My travels always revolve around a theme: last year it was Barcelona, the city of the architect Antonio Gaudy and the “Catalan Art Nouveau”. This year, a change of celebrity: I decided to come to Corsica, in the footsteps of Napoleon, for an “imperial” holiday.
So one sunny morning, I arrived in Ajaccio at 7 a.m. and found myself on the terrace of a café leafing through my famous green guide. Of course, I start by looking at the map of the city, streets and squares…
Rue Bonaparte, cours Napoléon, avenue du Premier Consul, boulevard Madame Mère, rue Letizia, place d’Austerlitz, rue de Wagram, rue de Iéna, rue de Solferino and so on. Napoleon, his family, his victories are everywhere. In addition, several buildings and symbols are dedicated to him: we can visit the house where he was born on August 15, 1769, the Imperial Chapel which houses the graves of his parents, brothers and sisters, and scattered throughout the city, 3 large statues in his effigy. In total, my walk lasted about 3 hours to connect these different imperial places.
As it is my first day and as I have been working hard this morning, at lunchtime, I allow myself a nice plate of Corsican cold cut meats and cheeses, rich in flavours as well as rich in emotions. At the end of the meal, I don’t know if it’s the digestion or the powerful sun that hits the terrace, but I’m getting hot. Finding a cool place would be a good idea.
As soon as I finish my coffee, I have my good idea, the one that will offer me freshness and as well as an unforgettable memory: this afternoon, I will visit the Palais Fesch, the most important museum of fine arts in Corsica. Cardinal Fesch, uncle of Napoleon I, was a very enlightened art lover, and a great collector. The Cardinal bequeathed nearly a thousand paintings, furniture and art objects to his hometown The museum is now renowned for preserving one of the most beautiful collections of works dedicated to the Napoleonic cult. This collection of paintings and sculptures consists mainly of portraits of the imperial family, most of which belonged to Letizia Bonaparte, who bequeathed them to her brother, Cardinal Fesch.
Around 6 p.m, delighted after this day rich in discoveries, I am exhausted! A little rest with my feet up, a good shower and I’m on my way to dinner. Of course, to stay within the theme, I choose the restaurant Café Napoléon, a culinary institution in the city of Ajaccio.
During the meal, while browsing through my travel guide, I discover that Napoleon Bonaparte had stayed several weeks in Bonifacio. This is a very attractive destination for tomorrow since Bonifacio is the “picturesque capital of Corsica”.
The Lion of Roccapina is more spectacular than the Lion of Waterloo.
In the direction of Bonifacio, the road winds between mountain peaks and green valleys. Very beautiful landscapes pass by and force me to make several photographic stops: for example, from the village of Olmeto, the plunging view of Propriano and the turquoise beaches of its gulf is just exceptional.
A few kilometres further on, halfway between Sartène and Bonifacio, the Lion of Roccapina seems to be watching the horizon. Here, as at various points along the coast, the wind, sea spray and rain have dug and carved pink granite, sometimes creating real natural monumental sculptures, often representing animals. Here we have a majestic example of what nature creates: not to be missed under any circumstances.
In Bonifacio, a “Napoleon’s hat” about 30 metres high.
Whether at sea or on land, the name of Napoleon is very present in the city of the far south of Corsica.
On the sea, if you take the “cliff cruise” (a must), as soon as you leave the port, you will be confronted with a huge cave called “Grotte Saint-Antoine”. Because of its shape very similar to the Emperor’s bicorne, the “boatmen” gave it the nickname “Napoleon’s hat”.
On land, in the Old town, at No. 7 rue Longue, a commemorative plaque (see our “experience” entitled “Is Napoleon from Bonifacio?”) reminds us that Bonaparte, then Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery, stayed in Bonifacio from 22nd January 1793. For a few weeks, he prepared an invasion of northern Sardinia. From February 20th he set sail with the intention of landing in the Maddalena Islands. But from February 25th, despite the 600 men and 9 guns deployed on the island of San Stefano, the operation had to be abandoned. Napoleon left Bonifacio on 3rd March 1793, never to return.
On the other hand, I am certain that I will return to Bonifacio very soon. And for several days! Because there is much more to see and experience in this city and its surroundings than the memories of Napoleon.