Ajaccio, Corsica, France

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Most famous as the birthplace of a diminutive, strong-willed local who went on to become known simply as Napoleon, the port of Ajaccio is Corsica’s small, walkable capital. The roots of this city on the island’s western coast are said to go back to another strong man, the Greek hero Ajax.

Only 200 miles from its parent France, you might as well be in another country on Corsica, where everything from the food to the language is unique. Anchored by a magnificent citadel and a fine Baroque cathedral, Ajaccio is filled with pastel buildings whose wooden shutters keep out the Mediterranean sun, while its streets, plazas and statues are all marked by Napoleon’s aura.

Dining and shopping along the palm tree–studded waterfront have been popular since the days of English travelers in the 19th century—activities that have once again marked daily life in the port since De Gaulle liberated the town and island in World War II. Ringed by craggy natural formations both on land and sea, as well as stunning sandy beaches, Ajaccio’s surroundings are easily explored on a drive along the windy Corniche or by heading inland to explore the rugged villages of the interior.