In college, I was a history major and did my senior thesis on Napoleon Bonaparte. This sparked in me a fascination of all things Napoleon. Since he was born in Corsica, a small French island just west of Italy, it has been on my list of places to go. Corsica is a very popular summer vacation spot for Europeans, but is mostly dead in the winter. Accessible by both air and water, I chose to take the ferry from Livorno, Italy. Roundtrip flight from Detroit to Rome, with a layover in Frankfurt cost me $575 on Lufthansa – purchased in July for a December departure. I opted for 2 days in Rome before taking the two hour train north to Livorno. From there I was able to catch the 4 hour ferry to Bastia, Corsica. Roundtrip ferry was $80, but I ended up not making it back to Italy. I had planned to spend 4 days in Corsica, before heading back to Rome for another 2 days, finally departing back to the US after that. However, the day before I was to take the ferry from Bastia back to Livorno, I received an email stating that my ferry was cancelled. There was an option to rebook a ferry to Nice or Marseilles – both in France and putting me completely out of the way to continue my planned trip in Rome. I ended up booking a flight to Paris, to connect with a friend that was there, forgoing my plans in Italy. However, that flight ended up being cancelled as well. Thanks, Tempest Elenor. I was finally able to get off the island of Corsica, get to Paris, meet up with my friend, then finally complete my journey to the US. This was the first time such a large wrench was thrown into my extremely planned out travel. However, the purpose of the trip was to see Corsica, and that I did!
What I Packed
Being the end of December/ beginning of January, temperatures were cool. About 60-70°F during the day, dropping to 40-50°F at night. I packed only a carry on and wore jeans, boots, and lots of layers during the day. At night, a light jacket and a scarf were enough.
How I Got Around
Trains, planes, buses, taxis, ferries, etc. In Bastia and Ajaccio (the two main cities in Corsica) I generally walked around. The train ticket from Bastia to Ajaccio and back was about 40 euros and a pleasant trip. Taxis are bountiful and the public buses seemed easy to use, but my go-to is wandering around on foot. I booked my ferry from Italy to Corsica via Corsica Ferries. I do not recommend this company. The ferry to Corsica was about 2 hours delayed and no info was given as to why. The ferry itself was nice and comfortable, but once my return ferry was cancelled, Corsica Ferries was no help at all to get me back on track.
Where I Stayed
En route to Rome from Detroit, I had a 15 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. I had initially intended to take the train into the city and explore a bit, but I was exhausted upon landing after a very uncomfortable flight. I made my way towards the Hilton at the Frankfurt airport and for 100 euro, I could rent a room and sleep in a king size bed. It was worth it. Not only did I get a solid 10 hour sleep, I was also able to shower and have a great meal.
In Bastia, I stayed at the Best Western Corsica. This was probably the nicest hotel I have ever stayed at in Europe. GIANT and clean rooms with a fantastic breakfast spread. It was quite a hike uphill from the downtown Bastia area but worth it. Everyone at the hotel was extremely friendly and helpful.
In Ajaccio, I rented a small studio apartment at 18Bonaparte. The owner of the apartment was a very gracious host and the apartment was around the corner from the birthplace of Napoleon – the reason I was even there.
After rerouting my trip to Paris, I once again booked a room at the airport Hilton at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was about $200 for the night but was covered by my trip insurance (more on that at the end). While expensive, it was convenient for my 6am flight the next morning. The RER (trains to Paris) were located directly under the hotel, so it made getting into the city easy.
What I Ate
Baguettes, cheese, wine, croissants – what else is there? I didn’t search out any restaurants in particular and honestly don’t remember the names of them either. I haven’t really ever found a “bad” place to eat in Europe.
What I Did
The one day I spent in Rome, prior to heading to Corsica, I took a pasta making class through a company called Walks of Rome. This was honestly the highlight of my trip. There were about 15 of us (all American) who were escorted to a rooftop patio where Laura and her husband Marco led us through a 2 hour pasta making class. Our wine glasses were somehow bottomless and there were plenty of appetizers if the pasta didn’t turn out well (but it did!) After cooking and making the pasta, we went into the apartment where we were served all the pasta we had just made. Again, the wine glasses were bottomless and after dinner, the limoncello was brought out. Another 3 hours later, we were all best friends and our bellies were full. This experience was only $95 and I cannot recommend it enough.
I didn’t spend much time in Bastia, but I did walk around and explore some churches, shops, and restaurants. Corsica was mainly a ghost town in the winter with only the locals out and about. I’m 99.9999% positive I was the only American on the whole island. Being fluent in French helped me to blend in!
The home where Napoleon was born has since been converted into a quaint little museum. The town has Napoleon statues and monuments all over the place. Besides the museum was the Place d’Austerlitz – a huge monument dedicated to the Emperor.
I was here for New Year’s which ended up being a mistake. While many bars and restaurants were open, they all required reservations. Being alone, it was hard to merge in with a group of friends. I ended up spending midnight alone in my room, but I was okay with that. The real tragedy was New Year’s Day where EVERYTHING was shut down and I could barely find anything to eat. After walking a few miles, I was able to finally find one bakery that was open and bought a baguette to sustain me through the day. Lesson learned – have plans for New Year’s!
Upon returning from Corsica, I read an article that Corsica is one of the most violent places in Western Europe. Traveling alone, I felt completely safe the entire time I was there. It’s always important just to be on guard and stay away from large crowds.
Tips and Tricks
As I mentioned before, going over New Year’s and being alone wasn’t so smart. Go with friends or make reservations ahead of time. And grocery shop ahead of time!
Per a friend’s advice, I recently upgraded my credit card to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. While it has a high annual fee, it’s benefits are endless; including passes to almost any lounge at any airport as well as travel insurance. Once my trip took a turn for the worse, my expenses started to increase. I immediately called Chase, who told me that I should just charge everything to my card and file a claim once I returned. That I did and boy, did Chase come through. After amounting an additional $600 in expenses on top of losing $400 worth of things booked ahead of time, I was reimbursed the full $1000 by Chase. Very comforting at the end of a hectic trip!