Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica and the island's largest city. Its modern history is dominated by the figure of Napoléon, who was born in the city. His presence is everywhere in Ajaccio, yet not in an overpowering sense; indeed the city wears its layers of history with a lightened touch, yet it is still rated as one of the most intriguing stops on the island. This is evidenced in the narrow streets and the lovely, varied architecture, particularly the fabled cathedral. The city also has a beautiful harbour area with numerous boats and yachts, arriving from French ports such as Marseille, Nice and Toulon - something that lends the area a Côte d'Azur feel.
To the north, the Gulf of Sagone is a vast bay that opens between the gulfs of Ajaccio and Porto. With hillsides cloaked in dense maquis, and beaches flanked by oak and olives it is the ideal base for walkers or beach lovers, away from the hustle and bustle of Ajaccio. The city itself makes a good base however, and there are several good Ajaccio hotels to choose from if you fancy the idea of a break in the capital.
Things to See & Do
- Ajaccio, the chief town in Corsica sparkles with Mediterranean buzz reminiscent of the Côte d'Azur and is the largest town on the island. His place of birth, Napoléon Bonaparte gave the town international fame and visitors cannot escape his commemorative presence throughout the town. It is an attractive town with an exceptionally mild climate and boasts a wealth of cafés, restaurants and chic shops. The old town is especially charming with a cluster of ancient streets spreading north and south of the Place Foch, which opens out onto the seafront by the old port. The Place de Gaulle forms the town centre. Following on from this is the Cours Napoléon, lined with chic boutiques and brasseries, and running parallel to the beach for almost 2km. There are plenty of places to visit including Napoléon's house (Maison Bonaparte), Musée Capitellu, the citadel and Musée Fesch.
- There is a local produce market held every morning Mon-Sat at Place César-Campinchi providing an ideal scene to capture the essence of local life as you watch the world go by.
- The sea front promenade along the Route des Sanguinaires is a pleasant place to stroll and leads to some lovely beaches, the least crowded being the furthest along. The Nave Va company run boat trips from the old port near the citadel out to these islands, as well as further afield (Bonifacio, Porto and the Calanches).
- North west of Ajaccio is the nearest of the Bonaparte family's country houses. Les Millelli is a stolid plain 18th-century building with a wonderful terraced olive grove that overlooks the gulf (great for picnics). There are other châteaux ruins further along.
- Heading south around the bay you reach the town of Porticcio, a busy, lively resort with an abundance of shops including many small speciality shops selling locally produced pâtés, saucissons and cheeses. Porticcio has a large expanse of sandy beach with windsurfing, boat hire and a choice of other water sports and beach activities. As you turn a corner on the road south of Porticcio, the golden sands of the huge beach at Agosta Plage stretch ahead. Here it's quieter than Porticcio but with beach activities and good water sports due to the choppier waters in this bay.
- Sartène is said to be the most Corsican of Corsican towns, and is a brooding place of tall buildings and narrow, cobbled alleyways. Famous for its local wines you can experience the culture at first hand.
- Long sandy beaches characterise Corsica's largest Gulf, the Bay of Sagone, which stretches 40km down the west coast to the north of Ajaccio. Cargèse is a lovely clifftop village at the northern tip of the bay. Its Greek history has left it with a unique atmosphere today and there is a certain charm to the quiet streets and whitewashed houses. With five beaches within the vicinity it's a great base for a relaxing beach holiday - the Plage de Pero is one of the most spectacular in the area.
- Cargèse is at the northernmost tip of the bay and is a charming cliff top village with an unusual history and ancestry linked to the Greek Peloponnese. Even today there are both Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches although both are presided over by the same minister. The whole Gulf of Sagone (Corsica's largest gulf) is characterised by long curves of sandy beaches stretching 40km from Capo di Feno up to the Punto di Cargèse. Sagone is further south and thrives as a water-sports centre whilst Tiuccia is tucked into the Gulf of Liscia at the easternmost indent and has a trio of minor historic sights. Two 17th-century Genoese watchtowers and the other, the ruined Castellu di Capraja. It is the most sheltered spot and has a fine golden beach.
- Aullène is now a relatively remote village of the southern mountains among magnificent scenery. It has fewer than 200 permanent inhabitants today, but once it was a place of importance before any of the modern, faster roads by the coast were built, the only route from Ajaccio to Porto Vecchio went through here. Surrounded by chestnut and pine forests, it is a splendid centre for exploring the mountains.
- Take the breathtaking walks along the lush green ridge of hills known as the famous 'les Crêtes', just a short drive from Ajaccio centre.
- The tortoise park of 'A Cupulatta' makes a good family day out. Located half an hour away on the N193 in the small village of Vero, the park, which is home to some 150 different species of tortoises and turtles. The site is open every day from 9am to 7pm in the summer and from 10am to 5.30pm during the rest of the year.
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