Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica, on the west coast. It was the birthplace of Napoleon, and was originally the settlement of Ajax founded by the Romans. Ajaccio was Genoese until 1768, and still has a very Italian flavor to its Frenchness.
It is a beautiful and modern city filled with things to do, like visiting the food market or the many museums that dot the area.
What to do in Ajaccio
Have breakfast at the little food market every morning but Monday in place Campinchi, to start the day. You’ll find chestnut-flour beignets, cheeses, pastries, and sausages to start your day.
After this, walk down to the Place Mareshal Foch, where you’ll find a marble statue of Napoleon. If you stop by the Hotel de Ville, or town hall, you’ll find quite a memorial to the emperor, including Bonaparte portraits, a bust of his mother Letizia, and a bronze death mask.
Only a couple of blocks to the left of the statue of Napoleon you’ll find the Maison Bonaparte, where Napoleon was born. Today, it’s a museum memorializing Napoleon and the Bonaparte family. This is probably the most interesting museum in town.
For a non-Napoleon excursion, try the Musee du Capitellu, where you can trace the history of Ajaccio through the history of one family. Take a walk down the rue St-Charles and rue Roi-de-Rome for a look at the oldest houses in town, built around 1492, and then walk east down rue Roi-de-Rome to Danielle Casanova to get a look at the Citadelle.
Churches, chapels, and museums
There are several churches and chapels in the area, but none of particular note, though many are old and contain such artifacts as a Coptic cross from Egypt acquired by Napoleon during his Egyptian campaign.
More interesting is the Musee Fesch, where you’ll find an excellent collection of Italian masters brought together after the French Revolution by – yep, another Bonaparte, Napoleon’s uncle Cardinal Fesch of Lyon. Purchasing them from estates of newly-impoverished French nobles as well as “collecting” them during Napoleon’s campaigns, Fesch amassed a collection of over 30,000 valuable paintings, many of which are currently on display at the Louvre.
Where to stay in Ajaccio
The best hotel in Ajaccio is probably the Eden Roc, very modern and overlooking the gulf. Gardens surround its pool, and a little beach for the hotel is right across the road. All rooms have a terrace with a view of the Mediterranean. The restaurant is exceptional.
A hotel nearly as nice is La Dolce Vita, very Italian in flavor with a pool overlooking the sea. It spreads over flower-covered terraces at the edge of the sea, and the restaurant prepares excellent interpretations of Corsican dishes.
For slightly less pricey but still excellent accommodations, try the Hotel San Carlu, which is on the edge of the old town and thus perfectly situated to take walking tours from.
The morning sun streams into the rooms on the Golfe d’Ajaccio side, particularly on the third floor, lending a special enchantment to those who prefer mornings; those who don’t might want to choose a room on the other side!
Where to eat
20123 serves hearty Corsican fare like wild boar stew and wild mushrooms. You’ll find the freshest fish in Ajaccio here. A La Funtana boasts a lovely fountain at the front door, with very simple décor in the dining room that does not distract from the excellent cuisine on your table.
Le Floride serves a sort of Corsican surf n’ turf, with upland dishes blending with seafood from the coastal cuisines. And Auberg de Prunelli serves a three-course prix-fixe meal with regional specialities like sea-urchin beignets with broccoli, brocciu omelets, and figatelli sausage.
Evenings are when Ajaccio shines. La Cinquieme Avenue is a dance till dawn spot for the younger set, though it welcomes all ages. Le Cohiba is a music bar, and La Place is a great piano bar. Le Sun, Le Pigalle, L’Entreacte, are all stops on the evening barhopping circuit, and if that’s what you like, you’ll find lots of it to indulge in here.