Flying Standby with Mark Vanek: Ajaccio, Corsica

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 4, 2012

Now that all the holiday shindigs and soirees are fading from memory, our attention naturally shifts to fulfilling the multitude of New Year’s resolutions that we’ve set. Many of us have committed to taming the bulge, eating healthier and putting the “fit” back into our in fitness routine.
Of course as your intrepid standby traveler, I’m going to jumpstart the process and suggest that instead of putting yourself on the diet, let’s just experience the Mediterranean lifestyle first-hand.
So off we go to Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica, France.
Commune d’Ajaccio
Located on Corsica’s western coast, Ajaccio is a modish, debonair community with a nostalgic old world charm. This attractive coastal retreat hosts a variety of unique shops, dramatic panoramas as well as a healthy collection of trendy bistros.
Age-old buildings are meticulously maintained, showcasing Ajaccio’s richly chronicled and commemorative past. Sparkling Mediterranean waters and sandy alcoves attract beach enthusiasts of all ages —just one more reason Ajaccio is quickly becoming one of Europe’s most sought-after seaside destinations.
Getting there
For a fun and pleasurable excursion from the mainland of France, you can simply hop, skip and cruise to the Isle of Corsica. Corsica-Ferries makes Ajaccio easily accessible and any rental car that you’ve already secured will be included in the price.
The arresting and tranquil Mediterranean cruise from Nice runs $82 and takes approximately five and a half hours. For a luxurious upgrade, book your seafaring passage with an exclusive two bed cabin for an additional $38 (
Also, British Airways, EasyJet and Air France all run daily service into Ajaccio’s Napoléon Bonaparte International Airport from both Paris and London.
A Room with a Citadel View
Located in the center of Ajaccio’s historic quarter, sits the Hotel San Carlu Citadelle with a panoramic view of a the 15th-century Genoese Fortress overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel is centrally located and a short walk to the lively harbor or the scenic beach.
In Europe, hotel rooms tend to be smaller and more austere. Some accommodations may or may not have private showers and restrooms, so when travelling abroad, make certain to confirm any and all amenities when making your hotel reservation.
Experience the magic of a room with a view for a reasonable $72 a night. (
Enjoy Life More
In Ajaccio, eating healthy and losing weight are all part of daily life. A restaurant well known for its delectable authentic Corsican dishes and charming ambiance is Le 20123. Enjoy inspired, mouth-watering sea bass, daurade or lobster entrees, as well as the delightful “sanglier,” or wild boar prepared in a velvety red wine sauce.
I know this new year we’re going to abstain from indulgent and rich desserts, but one thing you have to sample when visiting Corsica is a luscious pastry, the fiadone. Available from any number of Ajaccio’s coastal eateries, the wildly popular confection is made with brocciu, a goat cheese, which is only served fresh from December to June.
( then
One for the Kids
A picturesque 30-minute drive outside of Ajaccio will bring you to the tortoise park of Vero. The “A Cupulatta” is a sanctuary that boasts more than 125 different species of tortoises and turtles and is sure to delight the kids. Although the tour of the facilities doesn’t really cater to English speaking visitors, conservation is universal, and the day trip into the Corsican mountainside will be rewarding for everyone involved.
The turtle park is open daily from April to November. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $5 for children.
Napoleon’s Shadow
Napoleonic heritage steals the spotlight in Ajaccio. A multitude of tributes and monuments stand in homage to Corsica’s favorite son. The town’s center, The Place de Gaulle, showcases a grand bronze statue of Napoleon on horseback towering over his four brothers.
Also, Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthplace, a modest three-storey residence, is now a museum devoted to the early life of the outcast and exiled former French emperor and the Bonaparte family.
Distinctive Shopping
Considering its laid-back nature, Ajaccio is truly an urbane shopping experience. Designer labels, artisan crafted jewelry, and one of a kind artwork can all be discovered in the old Genoese town.
On weekends, one of the largest farmers markets on the Corsican island can be found in Ajaccio at Campinchi Square. This vibrant marketplace offers the health conscious a wide selection of uniquely Mediterranean offerings, including vine ripened produce, fig jams, goat cheese, wild boar sauces as well as fresh olives and almonds galore.
Keep in mind, Corsica has nine distinctive grape growing regions throughout the island, so, while at the farmers market, don’t forget the wine. Be sure to grab a bottle of the dessert wine, Muscat du Cap Corse, a Corsican specialty, as well as a bottle of the traditional Sardinian myrtle berry liqueur.
After all, they don’t refer to the Mediterranean diet as “the wine lover’s diet” for nothing.
Mark Vanek is a seasoned world traveler. Each month he heads to Charlotte Douglas-International Airport where he flies standby to a destination in the U.S. or abroad. Mark doesn’t let missed connections, overbooked flights or bad weather get in his way.