French since the late 1700s, Corsica and its capital Ajaccio still bear the stamp of the preceding half century of Genoese rule, from the local dialect (a blend of Italian, Tuscan, and Latin) to the prevalence of pasta in the restaurants. Like the rest of the isle, this port town is astonishingly beautiful, framed by Mediterranean beaches, palm trees, and snow-capped peaks. But Ajaccio's greatest claim to fame is as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte; making a pilgrimage to his childhood home, Maison Bonaparte, a must.
What We Love
Old World Romance: Get off your ship early to watch the old town's buildings glow in the morning sun. Sip a cappuccino near Place de Gaulle, a plaza filled with heroic statues, or spring for lunch at one of the many al fresco restaurants overlooking the harbor.
Food Scene: Immerse yourself in Corsica's culinary culture at Marché des Producteurs de Pays, an outdoor market near the port that's a colorful ode to the island's specialties, from cheeses (try Brin d’Amour made from the milk of Lacaune ewes) to hams to pastries. Bring cash and save room for the chestnut beignets.
Best Known For
All Things Napoleonic: Notable stops include the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, where Napoleon was baptized, and Salon Napoléonien in the Hotel de Ville, where you'll find a frescoed ceiling celebrating his career, as well as his death mask.
Mediterranean Splendor: Ajaccio is the gateway to Corsica, an island where Mediterranean views are sprinkled with yachts and fishing boats, and hiking trails abound. Head to Lac de Tolla for fantastic kayaking and Isula Plongée for diving and snorkeling.
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Who It's Best For
History and Art Buffs: Along with a multitude of notable Napoleonic sites, the city is also home to Musée Fesch, one of the largest collections of Italian paintings in France. Their former owner? Napoleon's uncle Cardinal Joseph Fesch.
Devoted Walkers: No need to hire a taxi: Ajaccio's winding, pastel streets are best explored by foot. The city center is just a five-minute walk from port, and if you feel like a beach break, St. Francois is a 10-minute stroll away.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It's Popular: In summer months, especially when cruise ships are in port, Ajaccio’s narrow byways teem with crowds.
Laura Manske is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Redbook, InStyle, and Cosmopolitan.