I’d like to tell you about a place where I was twice. And if I didn’t wish to visit anywhere else, I would return there every now and then. This is Sardinia, a large Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea to the west of Italy. My friend and I chanced to go to Santa Teresa seven years ago, a small town in the most northern part of Sardinia.
The town was founded in 1808 by King Vittorio Emanuele I and named after his wife Maria Teresa of Austria. Elegant buildings in pastel shades line the main streets that lead to the church of San Vittorio and the central square which is the hub of city life. You can also find small boutiques, nightclubs, cafes and welcoming shops there. Beaches in the area boast numerous awards and blue flags, but it’s not the only advantage of coming there. The privilege of the place is in its location. It is the closest town to Corsica and La Maddalena Archipelago, the captivating islands which you can reach by ferries or yachts. And, so we did. We rented a yacht and sailed.
Our first destination was a small town, Bonifacio, on Corsica. Despite it being a part of France, to get there by yacht (if the sea is calm) takes you not more than half an hour. The two islands were once joined, but volcanic activity tore them apart, leaving huge shards of granite rock in the turquoise waters. The sea floor here is now dotted with wrecks of pirate ships and ancient vessels which crashed against the many crags and because of that many divers can be seen there. But these high waves and strong currents destroying the vessels at the same time formed a natural fortress that kept the village safe across centuries. Nowadays the town is a major center for sea based leisure activities such as yachting and diving. The success of the yachting is partly due to the fact that Bonifacio is one of the windiest places in France.
The difference between Corsica and Sardinia is that Corsica is French and Sardinia is Italian, but it isn’t really that simple. Most locals would say that they are Corsican first, and French second – the island has only been French since 1769 when the island was given to France because of debts. So, you have a mix of French and Italian cultures, rugged and rural landscapes with plenty of mountains, and top-notch beaches.
The first fascinating place you come across arriving at Bonifacio is its famous port. You can admire various yachts stationed there – from the light ones and fishing boats to grand mega yachts.
Another popular site in Bonifacio situated in the fortress wall is The Stairway of the King of Aragon. The stairway, composed of 187 steps, carved in a steep cliff, positioned at an angle of 45 degrees, is truly a wonderful sight. But there are also many stories tied to it. A legend says that the staircase was dug by soldiers under King of Aragon Alfonso V during the failed siege mission in Bonifacio, back in 1420. It was said that the troops finished the job for only one night and they did all of it by hand.
But the real story is that the staircase was created by Franciscan monks who need to have access to a freshwater source at that time. At the bottom of the staircase there’s a natural spring and a cave which were said to be created way before Alfonso’s troops came to the area. There were also reports that the first steps were from the Neolithic times. Today anyone can go up and down the stairs and stroll along the limestone path.
Founded at around 830 A.D., Bonifacio is Corsica’s oldest town and is believed to have been referenced in one of the most ancient and popular poems ever written. According to legend, it’s the land in Homer’s “Odyssey” where Greek hero Odysseus runs into a local tribe called the Laestrygonians, who are described as giant cannibals. Luckily, the cunning warrior manages to escape before being eaten.
We climbed to explore the citadel and historic old town of Bonifacio. Although the climb was quite steep we were rewarded with lovely coastal views. Bonifacio is set high on sheer white cliffs which continue around the coast. We passed through a gateway in the original walls to discover a picturesque narrow streets and alleys enclosed by the sturdy walls of the citadel. Wandering along the streets we kept an eye out for the house where Napoleon spent a couple of months with relatives.
We were able to visit buildings of special significance in the town including the 13th century Church of Saint-Dominique and the 12th century Church of Sainte-Marie-Majeure (the oldest building in Bonifacio).
Our last destination was the marine cemetery of Bonifacio. When you say cemetery the first things that come to your mind are the dead and afterlife. And you might ask: why visit? But we were surprised to find that this is a particularly pleasant place. A place that seems to have absolutely nothing macabre.
The marine cemetery rises in a position overlooking the sea. The chapels seem really cottages. Cottages surrounded by an unreal silence, broken only by the sound of the waves. A solemn, and at the same time simple, place. Usually, the marine cemetery remains outside the traditional routes. But we were lucky to have visited it and it gave us an unforgettable view.
- crag – a crag is a steep rocky cliff or part of a mountain.
- fortress – a fortress is a castle or other large strong building, or a well-protected place, which is intended to be difficult for enemies to enter.
- hub of – you can describe a place as a hub of an activity when it is a very important centre for that activity.
- keep an eye out – look out for something with particular attentiok
- macabre – disturbing because concerned with or causing a fear of death
- rugged – (of ground or terrain) having a broken, rocky, and uneven surface
- shard – a piece of broken ceramic, metal, glass, or rock, typically having sharp edges
- sheer – a sheer cliff or drop is extremely steep or completely vertical.
- siege – a siege is a military or police operation in which soldiers or police surround a place in order to force the people there to come out or give up control of the place.
- sturdy – someone or something that is sturdy looks strong and is unlikely to be easily injured or damaged.
- top-notch – if you describe someone or something as top-notch, you mean that they are of a very high standard or quality.
- turquoise – a greenish-blue colour.
- warrior – a warrior is a fighter or soldier, especially one in former times who was very brave and experienced in fighting