17 Jul 2010

Un Café à Bastia (Part 1)

Take a walk on the safe side of café culture in Bastia with I - your guide - and enjoy a moment's tranquility without compromising on style. To do so, let the town take you in its stride, preferably on a cool Spring or Autumn day (the best times of year to visit the Corsican town). Start off quite early in the day, or make a move later in the afternoon, in order to avoid rush-hour traffic. The town centre is compact enough for you to walk around without difficulty. However wear good shoes so as not to spoil the fun to be had (some of the streets are steep). Take a wander down the pavements, go on a mini-adventure, safe in the knowledge that you can't really get lost in Bastia!

The town itself is quite narrow in depth, roughly contained between the commercial/ ferry port, the train station/ Fango quarter (administrative area), the Palais de Justice/ Citadelle axis (old town) and the unmissable Place Saint-Nicolas (the main town square). The town centre (bar the old town itself) is organised almost as a grid system, a bit like a town from the New World. The two main shopping arteries, Boulevard Paoli and Rue César Campinchi run in parallel and their selection of mainstream shops, exclusive boutiques, enticing pâtisseries and quirky eateries should be enough to satisfy the label-obsessed, the price-conscious, the speciality seeker and the style hunter.

If we have to start somewhere, where better than from the epicentre of town, Place Saint-Nicolas? The wide spacious palm-tree-lined square overlooks the sea. Napoléon's pedestal proudly stands at the centre of the square, while behind him an example of remarkable 18th century architecture is spelt out on the frontons of a row of imposing apartment blocks. Sitting at a terrace, you will be able to embrace the continental pastime of café culture like a native. Just wear your shades, unfold your newspaper, light up a cigarette (if you may) and take in the atmosphere.

The countless cafés/ bars mean that you will be spoilt for choice, but if you really need my personal recommendation, then head for Café de la Paix: it has been there for as long as I remember. If indoors its rich 1970s wood panelling and brown leather décor has lost some of its panache and is crying for an uplift, the café is nevertheless - I believe - the place to be, at about 7:30am, in order to take the pulse of the town, as office workers and businessmen stop in for their daily Malongo café serré (Ristretto) and a croissant. The café crème is decent, the croissants are generous in size and will set you off 'till lunchtime, while the café's atmosphere will be upbeat enough to fill you with energy for the day.

For a more tranquil vibe and a more modern setting, away from the hub of the square, I recommend a choice of two cafés. Café Casale (named after the aviator, Jean Casale) on the street of the same name is a small quiet café tucked away at the back of the Société Générale bank (Rue Miot, visible from Place Saint-Nicolas).

Its décor, lay-out and drinks menu show that its owners pay attention to detail and the experience will be bound to appeal to style-aware urbanites. And for that little extra touch, tea and Illy coffee are served in good old-fashioned vintage crockery. You may prolong your experience with a spot of light lunch there. (to be continued)

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