Napoleon Bonaparte, as any French school child will tell you, was Corsican by birth. Born in Ajaccio in 1769, the future emperor was christened ‘Napoleone di Buonaparte’ and spent most of his early years in the island’s capital, where numerous monuments associated with his life and family today form a pilgrimage trail for visitors to follow.
The most evocative is Napoleon’s birthplace, the Maison Bonaparte, on rue Saint-Charles, close to the old Genoese citadel and quayside. Arrayed over four floors is memorabilia recounting the events of the 1760s, when Napoleon’s father, Carlo, switched sides from the Paolist rebels to support the French. The museum’s prize exhibit, however, is an object with more domestic than political resonance: the sofa on which Napoleon’s mother, Letizia, gave birth to the boy who would eventually rule over most of Europe.
A short stroll from the Maison Bonaparte, palm-lined Place Foch is dominated by a white marble statue of the emperor as First Consul, draped in a toga and crown of laurel leaves. It was commissioned by Napoleon’s ambassador to Rome, and eventually became part of the vast art collection owned by his step-uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Bishop of Lyon.
The cardinal was an avid buyer of Renaissance art, acquiring thousands of works by the likes of Botticelli, Titian and Poussin. These now take pride of place in the Musee Fesch, Corsica’s principal art gallery, which occupies the grandiloquent palace built by the cardinal to house his hoard at the heart of the historic Borgu Quarter.
It’s worth making the detour to the hillside outside the town at Les Millelli, where the Bonaparte family kept a country retreat. Wrapped in olive groves, the pretty 18th-century farmhouse affords sweeping views over the gulf.
Visible below at sea level is Ajaccio’s Campo dell’Oro airport, which you can fly to direct from Stansted with Air Corsica.
Air Corsica is now operating flights from Stansted to Ajaccio, Bastia and Figari, allowing great flexibility for any itinerary. The service operates from early May to early November, with up to nine flights per week from June to September. Fares start from £49 one way and that price includes a generous 23kg hold luggage allowance, 12kg cabin bag and free seat selection. Car rental is available at each airport and Air Corsica has a preferred arrangement with Hertz so you can book your vehicle at the same time as your flights. aircorsica.com