Located off the west coast of Italy, the French island of Corsica is best known as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. Cruise ships arrive in the port city of Ajaccio which is the island’s capital where reminders of the French Emperor abound. Blessed with a charming old centre with many attractive shops, cafés and restaurants the city is an easy place to enjoy a day in port. Alternatively, passengers can hop on a tour bus and discover some of the ancient villages and natural attractions of this beautiful Mediterranean island.
Port of Ajaccio
With more than 300,000 passenger arrivals per year, Ajaccio is the 2nd busiest cruise port in France after Marseille. Cruise ships dock in the harbour and tender their passengers to a pier close to the Gare maritime at Quai L’Herminier.
Getting to Ajaccio
For passengers who are beginning or ending their cruise in Ajaccio the nearest airport is Aéroport d’Ajaccio-Napoléon-Bonaparte which lies just 7km east of the port. Unfortunately, this gateway to Corsica only attracts a limited number of seasonal flights. Therefore, it may prove more convenient to arrive at Marseille Provence Airport on the mainland then take a private transfer to the Corsica Ferries terminal in Toulon. This road transfer takes approximately 90 minutes then the sea crossing to Ajaccio takes around 6 hours.
Getting Around in Ajaccio
Once on dry land it’s very easy for visitors to discover the city’s main attractions on foot, otherwise there’s a small tourist train known as the Petit Train de Ajaccio which tours the main sights. This same company also offers a more extensive itinerary called the ‘Circuit des Îles Sanguinaires’ which runs along the coast to the west of the port. Similar tours are available on the double-decker bus tours which depart from Place Foch.
There’s also a taxi rank outside the cruise port terminal for passengers who wish to arrange their own local tours. Public buses which stop directly outside the terminal run around town and can drop passengers at the Gare d’Ajaccio train station.
Main Tourist Attractions
The main tourist attractions of Ajaccio revolve around Napoleon Bonaparte who was born here in 1769. Just a couple of minutes’ walk south of the tender jetty is Ajaccio town hall (Hôtel de Ville) which houses the Salon Napoléonien (Place Foch) where a priceless collection of Napoleonic artwork and statues is on display. Nearby is the Musée National de la Maison Bonaparte (Rue Saint-Charles) which is the place where Napoleon was born. Just a stone’s throw away is the 16th century Cathédrale d’Ajaccio (Rue Forcioli Conti) where he was baptised.
Just inland from the cruise jetty and main ferry terminal is the Musée Fesch (Rue Cardinal Fesch) which is Ajaccio’s fine arts museum. It was established by Napoleon’s uncle who donated a large number of paintings from his personal collection to the museum. The highlight for most art enthusiasts is the extensive collection of works by Italian Masters including Botticelli and Bellini.
Insider Tip: Although essentially French, the local cuisine does enjoy a certain Italian flavour about it. An idyllic spot for lunch is O Mon Bato – Le Poseidon (Vieux Port Tino Rossi) which is a seafood restaurant on a boat in the old port.
Visitors from cruise ships usually enjoy a visit to the daily farmer’s market on Place Foch where all kinds of local delicacies are available including fruit and vegetables, cheeses, cured hams, freshly baked bread and jams. Another pleasant local pastime is a visit to one of the many beaches on the Gulf of Ajaccio. Closest to town is Plage Saint-Francois which stands directly below the historic walls of the Citadelle on the town’s southern shore.
Shore Excursions Beyond Ajaccio
For visitors wishing to explore beyond the city of Ajaccio the highlights of Corsica centre on the natural features of the island’s dramatic coastline and the timeless villages dotted around its interior. Just 30km east of the port lie the Prunelli Gorges which feature on many shore excursion itineraries. Whilst the stunning scenery of this mountainous countryside can be enjoyed from tour buses, short hikes are also an option for the more physically able.
Another of the highlights of Corsica’s natural features are the spectacular Calanques de Piana which lie 90km north of the port along the rugged coastline overlooking the Golfe de Sagone. This fjord-like feature is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is best seen on boat trips departing from the towns of Porto or Galeria. Excursions will usually stop at the lovely coastal village of Cargèse en route.
Nearer to the port are the Iles Sanguinaires which lie approximately 20km west of the port and are only accessible by boat. There’s nothing sinister about these ‘blood islands’, they are are so named due to the red glow which surrounds them at sunset. Visitor numbers are strictly limited so cruise ship passengers are advised to book shore excursions in advance.
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