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Ajaccio is the capital city of Corsica, an island of France located in the Mediterranean Sea. Ajaccio’s main claim to fame is that Napoleon Bonaparte was born here in 1769, but people visit this tranquil island during a Mediterranean cruise for much more than a history lesson on Bonaparte.
Corsica is an easy island to get around and a cruise to Ajaccio drops you off in a very walkable part of the island. Ajaccio is home to a French vibe that extends to the restaurants, cafes, and shops. The architecture has both a French vibe and leftover Italian influences from when the island was under rule by the Genovese. You’ll be able to experience both the French and Italian parts of Ajaccio as well as the elements that make it uniquely its own during an Ajaccio cruise port of call.
Visiting the Old Town of Ajaccio is a must-see for most people visiting Corsica. During a cruise to Ajaccio, you conveniently disembark not too far from Old Town and its historic sites. While walking around you’ll notice much of the architecture is in the Baroque style and the houses are painted photo-worthy shades of pastel. One of the top landmarks to see in Ajaccio’s Old Town is the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Assomption, which is where Bonaparte was baptized and even still has the marble font he was baptized in. Other churches to take note of are the Church of Saint-Roch due to its 19th century neoclassical architecture style as well as the sea-facing Cathédrale Ste-Marie that dates back to the 16th century. For some relaxation, head to Place Foch and take a break from sightseeing while sitting under the large trees in the square. The many restaurants and cafes dotting this square and others in Old Town are great spots to slow down, order a drink or appetizer, and enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Those interested in the Renaissance will enjoy a visit to Fesch Museum, which is home to an acclaimed collection of Italian Renaissance paintings that were originally collected by Bonaparte’s uncle.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica and you can visit the home where he was born and tour it, called the National Museum of the Bonaparte Residence in Corsica. Today, it houses a museum dedicated to the history of the Bonaparte family with rooms set up to reflect that era in time.
To get a concentrated dose of the lush flora of the island, visit the botanical gardens at Bonaparte’s country house in Milelli, which is just a short drive northwest of Ajaccio. The botanical gardens have 10 hectares to explore and are also by some picturesque olive groves.
If you’re looking for some relaxing beach time while on the island, head away from central Ajaccio to the area southwest of the city. This will take you to Capo di Muru where you can find some of the most popular beaches on the island.
Go back in time to the prehistoric era with a visit to Filitosa, a megalithic site located 25 miles south of Ajaccio that has intriguing statues and mysterious archaeological remains.
Looking for the most stunning photo op while in Ajaccio cruise port? Two of the best places to get a scenic view of the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea and stunning Corsica coastline is at Punta Pozza-di-Borgo and Pointe de la Castagna.
For an excellent view of Ajaccio and the island’s stunning coastline, take a walk out of the central area of town toward the hills along the Route des Cretes. You can find the start of the walk at the Bois des Anglais, marked by a signpost.
To lounge on one of the best beaches on Corsica, head nine miles away from Ajaccio to the soft sands and warm water of Plage de Porticcio. Relax on the long golden stretch of sand and marvel at the different shades of teal and turquoise within the sea water that laps gently against the beach.
Though you can’t go inside it as its still part of the French army (though vacant), the fortress-like Citadel is still a sight to see due to its imposing location and makes for beautiful views of the sea and town if you do the steep hike up to its location. It looms over the town of Calvi from its vantage point atop a rocky headland overlooking the sea. Calvi is located just over 100 miles from Ajaccio and is an interesting place to take an excursion during a cruise to Ajaccio if your time in port allows.
Often considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of Corsica, the Isles Sanguinaires are a group of tiny islands located off the coast of Corsica. They also make an incredible place to catch the sunset if your ship stays in port late enough to catch it. To get to the Isles Sanguinaires, you can take a boat ride from Ajaccio or look into one of the shore excursions that visit the area.
Corsica is home to some picturesque villages that are a great escape from the city life during your cruise to Ajaccio. Popular ones to visit include Porticcio, Bastelica, Zicavo, and Eccica-Suarella.
Named after the postcode in which it resides, the restaurant of Le 20123 is an eclectic experience that features life-sized dolls, a water fountain, and tables set around a central square and many other seemingly random features that all somehow work when brought together for a fun atmosphere while eating delicious cuisine. The restaurant serves a four-course menu with an emphasis on traditional meat dishes.
A Nepita takes a detour from the hearty cuisine often found in traditional Corsican food and instead offers a menu that features fresh local ingredients with an emphasis on seafood and vegetables. The menu changes daily to reflect what’s in season.
