28 Best Sights in Corsica, France

Maison Bonaparte

Fodor's choice

One of four national historic museums dedicated to Napoléon, the multilevel house where the emperor was born on August 15, 1769, contains memorabilia and paintings of the extended Bonaparte family. History aficionados can tour bedrooms, dining rooms, and salons where Charles and Letitzia Bonaparte raised their eight children. Period furnishings and antiques in Corsican and Empire styles are scattered about and pay tribute to the family's bourgeois upbringing. Head downstairs to see the cellars and granite oil-pressing mill acquired by Napoléon III in 1860, which depict the importance of rural industry for the Bonapartes' income. Visit the trapdoor room and find the opening next to the door through which Napoléon allegedly escaped in 1799. The building itself changed hands multiple times through Bonaparte heirs until 1923, when it was donated to the state of France by Prince Victor, elder son of Prince Jérôme Napoléon.

Musée des Beaux-Arts–Palais Fesch

Fodor's choice

This internationally recognized museum houses one of the most important collections from the Napoleonic era; it's undoubtedly one of the most significant displays in France of ancient Italian masterpieces spanning the 14th to 20th centuries. There are nearly 18,000 items, all part of an astounding inventory that belonged to Napoléon's uncle, Cardinal Fesch. Thanks to his nephew's military conquests, the cardinal was able to amass (steal, some would say) many celebrated old-master paintings, the most famous of which are now in Paris's Louvre. The museum's beautiful vaulted corridors showcase 700 paintings, portraits, still lifes, and sculptures from the First and Second Empire from the French school. Don't miss the gallery with engravings and drawings depicting historic Corsica. The building itself, constructed by the cardinal as the Institute of Arts and Sciences, dates back to 1837.

Bastion de l'Étendard

From Place d'Armes at the city gate, enter the 13th-century Bastion de l'Étendard, where you can still see the system of weights and levers used to raise the drawbridge. The former garrison, the last remaining part of the original fortress, houses life-size dioramas of the bombardment of the bastion in the 16th-century Franco-Turkish war. Climb the steep steps for an incredible panoramic view of the white-chalk cliffs along the coastline.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de L'Assomption

The 16th-century Baroque cathedral where Napoléon was baptized sits at the end of Rue St-Charles. The interior is covered with trompe-l'oeil frescoes, and the high altar, from a church in Lucca, Italy, was donated by Napoléon's sister Eliza after he made her princess of Tuscany. Eugène Delacroix's The Triumph of Religion hangs above the Virgin of the Sacred Heart marble altar from the 17th century.

Cathédrale St-Jean-Baptiste

The austere facade of the 13th-century Cathedral of John the Baptist is worth a visit to see its alabaster Renaissance baptismal font decorated with angel heads and rows of pews where the city's chaste upper-class women used to pray.

Cathédrale Ste-Marie

A network of cobbled alleyways rambles across the citadel to the 15th-century Cathédrale Ste-Marie, one of the town's prettiest churches. Inside, classic Baroque style abounds in an explosion of gilt decoration. Numerous works of art from the 18th and 19th centuries, forged metalwork, sculptures, and statues that were generous gifts from the bishops of Mariana, residents of the cathedral from 1600 to 1622, are showcased.

Chapelle Impériale

In the south wing of the Palais Fesch, the neo-Renaissance-style Imperial Chapel was built in 1857 by Napoléon's nephew, Napoléon III, to accommodate the tombs of the Bonaparte family (Napoléon Bonaparte himself is buried in the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris). The Coptic crucifix over the altar was taken from Egypt during the general's 1798 campaign. The somber chapel, which is officially classified as a historical monument, is constructed from the white calcified stone of St-Florent and worth a visit to view its neoclassical cupola and ecclesiastical iconography.

Chapelle Ste-Croix

The sumptuous rococo style of the Chapelle Ste-Croix, behind the cathedral, makes it look more like a theater than a church. The chapel owes its name to a blackened oak crucifix, dubbed "Christ of the Miracles," discovered by fishermen at sea in 1428 and venerated to this day by Bastia's fishing community. The most ancient church of the town, this chapel has officially been classified as a historic monument since 1931.

Citadelle

One of six island fortifications of its kind, the Citadelle, a Vauban-style fortress (1769–78), is built around the original 15th-century bastion at the highest point of the cliff, with the river below. In 1769, after the defeat of Ponte Novu, Corsica came under French rule. Count de Vaux, who held Corte, undertook the construction of the citadel's second reconstruction to strengthen the defense system of the city. The building contains the Musée de la Corse (Corsica Museum), dedicated to the island's history and ethnography.

