As Corsica’s largest city and capital, Ajaccio is naturally also the port which serves this popular Mediterranean island. It’s the perfect destination for cruisers who enjoy a taste of the French way of life but with a Greek island climate, thanks to Corsica’s location South-east of France’s mainland. There’s something to suit every cruiser in Ajaccio, from sun-seekers and shopaholics to history buffs and architectural aficionados.
The area on which Ajaccio stands today was settled as long ago as the second century and though archaeological evidence shows that it was a Roman port during the time of the Roman Empire, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that it became a city in the traditional sense. After centuries of decline, the Genoese decided to rebuild the city in the 15th century and assert themselves on the island, creating a colony which the Corsicans themselves were restricted entry from. As the city prospered, however, these rules were relaxed. Complications concerning Corsica’s ownership led to it being sold to France in 1769, the same year that the island’s most famous son, Napoleon Bonaparte was born. In 1811, he made Ajaccio the island’s capital and after his defeat and death, there was no move made to pass the island into another nation’s hands and it remains French to this day.
As you’d imagine considering his huge historical impact, the main cultural attraction in Ajaccio is Napoleon’s former family home, which has been turned into a museum, where each room has been faithfully recreated in order to take visitors back to the time when the famous leader lived there. It won’t take you too long to get around, though for history buffs, this is certainly a must-visit and even if you’re not, it’s certainly one for the checklist to say you’ve stood in the house of one of history’s most iconic figures. Staying with the Napoleonic theme, a visit to the cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-L’Assomtion is also worth a look, as this is the church where he was baptised. It dates back to the late 1500s and is built in a Counter-Reformation style. Don’t miss the marble altar, which was a gift from Elisa Bonaparte – Napoleon’s sister. Of course, no town where a great historical figure was born would be complete without an accompanying statue or three, so for that not-to-be-missed photo opportunity, be sure to head over to Place de Gaulle during your visit, where you’ll find a statue of the man himself on horseback. Art lovers meanwhile, should make sure they check out the Musee French, which houses a pleasing collection of Renaissance paintings.
Beaches and outdoors
For sand lovers and sun-worshippers, there’s certainly no shortage of beaches on Corsica, many of them within five or 10 minutes of Ajaccio itself. Even in the depths of winter, the temperature rarely gets below about 8C and you can expect plenty of sun, no matter what time of year you visit. However, the island’s most celebrated area of natural beauty can be found in the north end of Ajaccio’s bay, the Sanguinaires Isles. This peninsula can be reached by an admittedly choppy boat ride or a bus journey on land, but if you’ve got a little more time to spend in Ajaccio, it’s well worth the journey as it’s a truly beautiful area and ideal for nature-loving cruisers. Another popular excursion for lovers of the outdoors is Lac da Tolla, a beautiful lake which offers the perfect setting for a picnic and a welcome chill-out. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, however, it’s also possible to rent a kayak or pedal boat and take to the water.
Shopping and food
For those in search of an authentic shopping experience, Place Foch is the place to be, as it’s home to Ajaccio’s lively open-air market, which opens bright and early and offers all manner of tasty locally-made delicacies, such as Corsican cheese and sausages. Wine-lovers will be sure to pick up a vintage or two, while there’s plenty of French nougat available for those with a sweet tooth. As far as good places to eat, for a relaxing coffee or a quick bite, any of the city’s squares are a good place to relax, but there’s a good choice of restaurant as well. With Ajaccio being a busy fishing port, it won’t come as any surprise to learn that seafood is popular here, though interestingly wild boar is one of the island’s most popular dishes. For the more casual diner, pizza and olives are a popular on fixture on most menus in the city. Corsica’s renowned for its fine wine too, so be sure to sample a glass during your visit if you can.