Set on a hillock overlooking a beautiful deep blue bay, Porto-Vecchio, 25km north of Bonifacio, was rated by James Boswell as one of “the most distinguished harbours in Europe”. It was founded in 1539 as a second Genoese stronghold on the east coast, Bastia being well established in the north. The site was perfect: close to the unexploited and fertile plain, it benefited from secure high land and a sheltered harbour, although the mosquito population spread malaria and wiped out the first Ligurian settlers within months. Things began to take off mainly thanks to the cork industry, which still thrived well into the twentieth century. Today most revenue comes from tourists, the vast majority of them well-heeled Italians who flock here for the fine outlying beaches. To the northwest, the little town of Zonza makes a good base for exploring the dramatic forest that surrounds one of Corsica’s most awesome road trips, the route de Bavella.
Around the centre of town there’s not much to see, apart from the well-preserved fortress and the small grid of ancient streets backing onto the main place de la République. East of the square you can’t miss the Porte Génoise, which frames a delightful expanse of sea and saltpans and through which you’ll find the quickest route down to the modern marina, which is lined with cafés and restaurants.