Rue de Donjon, Corte, Corsica, 20250, France
04–95–45–25–45
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Rate Includes: €5.30, Closed Mon. in mid-Sept.–mid-June, Sun. in Nov.–Mar., and 2 wks in early Jan.

Citadelle

This Genoese citadel is perched on a rocky promontory at the tip of the bay. An inscription above the drawbridge—"Civitas calvi semper fidelis" (The citizens of Calvi are always faithful)—reflects the town's unswerving allegiance to Genoa. At the welcome center, just inside the gates, you can watch the video on the city's history, book an English-language guided tour, or follow the self-guided walking tour.

Col de Bavella

There's no better place to enjoy this region's raw, beautiful scenery than Col de Bavella, a mass of towering, rippling rock formations shaped like a huge church organ. Numerous walks here cater to people of all fitness levels. There's a small information point at the parking lot that describes options. A three- to four-hour circuit to the Trou de la Bombe—an 26-foot hole in the rock—is a popular choice. Other activities include rock climbing and canyoning.

Domaine Mavela (Distillerie L.N Mattei)

In the countryside around 43 miles to the north of Porto Vecchio, Jean Claude Venturini and his sons developed this distillery to turn the main fruits of the island into brandy and liqueur from fruits such as myrtle, lemons, chestnuts, pear, and raspberry.

Église de l'Immaculée-Conception

The 16th-century Church of the Immaculate Conception occupies a cobblestone square. Step inside the Baroque portal to admire the church's ornate 18th-century interior, requiring a bright day to see much detail as interior lighting is quite dim. The walls are covered with wood carvings, gold, marble, and velvet fabric. Check out the altar's interpretation of the Assumption by Murillo, whose original version sits in Madrid's El Prado Museum.

Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Corsica's largest and arguably grandest church dates from the mid-17th century, although its twin bell towers—which dominate the view of the Vieux Port just to the south—were only added some 200 years later. The lavish interior is filled with artwork, including numerous marble statues and paintings depicting St John the Baptist.

Eglise Sainte Marie Majeure

The oldest structure in the city, the 12th-century church with buttresses attaching it to surrounding houses is located in the center of the citadel's maze of cobblestone streets. Inside the Pisan-Genoese church, look for the 3rd-century white-marble Roman sarcophagus and the Renaissance baptismal font. Walk around the back to see the loggia built above a huge cistern that stored water for use in times of siege. The 14th-century bell tower rises 82 feet.

Filitosa

Corsica's largest grouping of megalithic menhir statues, Filitosa is reached via a stroll down a tree-lined path. You'll discover life-size stone figures of ancient warriors that rise up mysteriously from the undulating terrain, many with human faces whose features have been flattened by erosion. A small museum houses archaeological finds, including the menhir known as Scalsa Murta, whose delicately carved spine and rib cage are surprisingly contemporary for a work dating from some 5,000 years ago. There's a great English-language guidebook (€4), and much of the signage is in English. After your tour, enjoy a beverage at the small brasserie.

Off Rte. 196, Petreto-Bicchisano, Corsica, 20140, France
04–95–74–00–91
sights Details
Rate Includes: €9, June–Oct., daily 8–7, Closed Nov.--Mar.

Gorges de la Restonica

Put on your hiking boots—the Gorges de la Restonica make a spectacular day tour, 10 km (6 miles) southwest of Corte. At the top of the Restonica Valley, leave your car in the parking area. A two-hour climb will take you to Lac de Mélo, a trout-filled mountain lake 6,528 feet above sea level. Another hour up is the usually snow-bordered Lac de Capitello. Information on trails is available from the Parc Naturel Régional. Light meals are served in the stone shepherds' huts at the Bergeries de Grotelle.

Hôtel de Ville

Ajaccio's town hall houses the Empire-style Napoleonic Grand Salon, which is hung with portraits of a long line of Bonapartes. Also here are a fine bust of Letizia, Napoléon's formidable mother; a bronze death mask of the emperor himself; and a frescoed ceiling depicting Napoléon's meteoric rise.

L'Oratoire Saint Jean Baptiste

At the intersection of Rue du Roi-de-Rome and Rue St-Charles, you can visit the confrérie, or religious brotherhood, of St-Jean Baptiste. On June 24, the patron saint is honored with a solemn mass conducted by the city's bishop and a Corsican music concert.

