TRAVEL TIPS: Ajaccio, Corsica – a Hidden Gem in the Mediterranean
Perhaps you remember hearing the name “Corsica” in your high school history class, since the island is the birthplace of one of Europe’s most well-known historical figures: Napoleon Bonaparte. The French emperor was born right in Ajaccio, so the city is packed with history and offers visitors a glimpse into the early life of Napoleon. Those taking a Mediterranean cruise are certainly in for a treat if their ship docks in Ajaccio’s port. With its history, blend of Italian and French culture, and beautiful beaches and scenery, Ajaccio has a little bit of everything. Ajaccio’s striking blue ocean and palm tree-lined streets will stun you before you even get a chance to fully discover the Corsican city’s charm and culture.
Adventuring in Ajaccio
A trip to Ajaccio wouldn’t be complete without visiting Maison Bonaparte, where young Napoleon spent his childhood years. The house contains artifacts from Napoleon’s life, including copies of his death mask, as well as antiques that belonged to the Bonaparte family. You can also visit Ajaccio Cathedral, where Napoleon was baptized. It is an impressive structure from the 16th century that you should go inside of, even if you aren’t interested in its connection to Napoleon. In the 19th century, the emperor’s uncle, Joseph Fesch, founded a museum and put his extensive painting collection into it. Thanks to him, The Musée Fesch houses the largest collection of Italian art in all of France and is home to the art of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Bellini, and more. Connected to the museum is the beautiful Chapelle Imperiale, which is where several members of the Bonaparte family, including Cardinal Fesch, were laid to rest. In the Hôtel de Ville, you will find the Salon Napoléonien and you can view paintings and statues all having to do with Napoleon and his family.
For some more history, go to the Citadel of Ajaccio, which was constructed in 1492 to protect the city from North African invaders. It is still owned by the military to this day and is therefore not open to the public, but it is still worth going to the citadel, as it is a striking site and there are great views of the sea and the port from up there.
Ajaccio is also a great city for shopping and eating. Place Foch has a farmer’s market that is near the port and sells local products like olives, cheese, bread, Corsican sausage, honey, and beignets (a French dessert made of fried dough). In Place Foch, there are many cafes to sit at and enjoy the city’s quaint architecture while sipping some famous Corsican wine. Make sure to try Corsica’s signature dish, known as civet de sanglier (wild boar stew). Corsica is known for its coral jewelry and there are many shops around Ajaccio that sell gorgeous pieces that are great gifts to bring home.
Corsica has some amazing natural wonders that make this island a Mediterranean paradise. There are speedboats at Ajaccio’s port that will take you to Place d’Argent. This beach is absolutely spectacular and has clear water and white sand. There are other beaches located in the city, but Place d’Argent is worth the 20-minute boat ride. If you rent a car, visit the Calanches de Piana, which are pink granite cliffs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site will take your breath away as you drive or walk through the calanche and view the red cliffs and the blue Mediterranean below.
Corsica has a breathtaking landscape and its capital of Ajaccio is jam-packed with history, art, delicious food and drink, and some great shopping opportunities. Walk the same streets that young Napoleon Bonaparte did or relax on a beach and swim in the pristine Mediterranean. A Mediterranean cruise that stops in Ajaccio is sure to be an exceptional one.
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