte de Genes (Genoa gate) at the top.
There are some stunning views from the Montee St-Roch steps across the cliffs. From here the impressive Grain de Sable limestone sea stack can be seen.
Alternate access is via the Porte de France (vehicle access). A little tourist train also runs in summer from the marina (costs 5 Euros).
Legend has it that these 187 steps carved into the limestone cliff face were built by the Aragonese in a single night in their failed attempt to gain the town in 1420.
The steps however actually existed before this and were probably used by locals to carry water to the citadel from a well discovered by monks.
Open daily 11am to 5.30pm June to September. Go early to avoid the crowds and heat. A great experience and well worth the effort. Admission 2.5 Euros.
To the right of the Porte de Genes, on Place d’Armes, is the Bastion de L’Etendard – the only surviving part of the fortifications destroyed in the 1553 siege by the French/Turk alliance.
Inside is a small museum, Memorial du Passe Bonifacien, with a reproduction of the prehistoric ‘Dame de Bonifacio’ skeleton and models illustrating some of the town’s history. It costs 2.5 Euros to enter the Bastion and museum, which also allows you to walk over the battlements and access the tiny Jardin des Vestiges garden.
There are some great views from the Bastion of Bonifacio old town including the harbour, town, cliffs and nearby mountains.
Bonifacio Old Town is an interesting place to wander around shopping for gifts, although bear in mind some shops can be very expensive.
Bonifacio has a great selection of chic boutiques. In the Old Town, souvenir and jewellery shops are interspersed amongst the ancient houses. Bonifacio’s coral is renowned for its deep red colour and a popular choice with visitors.
The numerous restaurants, bars and cafes make for a great place of shelter from the intense Corsican midday sun.
Rue Longue was the citadel’s main street during Genoese occupancy.
The emperors Charles V and Napoleon I lodged in houses on this road in 1541 and 1793 respectively, their visits now commemorated by plaques (the buildings are not open to the public).
From this road several arched alleys form aqueducts to collect rainwater.
The Bosco (names after a wood here in the 10th century) is the Quarter right on the end of the promontory on which the Old Town is built.
There is a Marine Cemetery (Cimetiere Marin) here, built on the site of the old convent of St-Francis (of which only the restored late 14th century convent remains). The cemetery is an interesting place to visit, with wonderful views and overly-ornate mausoleums and tombs.
Military barracks are also found here – once home to the French Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment, until they relocated to Calvi in the 1980s.