Coming soon

Coming soon...Burma, French Polynesia and others...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

South-East Corsica

Date: June 2013

Corsica, the beautiful Mediterranean island, is only a 1.5 hour flight away from our home in Paris, so it's perfect for a quick, long-weekend getaway.


My first impression of Corsica is very good. As soon as our plane emerges from the cloud cover I am treated to a beautiful view of lush, green mountains and a turquoise bay. Lovely.

We land at Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport and pick up our brand new rental car - only 10 km (6  miles) on it! - from the Hertz office just across the street. After a lot of fiddling with the navigation system, we finally set out on the 15-20 minute ride to our hotel on Agosta Beach on the outskirts of Porticcio.
Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport
Road from Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport to Agosta Beach
Agosta Beach, Porticcio
Corsica is a French territory but there is a strong nationalistic, pro-independence movement here. Our first exposure to this is the Porticcio city-limit sign, on which the French language name is crossed out (we will see many such signs during our visit).

We are staying in the modern and comfortable Radisson Blu Resort & Spa. As soon as we arrive we head for the lunch buffet. The view of Ajaccio Bay from the terrace restaurant is stunning! And it's sunny and warm, which is exactly what we need after the horrible spring we had in Paris.
View of Ajaccio Bay from the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
View of Ajaccio Bay from the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
Starters from the lunch buffet, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
We get the same beautiful view from the balcony of our room. Our 9 year old daughter of course couldn't care less it. What she does care about is the bunk bed she gets to sleep in. How cool!
Room balcony, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
View from the room balcony, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
Bunk bed in the room, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
To my daughter's delight we spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool. I wrote "by the pool" instead of "in the pool" on purpose, as I don't actually venture into the water. It's beautifully sunny but it's only about 20 C (68 F), so even the fact that the pool is heated does not convince me to hop in. Quite the opposite is true for my daughter. I can't get her out of the water.
Pool, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
Pool, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
Pool, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
Then it's off to dinner in the hotel restaurant. We are one of few people not having the buffet, but ordering a la carte. Perhaps that is the reason why the service is very slow.

Day 2:

First thing I do is I rush to the balcony to check on the weather. Another beautiful sunny day!
View from our hotel room balcony, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Porticcio
Today we will be joined by friends from the United States, but they are only arriving later in the afternoon, so we set out for sightseeing on our own. We are driving South, toward the historic sight of Filitosa.

Corsica is famous for it's wildflowers and it's obvious why. They are everywhere! I love wildflowers and I miss them very much in the carefully manicured gardens in the US and Europe, where they would be all eliminated by weed-killers. So driving through this colorful wild landscape is a wonderful experience.

Another thing I really like here is that the architecture doesn't seem to overwhelm the island. I don't know about the rest of Corsica, but the parts we drive through seem prosperous, yet not overdeveloped. There seems to be a nice balance between nature and human structures.
Scenery between Porticcio and Filitosa
Scenery between Porticcio and Filitosa
On the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
On the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
On the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
At one of the turn-offs there is an amazing view, and an enterprising family built a little informal restaurant here. We get some drinks, chat with the owners, and admire the view. Their daughter is racing around the flowery meadows with the family dog, a friendly Golden Retriever. That of course makes us miss our 10-month old Golden Retriever puppy, who stayed behind in Paris, very much. The difference between this dog and ours? This one is old enough to stay still for a couple of seconds, posing for pictures.
Restaurant on the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
Golden Retriever, on the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
View. on the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
Wildflowers, on the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
Golden Retriever, on the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
On the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
On the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
On the road between Porticcio and Filitosa
Our first sightseeing stop is Corsica's prehistoric capital, Filitosa. According to the guidebook it is the home of 4,000 year old, life-size stone warriors. The official brochure of the site calls these statue-menhirs. Menhirs are simple, single, vertical stone monuments, stuck in the ground.  The statue-menhirs are the most refined form, with faces and possibly other detail (like weapons) carved into them. According to the brochure Corsicans became specialists in these, and Corsica is the leading region in Europe both in quantity and in quality. A large portion of these statue-menhirs, both armed (with weapons) and unarmed ones, can be found here, in Filitosa.
Entrance to the site of Filitosa
The statue-menhir closest to the entrance is the Filitosa V,  which, according to the brochure, is "the most striking and the best armed of the Corsican menhirs".

