Ajaccio is a tender port – Cruise ships anchor in the harbor and their passengers are transported via the ship’s tender boats to the pier. The cruise terminal is located at Quai L’Herminier. On its east side is the ferry terminal and on the west side is the fishing port. Ajaccio cruise port terminal is small but modern and is known as Gare Maritime. When tendering is required, guests using mobility devices will not be transferred into or out of the tender. Many tender ports do not provide wheelchair access so even if the guest can board the tender they may not be able to disembark ashore. Again the shore-side facilities, movement of the tender, weather and tidal conditions can also preclude tendering.
Located just south of France on the island of Corsica, Ajaccio is rich in history and astonishing views, all set in the sun-drenched Mediterranean climate. On a sunny, Mediterranean morning, the harbor sparkles like sapphire-tinted cut glass.
Ajaccio is a great cruise port; easily explored on foot; crammed with good restaurants and well-stocked, unusual shops; and blessed with a harbor so pretty that local artists jostle with each other for a good painting spot from which to capture it. In terms of shops and restaurants, Ajaccio feels 100 percent French. Expect pretty patisseries, stylish fashion shops and pharmacy windows, packed with every beauty accessory known to woman; but at prices so high they would make a Parisien gasp. This is an island, after all; everything has to be imported, and that’s reflected in the price tags.
It won’t take long to work out who Ajaccio’s favorite son was: Multiple streets are named after Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born here on August 15, 1769, just a few months after the island of Corsica was finally claimed by the French, after being ruled for more than four centuries by the Genovese. One can stroll past the beautiful Baroque-style Notre Dame Cathedral, where the future emperor was baptized; the Casa Bonaparte is a museum devoted to the imperial glory. But Corsica is also the “scented isle”, a place of dramatic shoreline cliffs, small coves, and golden beaches. The island interior consists of stony mountains carpeted in macchia, a low, thick, chaparral comprised of aromatic Corsican mint, rock roses, and myrtle. Everywhere you’ll discover traces of the island’s long and colorful history, from medieval walled towns to seaside villages guarded by 16th-century towers.
The disabled cruiser visiting Ajaccio will find the town itself is flat and most of the pavements have dropped curbs. The town is approximately ½ mile from the tender port. Ajaccio has a serious problem of sidewalks in bad condition; a challenge for anyone with reduced mobility and for others. Some streets are quite steep. Especially some streets coming down from the Cours Napoléon to rue Fesch.
However, the center of town, which covers only a small area around the commercial port, the marina, the old town, the market place, the Fesch street, Place Foch and the Place de Gaulle, as well as the Napoleon course should not be an insurmountable challenge.
Maison Bonaparte (Napoleon’s House); the main entrance is not wheelchair accessible so you must be accompanied by a person who can pick up the tickets (free) and alert the staff at the accessible entrance in the narrow lane on the side. Wheelchair users have access to only a part of the museum. Audio and video guides, some are designed for the blind, partially-sighted or deaf, also available in sign language.
Fesch Museum; after a complete renovation, the museum reopened in June 2010. It is fully wheelchair accessible. The access street, Fesch Street, is in a pedestrian zone, and the street surface may be a problem for people in wheelchairs.
Where You’re Docked
Ajaccio is an anchorage port. Passengers transfer to shore via ship’s tender.
Smaller ships dock right next to the Gare Maritime, while others will anchor and tender passengers to a nearby location. This large building offers little reason to linger; aside from toilets, snack machines and the booking desks for local ferry companies, there’s not much of interest. On weekend mornings, the small Forain Market sets up on the waterfront outside the port, offering bags, belts, clothing and other items.
Unless you have time to hire a car or take a ferry along the coast (not recommended on a short cruise ship call), you don’t need to hang around the Gare Maritime. Instead, head left outside the tender pier and keep going straight along the road to get to the heart of Ajaccio’s action: the pretty market square, the hotel de ville (town hall), the lovely Genovese old town and the best shops.
Realistically, it’s hard to see much outside of Ajaccio with only a few hours to spend ashore, as the spectacularly craggy and densely forested Corsican interior is not easy to negotiate. If you do decide to venture further afield on your own, allow plenty of time to get back before your ship sails.
