The valleys of the Taravo and Prunelli rivers have both in common magnificent nature, scenic waterfalls and mountain views and, strangely, less tourists than the North west and great South of the island. Both valleys offer the rich diversity so particular to Corsica (both valleys start on the coast and have mountain sides reaching over 1200m altitude) . The coast where both rivers reach the sea (gulf of Ajaccio for the Prunelli and gulf of Valinco for the Taravo) boast beautiful beaches. Ajaccio is a must-see place of the region, the birthplace of Napoleon, with the most interesting and dynamic museum of Corsica, Musee Fesch, its friendly pedestrian shopping street and its many ice cream parlours and cafes.
Ajaccio – Despite being the largest city in Corsica, Ajaccio can easily be visited by foot. Unlike most of the largest corsican cities, it is not possible to access its “citadelle”, which is military ground, but there are many other attractions in the city. Take a stroll along its palm tree seafront or wander through the small colourful alleys next to the citadelle where the “Maison Bonaparte” (that can be visited) is located or even head directly for the main shopping street, the pedestrian “rue Fesch”. Half way down rue Fesch, one will find the most interesting museum in corsica, the “Musee Fesch”, built by Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Fesch, in 1827, who had already started populating the place with many works of art and donated them (although this donation was contested and only a part of the 16,000 paintings gathered by the cardinal were retained by the city of Ajaccio) to Ajaccio when he died. To day, the museum hosts the second largest collection of Italian paintings in France and its collection was enriched through many donations in the 19th century. It is also a dynamic museum that holds regular special exhibitions and try and keep the island on the cultural and artistic scene. http://www.musee-fesch.com/
Finally, a visit of Ajaccio would not be complete without paying tribute to Napoleon who was born there: visiting the maison Bonaparte on rue St Charles, close to the citadelle, recently re-opened after some restoration work, or walking up to “U casone” on place d’Austerlitz, where an imposing monument commemorates the victories and life of Napoleon.
Train Ajaccio-Bastia – Starting from Ajaccio or Bastia train station is the ever popular “U Trinighellu”, the over 100-year old train (don’t worry the carriage is new!) that took 16 years to build and crosses through the island over mountains and bridges. More than a mean of transport, the train has become a tourist attraction as the journey offers absolutely scenic views of inland Corsica. The best part of the journey is from Ajaccio to Corte. The site providing timetable for the train: http://www.corsicabus.org/Train_services.html. But it might be easier to practice your French and give the railway services in Corsica a quick call given how unclear the schedules are.
Iles sanguinaires – Located at the tip end of the gulf of ajaccio, about 15 km from the city centre, the “Iles Sanguinaires” are a group of 4 islands. A working lighthouse, that was made famous by Alphonse Daudet’s short story “Le phare des Sanguinaires”, culminates on the main island. It is likely that the islands bear their name due to the red (“sanguinary”) porphyre rocks and soil, especially visible as the sun sets. The islands is also a natural reserve with a rich fauna and a few rare birds such as the yellow legged gull and the cormorant. Regular boat trips are organised from the harbour of Ajaccio with a stopover on the main island. It is also possible to take a drive to the “pointe de la Parata” and its genoese tower, at the end of the road past Ajaccio and admire the islands from there. Best time to drive will be at sunrise, sunset or when the waves are rough!
Vizzavone forest and the Cascade des Anglais – Crossed by the GR20 walking trail, the Vizzavona forest is about an hour drive from Ajaccio on the road to Corte and Bastia. It is a steep climb and one can notice the very quick change of temperature and fresh air, even in the midst of summer. The vizzavona mountain pass culminates at 1160m and offers scenic views of the forest and surrounding mountains, notably the Monte d’Oro. The forest is a popular place, with hikers from the GR 20 or people stopping over from the Ajaccio-Bastia train. The forest is a lush mix of various pine chesnut and hazelnut trees. A popular hike from Vizzavone is the “Cascade des anglais”. This beautiful waterfall is within easy access (less than 2 hours walk) for most hikers. It offers a beautiful scenery and also some nice swimming spots if one climbs up along the waterfall to its top where nice natural ponds have formed through rock erosion.
Prehistoric sites: Filitosa and Cucurruzu – Close to a third of corsica’s prehitoric statues are displayed in Filitosa, making it the largest prehistoric site on the island. The site was discovered by owner Charles-Antoine Cesari in 1946 but serious archeologic excavations only started in 1954. Filitosa was actually a village dominating the valley of the taravo with a fertile land, probably populated during the Neolothic with monuments that witness almost 5,000 years of prehistoric era. The most popular monuments are the “Filitosa V”, the largest statue (3m-high) with a life-size sword carved on both sides, a 5-menhir alignment and an “Oppidum”, i.e. a fortified settlement with the remnants of a village. The site is well-organised and there are audio explanations available in 4 languages enabling visitors to better understand the history associated with the monuments and make the visit livelier.
At the heart of the “Alta-Rocca” region and of a green oak forest, near the village of Levie, lie the sites of Cucurruzu and Capula, separated by 100m from one another. The location on a plateau offers a panomara of the Alta-Rocca and the sites hold some very interesting monuments from the neolithic and bronze age.