15 Best Things to Do in Ajaccio (France)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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The capital of the Corse-du-Sud has the happy knack of packaging all of the things that people adore about Corsica.

You’ve got history, because Napoleon Bonaparte was born and baptised in the city, and his family donated lots of exciting memorabilia to the museums.

There’s cinematic natural scenery at Pointe de la Parata a few minutes from the city, or the mountains in the background covered with wild herbs, heather and myrtle shrubs.

And then you come to the beaches, which are plentiful, white and bathed by pale blue seas with mind-blowing clarity.

Lets explore the best things to do in Ajaccio:

1. Pointe de la Parata

Pointe de la ParataSource: Oleg_Mit / shutterstock
Pointe de la Parata

On an island where stupendous natural spectacles are almost commonplace, Pointe de la Parata will still make you lost for words.

This is a black granite promontory announcing the northern limit of the Bay of Ajaccio, near the end of a stubborn string of rocky apexes that continue offshore to create the Sanguinaires Islands.

The headland is capped with a Genoese watchtower, 55 metres above the water and built as part of a network to defend the coast against Barbary pirate attacks in the 16th century.

Drive down  to the restaurant, and from there you can take the walking trail to get a closer look at the tower or dip your feet in the transparent seas.

2. Route des Sanguinaires

Route des SanguinairesSource: Zebra-Studio / shutterstock
Route des Sanguinaires

Pulling out from the south coast of Ajaccio is a seaside route that leads to Pointe de Parata.

It incorporates the “Corniche Ajaccienne”, a raised, bending road that hugs the torturous contours of the rugged coast.

It’s all about the views, out to the Sanguinaires Islands and over the best beaches in Ajaccio, like Plage de Marinella.

On the way is the Saint-Antoine Cemetery where the feted Corsican singer Tino Rossi was laid to rest.

Now, you could make a similar journey via the Sentier des Crêtes (walk of the crests), only with your own two feet.

You’ll scurry along the ridge far above the coastal developments in a world of pines, prickly pears and blooming myrtle, for heart-lifting vistas of the sea.

3. Musée Fesch

Musée FeschSource: Olaf Unger / shutterstock
Musée Fesch

Ajaccio’s Museum of Fine Arts is named after Napoleon’s uncle, Joseph Fesch, who was archbishop of Lyon.

In the early-1800s he founded this museum by donating his extravagant painting collection, and it constitutes one of the largest sets of Italian baroque and renaissance painting anywhere in France.

Cosmè Tura, Giovanni Bellini, Michelangelo, Veronese, Titian and Salvatore Rosa are just a few of the most famous artists featured.

The Fesch Museum is also where you can begin to track the history of the Bonaparte family, as there are around 700 works specific to the First and Second Empires, and busts of the Bonaparte line.

4. Maison Bonaparte

Maison BonaparteSource: Petr Kovalenkov / shutterstock
Maison Bonaparte

Napoleon’s birthplace is one of those attractions that is more about the significance of the place rather than what is there.

Really, all you need to know is that you’re inspecting the home in which an epoch-maker was born on 15 August 1769. The house has been decorated with Bonaparte family furniture, even if you have to use your imagination to picture what it would have been like in the 18th century.

The first Bonaparte to live at this understated four-storey house was Napoleon’s great-great grandfather in the late-17th century and the building remained in the family’s hands until 1923. Napoleon only spent his earliest years here, so there’s much to learn about the rest of the imperial family and their relationship with Ajaccio.

5. Salons Napoléoniens

Salons NapoléoniensSource: Kemal Taner / shutterstock
Salons Napoléoniens

At Ajaccio’s town hall is a richly-decorated gallery replete with sculptures, paintings, medals and engravings connected to Napoleon and donated to the city by the Bonaparte family up to 1936. The horde of art and memorabilia is so large that it overflows into the Fesch Museum.

But the most riveting pieces are in town hall, where you can continue your little voyage through Ajaccio’s Bonaparte history by seeing the register recording Napoleon’s baptism.

On damask walls there’s a full-length portrait of Napoleon, paintings of Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie, as well as Napoleon’s brother Joseph when he was declared King of Spain during the Peninsular Wars.

6. Plage de Capo di Feno

Plage de Capo di FenoSource: Evannovostro / shutterstock
Plage de Capo di Feno

There are more than 20 beaches in or near Ajaccio, mostly lively corners with transparent, smooth waters and white sands.

You may feel the urge to break from the crowd and if so you can drive the 10 kilometres to the coast just north of Pointe de la Parata.

Plage de Capo di Feno has a more savage beauty, with scrubland and forest, and a sandbar offshore causing breaks for surfers.

It’s not one for casual swimmers, but you can paddle in the wash and sunbathe on the pale sands.

Bring friends and a blanket, and stay to the evening  because the sunsets are unbeatable on this west-facing  beach.

7. Place Foch

Place FochSource: El Greco 1973 / shutterstock
Place Foch

Next to the town hall is an elongated square ringed by impressive old palm trees.

There’s a familiar face to receive you: Raised on a pedestal looking along the square to the port is a marble statue of Napoleon in the guise of a Roman consul, sculpted by the Italian Massimiliano Laboureur.

If you want to zip round Ajaccio’s sights in comfort you can catch the Petit Train at Place Foch.

But maybe the best reason to stop is for the Marchés des Producteurs de Pays on Saturday mornings, when the sheep’s cheese, cured meats, olives and wine made and grown in the countryside near Corsica are laid o

ut irresistibly on stalls on the square.