Auberge de la Restonica
If spending time in the hilltop village of Corte during your cruise to Ajaccio, visit the charming Auberge de la Restonica, which is located close to Corte on the banks of the Restonica River. The rustic ambiance provides the perfect backdrop to the traditional Corsican cuisine that is hearty and delicious.
Those looking for some beachfront ambiance with their meal should head to Octopussy, where you can dine with your toes in the sand. Octopussy is located in the town of Calvi right on the bay and has gorgeous views of the water and the citadel. Seafood and modern European cuisine are the highlights of the menu. The restaurant only stays open from mid-April to late September.
For some light cuisine and a refreshing drink with a view, visit Don Quichotte, an unassuming brasserie that has a terrace and reasonable prices.
The original settlement in the area of Ajaccio was founded by the Romans and eventually came under Genoese power. In 1768, Corsica became part of France and has been ever since with the exception of a few years under British occupation in the late 18th century, and when it was occupied by the Axis powers during World War II.
Most of Ajaccio’s economy is made up of tourism. Some other industries on the island include aeronautical components manufacturing and a commercial sea port. It also serves as an administrative center and as the seat of a prefect and a bishopric.
With regular ferry service from ports along the south coast of France, such as Nice and Marseille, Ajaccio is an island getaway for many French citizens and is also a favorite vacation spot for other Europeans who flock to the island in the summer months for some warm weather, lush scenery, gorgeous beaches, and fresh island cuisine.
You’ll also find many hiking trails, much of which is due to the ecological culture of Corsica and that its people are very passionate about protecting the environment on the island. Because of this, the Parc Naturel Régional de Corse (PNRC) was established in 1972 and designated about one-third of the island as a protected area.
While in Corsica, you’ll likely hear both French and Corsican being spoken. French is the official language, but some locals speak Corsican as well. Corsican is very similar to Italian, but is in danger of dying out due to a dwindling population of native speakers.
The port for Ajaccio is called Gare Maritime d’Ajaccio, which is a smaller port that can’t accommodate large cruise ships. Instead, your cruise ship will anchor off shore and tender passengers to the port terminal.
Once on land, the terminal building has restrooms, snack machines, and ticket windows for local ferries, so if it’s shopping and sightseeing you’re looking for, you’ll want to quickly head into town. However, if you cruise to Ajaccio on a weekend day, you’ll find Forain Market just outside the port terminal, which has stands selling handbags, jewelry, clothing, and more.
Corsica has a local bus system that runs several routes from Ajaccio. You can take a bus to popular destinations like l’Alta Rocca, Calvi, and Porto-Vecchio. Just be sure to check bus schedules for returning to Ajaccio as bus service can be sporadic.
A train station is located 500 meters north of the Ajaccio’s ferry terminal and takes visitors to on a scenic ride around the island between Ajaccio and Bastia, which is located on the northeast coast of the island.
There is also a taxi rank located outside the cruise terminal, though they aren’t always right there so you may have to wait for one. Be sure you agree on the amount beforehand as the meters aren’t always turned on. The tourist information center in Ajaccio can also help arrange taxi service if needed, but again, there may be a wait. Corsica is also known for its heavy traffic so make sure you give yourself plenty of time if using taxi service to get back to your cruise ship at the end of your day in Ajaccio.
Water taxis are also available in Ajaccio that transport visitors to nearby beaches.
Shopping opportunities abound during your Ajaccio cruise since many of the top places to shop can be found in the city and right around the port. You’ll find a good concentration of shops on the streets of Cours Napoleon and Rue Cardinal Fesch. The local market is a also a good place to head to try some local produce and find craftsmen selling their wares. For lots of culinary goodies, visit La Maison de Mina, which has an array of local delicacies of the bread, jam, honey, cheese, tapenade, and wine variety.
A popular souvenir to get is anything made from one of the fragrant plants grown all over the island, such as lavender, honeysuckle, myrtle, and rosemary. These plants are used in soaps, lotions, and perfumes that you can find sold in souvenir shops and boutiques in Ajaccio. Take a sniff to see which smell is your favorite and feel like Napoleon who famously said his nose would tell him if he was nearing his homeland while at sea even if he was blindfolded due to its distinct earthy aroma. Other popular souvenirs include honey and Corsican craft ware like art galtique, which are pictures created from pebbles and small pieces of wood.
Corsica is a French island and as France is a member of the European Union, the currency accepted in Ajaccio and the rest of the island is the euro. You’ll be able to find ATMs all over town dispensing euros. In addition, credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants though some establishments – particularly smaller restaurants and shops or family-run accommodation – take only cash.
Tipping is not expected, but is appreciated. Most people who live in the area just round up to the nearest euro note.