Good to Know
Heavy traffic! The French will not be parted from their cars, and the Corsicans have obviously been infected by their passion. Given that Corsica is one of the most under-populated islands in the Mediterranean, the level of traffic in Ajaccio defies belief.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency in Corsica is the Euro, and credit cards are widely accepted. You’ll find plenty of banks in town. There are several on or around Place Foch, including Credit Agricole and LCL. Banks are typically only open on weekdays, but their ATMs are accessible 24 hours a day.
French is the official language of Corsica, but there is a local dialect; called Corsu; which sounds rather similar to Italian (hardly surprising, given the island’s Genovese heritage). Locals will speak some English in Ajaccio but less in the more rustic, outlying villages.
Myrtle, lavender, rosemary, fennel, honeysuckle, thyme and broom are just some of the fragrant plants that thrive on this island, and their perfume is captured in handmade soaps and bath products. Napoleon famously said that, even far out at sea and blindfolded, his nose would tell him when he was approaching his native land.
If scented potions are too rich for your nose, take home some delicious local honey instead. Or look for Corsican craftware, particularly art galtique (pictures formed from pebbles or small pieces of wood).
You’ll find shops on Cours Napoleon, on Rue Cardinal Fesch and at the market. One store to try is La Maison de Mina, where tempting goodies include local cheeses, breads, tapenades, wine, honey, jam and artisan salt.
If you want a true taste of Corsica, try brocciu, the pungent local cheese; it’s used to flavor savory pastries or mixed with chopped pork and stuffed into artichoke hearts.
Wild boar, blackbird and thrush pate are also local specialties. The squeamish may prefer the island’s pork-based charcuterie; Corsica has thousands of free-ranging pigs, whose acorn and chestnut diet gives their meat a distinctive flavor.
Points of Interest
- Palais Fesch – Arguably Ajaccio’s best museum, this art collection; amassed by Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Fesch; includes some wonderful Flemish and Dutch paintings and an array of Italian Old Masters (Botticelli, Bellini). There are also a number of more recent works by Corsican artists, as well as paintings of Napoleon and his relatives.
- Ajaccio Main Market – Pungent and colorful, this market is stacked with great local goodies like fig, myrtle or plum liqueur, prettily packaged maize and honey cakes, spicy Corsican sausage, and melt-in-the-mouth beignets (sugared doughnuts).
- Ajaccio Cathedral – Dating from the 16th century, this high-vaulted cathedral houses both Napoleon’s baptismal font and a Delacroix painting entitled “Vierge au Sacre-Coeur.” It lies on Rue St. Charles, to the left as you head toward the beach, and is a cool haven on a hot day. Its elaborate chandeliers and white marble altar, donated by the Empress Josephine, are well worth a look.
- Maison Bonaparte (Napoleon’s House) – The Musée National de la Maison Bonaparte, the house where Napoleon was born, features fascinating memorabilia of the Emperor and his siblings, whom he placed in various thrones around Europe.
Hotel d’ Ville/Napoleanic Museum – The Hôtel de Ville or town hall was built during the reign of Charles X between 1824 and 1830. In it is the Salon Napoléonien which houses various Napoleonic paintings and statues, and memorabilia of the imperial family, although most of the items are now displayed at the Fesch Gallery of Art – Napoleonic floor.
- Bastelica – This traditional Corsican mountain village, set 2,500 feet up in the foothills of Monte Renoso, lies about 24 miles east of Ajaccio. The drive there is spectacular.
- Calanches – Located on the coastal road toward Piana, this surreal landscape of dramatic, weather-carved, red granite rock formations plunging to the sparkling sea below.
- St. Francois Beach – This lovely horseshoe-shaped stretch of honey sand is just a 10-minute walk (heading left) from the tender drop-off.
- Other Beaches – Beach babies will be spoiled for choice in Ajaccio, as there are numerous sandy havens within about a 10-mile radius. The easiest ones to reach are the ones west of Ajaccio, which are accessible via the local no. 5 bus. The beaches have limited waves and are safe for swimming.
Ajaccio Accessible Excursions
There are currently no organized accessible shore excursions in Corsica.