AJACCIO, Corsica — The Costa Diadema is responsible for educating. A vehicle of learning. This newest ship in the Costa Cruises fleet of 15 regularly drops passengers off for a day in Ajaccio, a pretty town on the island of Corsica.
That’s where the education starts?
Among the things we didn’t know until getting off the Diadema:
• It is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, behind Sardinia and Sicily (although we probably could have discovered that by studying a map).
• Unlike the other two, it belongs to France…not Italy.
• Everything that isn’t named Napoleon is named Bonaparte, or so it seems, in honor of its most-famous son and the large house where he was born has become, as expected, a tourist attraction.
• Corsicans still don’t like the sea that surrounds them because they associate it with invaders (including malaria-carrying mosquitoes) even though none of them exist today.
• The man Corsicans regard as their greatest hero is Pasquale Paoli, the highly educated leader who was defeated by Napoleon, who wrote the island’s constitution and who was far ahead of his time in demanding equality for all, at a time when women were regarded as unequal.
• People came from all over the world to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s birth in 1969 and they ran out of beer — by 10:30 that morning!
Corsica today is mostly French and Italian, as you might expect, in what has for centuries been an uneasy relationship. It’s also divided between north and south, by mountains, and that relationship is regarded as “competitive” today. It’s only 50 miles from Italy and its second language (Corsican) is more Italian than French.
Ajaccio is in the south, the capital of the south, and it’s clear that — 200 years after his death — Napoleon is still an industry in the town where he was born but spent less than 10 years of his life. The statue of the famous French emperor is an exact replica of the one over his gravesite in Paris and a regular tourist stop for anyone who comes here on a cruise or a plane.
More and more Europeans are flying in to experience Corsica’s pristine and rugged geography. Green with pine forests, it’s called Ile de Beaute (which requires no translation) and its interior is a magnet for adventure tourists. Complementing that are sandy, unpolluted beaches all the way around the island, and going from the sea to the interior can take longer than it takes to fly to Switzerland.
Approximately 100 miles by 50 miles, Corsica is home to 300,000 residents, and many come from elsewhere. Our guide, Rollie Lucarotti, and her husband boarded their boat in England, sailed here 43 years ago and never left. The first book written about Corsica was penned by a Scottish spinster, Thomasina Campbell, after she toured the island on a cart pulled by a pony, and her pockets were deep enough to build a church and a mansion on what is now Rue Miss Campbell.
Besides spectacular scenery and its ability to remain in something of a time capsule geographically, Corsica is also known for its perfume. Legend has it that the perfume is so unique that Napoleon could recognize the island with his eyes closed just by inhaling it.
Just one more nugget of information about Corsica, thanks to a 3,600-passenger vehicle of learning.
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