La Scala di Santa Regina

The Stairway of the Holy Queen is one of Corsica's most spectacular roads—and one of the most difficult to navigate, especially in winter. About 20 km (12 miles) northwest of Corte, it traces the twisty path of the Golo River, which has carved its way through layers of red granite, forming dramatic gorges and waterfalls. Follow the road to the Col de Verghio (Verghio Pass) for superb views of Tafunatu, the legendary perforated mountain, and Monte Cinto. On the way up you'll pass through the Valdo Niello Forest, Corsica's most important woodlands, filled with pines and beeches. As you descend from the Verghio Pass through the Forêt d'Aïtone (Aitone Forest), note how well manicured it is—the pigs, goats, and sheep running rampant through the tall Laricio pines keep it this way. As you pass the village of Evisa, with its orange roofs, look across the impressive Gorges de Spelunca (Spelunca Gorge) to see the hill village of Ota. A small road on the right will take you across the gorge, where there's an ancient Genoese-built bridge.

Marché Central

For an authentic view of daily Corsican life, tour this wonderful open-air food market brimming with gastronomic delights. There is an array of local cheeses, charcuterie, breads, pastries, olives, condiments, and aromatic meats for sale. Traditional indulgences like chestnut-infused beignets can be savored in an atmosphere guaranteed to be lively and local.

Bring your euros—cash is the preferred method of payment.

Pl. Foch, Ajaccio, Corsica, 20000, France
sights Details
Rate Includes: Closed Mon.

Musée de Bastia

The vaulted, colonnaded galleries of the Palais des Nobles Douzes house the Musée de Bastia, home to a large collection of medieval artwork, as well as rooms that detail the history of the city. The building itself has been undergoing modifications since the 18th century when it was used as the meeting place for rural commune leaders.

Pl. du Donjon and Cours Favale, Bastia, Corsica, France
04–95–31–09–12
sights Details
Rate Includes: From €5, Closed Mon. in Sept.–June and Sun. in Oct.–Apr.

Palais National

The Palais National, just outside the citadel and above Place Gaffory, is the ancient residence of Genoa's representatives in Corsica and was the seat of the Corsican parliament from 1755 to 1769, where Paoli set up his government for independent Corsica. Today it is part of Corte University.

Place Maréchal-Foch

Surrounded by a row of stately palm trees, Place Maréchal-Foch is easily recognizable by its fountain of four Corsican granite lions encircling a commanding statue of Napoléon, the work of sculptor Jérôme Maglioli. Popular as a spot to people-watch on a sunny day, this triangle is surrounded by cafés and opens up to the Ajaccio port.

Pl. Marechal Foch, Ajaccio, Corsica, 20000, France
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Quartier de Chiostra

Around the Palais National in the Haute Ville (Upper Town), it is a joy to wander through the tiny alleys of the Quartier de Chiostra. To take it all in, first head south following the signs to the Belvédère, a stone observation deck that offers a 360-degree panorama of Corte, its Citadelle, and the majestic surrounding peaks. Follow the cobblestone path (as you look down) to the right from the Belvédère, bearing right and across at the Chapelle St-Théophile. Coming into the tiny square on your left, don't miss the open stone staircase on the opposite wall or the prehistoric fertility goddess carved into the wall to the left. Farther downhill you will rejoin the ramp leading into Place Pasquale-Paoli.

Terra Nova

Occupying the high ground within the walls of the citadel, the narrow alleys of the city's marginally more modern quarter are well worth an exploration. Climb the Escalier Romieu steps beside the leafy Jardins Romieu for a sweeping view of the Italian islands of Capraia, Elba, and Montecristo, or take the easier but less scenic route up via the elevator at the southeast end of the Vieux Port. Although it is known as the New Town, it actually dates from the end of the 15th century and is only 100 years younger than the official Old Town below. 

Citadelle, Bastia, Corsica, 20200, France
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Tour du Sel et Caponnière

Built in 1495 between the citadel and the harbor entrance, the imposing stone Salt Tower and Caponier once served a dual purpose both as a defensive bastion and a salt store. Today the historic interior hosts temporary exhibitions.

Vieux Port

The picturesque Vieux Port, along Quai des Martyrs de la Libération, is dominated by the hilltop citadel. Take a stroll along the harbor, which is lined with excellent seafood restaurants. You can still find a few bright red-and-blue fishing boats with tangles of old nets and lines here, even if most of the space is now occupied by motor cruisers and yachts.