8. Ajaccio Cathedral

Ajaccio CathedralSource: Evannovostro / shutterstock
Ajaccio Cathedral

Back on the trail of Napoleon, Ajaccio cathedral is the church where the emperor was baptised on 21 July 1771. Not only that, but his mother Letizia started going into labour with him while attending the Mass of the Assumption on 15 August 1769. The marble font in which he was baptised is just inside the entrance.

Aside from its relation to Napoleon, the Cathedral is a handsome if stern 16th-century mannerist building with ochre walls that are illuminated by the sunshine.

Pause for a moment in the Chapel of the Madonna of Pianto, adorned with murals by Domenico Tintoretto (son of Jacopo) and Eugène Delacroix.

9. Tête de Mort

Tête de MortSource: Pir6mon / commons.wikimedia.org
Tête de Mort

Rise early on a summer morning and beat the heat for a trek above Ajaccio, with breathtaking coastal scenes.

The trail zigzags up from the Bois des Anglais through the mastic shrub, cacti and wild olive undergrowth of the fabled Corsican maquis.

After a time you’ll arrive at a sinister-looking granite boulder, named the Tête de Mort (Head of Death), which according to local legend is the petrified head of Lucifer himself! The path then loops back round to meet the sea at Parc Berthault a few steps from Plage du Trottel, for a walk of about 90 minutes.

10. A Cupulatta

A CupulattaSource: FranziZ / shutterstock
A Cupulatta

Turtles and tortoises from five continents live in this sanctuary and research centre 20 kilometres northeast of Ajaccio.

There are 3000 animals in all, from 170 species, and the Corsican climate and carefully configured tanks and enclosures at the two-hectare park allow them to flourish.

The turtle hatchery and nursery is sure to make you smile; if you come on the right day you can see a baby turtle breaking out of its egg.

Passing from Galápagos tortoises to diminutive European pond terrapins it’s food for thought to see how these animals have evolve in different parts of the world.

11. Plage d’Argent

Plage d'ArgentSource: Yvonne89 / shutterstock
Plage d’Argent

At the port in Ajaccio you can board a speedboat that will whisk you to this paradisiacal beach south of the city.

It’s the quickest way to do it, taking you there as the crow flies in around 20 minutes instead of an hour-long car trip on twisting mountain roads.

You’ll know why you made the effort when you set foot on the ribbon of flawless white sands that curls around the shallow bay for more than a kilometre.

The sea is as clear as glass and is still at knee-height ten metres from the shore.

And behind you are just a couple of homes and restaurants in hills coated with pine, heather and myrtle.

12. Watersports

paddle boardingSource: Eva Bocek / shutterstock
paddle boarding

It would be redundant to list all the local companies providing water-based activities like paddle boarding, sea kayaking, diving, surfing and guided snorkelling trips (there are as many as 50 in the vicinity). Almost every beach around  Ajaccio has a watersports centre, and at the port there’s an abundance of yacht charter firms providing crewed and bareboat rentals.

As with motorboats and yachts, you’ll need a boat licence to hire a jet-ski by yourself, but not if you’re with a qualified supervisor.

Firms like “Hiking Jet Passion” offer guided trips to the most beautiful coves around the Gulf of Ajaccio.

13. Scandola Cruises

Scandola CruisesSource: Vadym Lavra / shutterstock
Scandola Cruises

Also in the port is a wide choice of cruise companies taking you on day-long voyages up Corisica’s west coast to the UNESCO-protected Scandola Nature Reserve, beloved for its basalt and granite rock formations.

The sight of the park’s sky-scraping cliffs and creeks plummeting to the sea from hundreds of metres will stay with you long after you’ve gone home.

Your captain will drop you off at a beachside cafe for lunch and if you’re in luck you may see dolphins, monk seals and birds of prey on the cruise.

Many operators will also stop at a cove to let you spend an hour or so swimming in crystalline rock-pools.

14. Lac de Tolla

Lac de TollaSource: RnDmS / shutterstock
Lac de Tolla

Found 30 kilometres inland from Ajaccio, Lac de Tolla is an artificial lake created in the 1950s by an EDF dam.

There are five square kilometres of cool water in a bowl of mountains with chestnut, walnut, holm oak and pine trees on their slopes.

There are campsites around the shore, and a marina in summer renting pedalos, canoes and paddle boards.

Tolla can also be your trailhead for an hike into the Prunelli Gorge, where there are sheer cliffs and glistening rock pools at the foot of cascades.

You could also go by road if you don’t mind hairpin turns over 100-metre drops.

15. Food Excursions

goat's cheeseSource: Foodpictures / shutterstock
goat’s cheese

On Corsica honey has the European Protected Designation of Origin, and if you’re curious about where your food comes from there are seven “miellieries” or apiaries within touching distance of Ajaccio – though one may be enough! You can also take tours of the dairy farms making sheep’s and goat’s cheeses or call in at a farm that makes its own flavoured vinegars and mustards.

Ajaccio also has its own AOC, with vineyards on sunny slopes growing only sciaccarello to make bold red wines with spicy aromas.

15 Best Things to Do in Ajaccio (France):

  • Pointe de la Parata
  • Route des Sanguinaires
  • Musée Fesch
  • Maison Bonaparte
  • Salons Napoléoniens
  • Plage de Capo di Feno
  • Place Foch
  • Ajaccio Cathedral
  • Tête de Mort
  • A Cupulatta
  • Plage d'Argent
  • Watersports
  • Scandola Cruises
  • Lac de Tolla
  • Food Excursions