Corsica is a rugged, mountainous island that adds a whole new dimension to France. Not only is it Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthplace, but it features a blend of French, local, and Mediterranean influences that gives the island a truly unique feeling. I recommend reading Alexandre Dumas’ “The Corsican Brothers” on the flight over — it’s a quick read and the beginning proceeds as a travelogue– providing a quick overview of Corsica’s landscape. I traveled here in 2019 with my parents (Yakpacker Sr. and Mme. Yakpacker) via a one-hour flight from Paris Orly Airport on Air Corsica.
We flew into Ajaccio in the southwest and stayed at the Best Western, which was modern, clean, and had great views over the harbor. The old city of Ajaccio is very walkable, with narrow streets comprised of tall, sturdy, ancient stone buildings. Place Foch is a key focal point of the city, with a large statue of Napoleon overseeing the plaza. This area hosts a busy market on Sunday mornings, with vendors selling loads of Corsican cheeses, sausages, and pastries. I had a “Tomme de Chevre” cheese that was one of the strongest and sharpest I’ve had — one of my all-time favorite cheeses — but I haven’t been able to find anything that compares to it since.
Given Yakpacker Sr’s interest in Napoleonic history, our first stop was Napoleon’s childhood home, which is a well-preserved museum in the old city. Naturally, there’s a Napoleon-themed microbrewery across the street — so we had to try it out! Also downtown is the Fesch Museum, which was established by Napoleon’s uncle.
We spent much of the rest of the time in Ajaccio grazing at local restaurants, ice cream shops and cafes, wandering around the waterfront and its adjacent neighborhoods.
One restaurant that I particularly recommend is U Campanile – Chez Pascale, a cozy bistro with traditional Corsican fare. The Corsican soup was delicious, as was the Civet de Sanglier, a wild boar casserole stew.
Calanques de Piana
Heading north from Ajaccio, we took our rental car on a day trip up to Calanques de Piana– a series of dramatic rock formations jutting upward, with sheer pink cliffs that drop into the cobalt blue sea. It was about a two-hour drive each way, through a beautiful ever-winding road through that snakes through the mountains. We stopped at U San Bastianu— a restaurant with great food and spectacular views over the water– for a snack and coffee fix before proceeding on our route.
The small town of Cargèse is also a pleasant rest stop along the way and it has some good beaches nearby. After driving through the hair-raising tight turns through the rocks at Calanques de Piana, we descended into the coastal town of Porto, where we had a picnic along the scenic waterfront, picking up some essentials from nearby shops. Many of the restaurants were closed at mid-day– maybe for siesta– re-opening in the late afternoon or evening.
Note— if you get carsick, it’s best to take some tablets or otherwise prepare accordingly. Except for a few spots along the coast, the road is almost never straight!
After our trip along the coast, we headed south to the city of Bonifacio. The drive was picturesque, with the stunning views over the sea helping to compensate for the stress of the constantly-winding roads. We passed through a few small villages with stone buildings arrayed alongside the winding hills. Particularly noteworthy was Propriano, a coastal city with more great beaches and plenty of traditional stone buildings.
Bonifacio’s Old City is filled with ancient, stone buildings situated on top of large white cliffs that have been carved by the ocean. It really is one of the more photogenic cities I’ve visited! Before actually visiting the city, if you have a rental car, there are a few viewing sites along an adjacent road outside of town that provide great views of the city.
We stayed at the Best Western Hotel du Roy D’Aragon, which offered parking at a nearby city lot (a rare commodity). It was clean, modern, and offered great views of the harbor from our room. The harbor hosts several restaurants (many featuring seafood), cafes, and bakeries — and is a great spot to relax in the evening. We ate at “Kissing Pigs,” another cozy taverna that specializes in meat products– but also had its fair share of fish and vegetable options. For desert, they treated us to ice cream with a local myrtil (berry) liquor.
Driving from the lower harbor towards the old city, we ascended up a steep, narrow road through a tunnel to reach our destination. Before walking around the town, I enjoyed visiting the citadel, mill ruins, and ramparts— as well as the long, deep bay leading into the harbor. From the ramparts on a clear day, you can also look out and see Sardegna to the south, along with ferries plying the route connecting the two islands.
The old city’s very narrow, stone roads are often one-way and were even trickier to navigate with some road work going on in the area. We parked at a lot in the nearby citadel and proceeded on foot. the thing I most enjoyed was just wandering around and taking in the atmosphere of the ancient town.
There’s also a walkway through some of the cliffs (Le Gounernail and the King of Aragon Staircase), but they were closed when we visited. You can also look out and see Sardegna to the south, along with ferries plying the route connecting the two islands.
Something for Next Time: Next visit, I’d like to get to the northern city of Bastia, go hiking in the massive Regional Natural Park, and relax on the beaches near the southeastern city of Porto Vecchio.