The statue-menhirs of Filitosa are not huge, on average they seem to be the height of an adult. By menhir-standards they are also not terribly heavy. They range from 500 kg (about 1,100 pounds) to 3 tons, compared to the world's heaviest menhir at Locmariaquer, Brittany, which weighs in at 340 tons.
Statue-menhir Filitosa V, Filitosa
What neither the guidebook nor the brochure mention is that in addition to the statues, Filitosa is also worth visiting for it's the natural beauty. It's truly lovely. The path takes us past beautiful meadows full of wildflowers and the view of the surrounding countryside is breathtaking. The weather is absolutely perfect, sunny and warm but not too hot. We are very lucky.
Filitosa landscape
Wildflowers, Filitosa
Starting from the sixth millennium BC Filitosa served as a human settlement for thousands of years, and there is plenty of evidence here to attest to this. We pass through the entrance of the cyclopean enclosure, and walk by the Eastern look-out platform. We see foundations of Bronze Age huts and rock shelters.
Cyclopean enclosure entrance,  Filitosa
Early Neolithic shelter under a rock, Filitosa
Filitosa
The focal point of the site is the Central Monument, a mound surrounded by statue-menhirs and their fragments. The most famous of these is perhaps the Filitosa IX, with it's realistically carved face it is the most human-like.
Central Monument, Filitosa
Statue-menhir Filitosa IX, Filitosa
Statue-menhir at the Central Monument, Filitosa
Central Monument, Filitosa
Filitosa landscape
Wildflowers, Filitosa
Statue-menhir Filitosa VI, Filitosa
Statue-menhir Filitosa VI, Filitosa
We explore the western monument, a torre (monumental complex) which probably served as a "place of refuge and cult", but also food storage. (Source: official brochure).
Entrance of western cult monument, Filitosa
Wildflowers, Filitosa
Down some steep stone steps on the side of the mound, past a little gated bridge and a muddy path ( I am glad I am wearing hiking shoes), we make our way to the Five Statues. According to the guidebook the olive tree around which the Filitosa III, IV, I, Tappa I and Filitosa II stand is itself one thousand years old.
A visitor navigating the steep stone steps at Filitosa
View of the plain with the Five Statues, Filitosa
Bug on a flower, Filitosa
Path leading to the Five Statues, Filitosa
Olive tree with the Five Statues, Filitosa
Statue-menhirs Tappa I and Filitosa II, Filitosa
Statue-menhir Filitosa IV, Filitosa
Statue-menhir Filitosa III, Filitosa
Cactus, Filitosa
We continue on to the quarry, which supplied the rock for the statue-menhirs. There is an unusual rock formation here, called the Filitosa Dinosaur.
Quarry, Filitosa
Filitosa Dinosaur, Filitosa
Then we head back through more wildflower-filled meadows, climbing the main mound from a different side.
Filitosa landscape
Wildflowers, Filitosa
Wildflowers, Filitosa
Walking path, Filitosa
Wildflowers, Filitosa
The museum by the entrance seems reduced to just one little room at present, as they are constructing a new one to be opened in April of 2014.
Museum under construction, Filitosa
On one of the nearby hills there seems to be a huge solar panel, but I can't find any information on it on the internet. I wonder what it is?
Large solar panel? Filitosa
Solar panels in a backyard, Filitosa
After an ice cream next door we set out for our drive south, toward Sartene. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous! Too bad the road is so curvy. Normally I am the one who gets car sick but this time it's my 9 year old daughter. Luckily there is a beautiful lookout point on the way, where we can take a little break while she recovers.
Landscape between Filitosa and Sartene
Horses by the road between Filitosa and Sartene
Landscape between Filitosa and Sartene
Lookout point between Filitosa and Sartene
Road between Filitosa and Sartene
We drive by the medieval fortified town of Sartene. It's narrow, cobbled-stoned streets are supposed to be wonderful for a stroll, but we don't have the time, so we drive on.
Sartene
Sartene
We continue on to Bonifacio, through more beautiful scenery and even curvier roads. My daughter and I are suffering.
Scenery between Sartene and Bonifacio
Scenery between Sartene and Bonifacio
Scenery between Sartene and Bonifacio
A relatively straight strech of road between Sartene and Bonifacio
What a relief when we finally reach Corsica's southern-most town, Bonifacio. We are tired, sick and hungry, but are seduced by the charm of the place anyway. We head to Panini, one of the many restaurants lining the harbor. The food is not very good, but at this point I would eat almost anything.
Bonifacio's harbor, with Citadel in background
Restaurants lining Bonifacio's harbor
Restaurants lining Bonifacio's harbor
Bonifacio's harbor, with Citadel in background
Bonifacio's harbor
Bonifacio's harbor
Bonifacio's harbor
From here steps lead up to Bonifacio's 12th century fortified Old Town, or we could take the little tourist train there, but it's getting late, so we decide to drive up instead.  The Old Town is pretty and charming, with a lovely view of the harbor beneath. Too bad we have such a short time here!
Stairs leading up to Bonifacio's Old Town
Tourist train, Bonifacio
Old Town, Bonifacio
Old Town, Bonifacio
View from Old Town, Bonifacio
Poppies, Old Town, Bonifacio
View from Old Town, Bonifacio
View of harbor from Old Town, Bonifacio
Old Town, Bonifacio
Old Town, Bonifacio
The most famous feature of Bonifacio (and perhaps of all Corsica) are of course it's limestone cliffs. The view of these is absolutely breathtaking! I wish we would have the time to take a boat ride for a closer look. Then again, the water looks pretty choppy, and maybe it's better not to torture my battered stomach anymore.
Limestone cliffs of Bonifacio
Rocks by Bonifacio
Visitors looking at the limestone cliffs of Bonifacio
Limestone cliffs of Bonifacio
It's an approximately two to two-and-a-half hour trip back to Porticcio and, considering that I get car-sick about 5 minutes into the drive, it seems like an infinitely long time in hell. So no pictures from this leg of the trip, sorry.
Finally a straight stretch of road! From Bonifacio to Porticcio
Our friends from the US have arrived and, once I collect myself enough, I am able to join them for dinner (only soup for me!).  

Day 3:

It's another gorgeous, sunny day. After the roads yesterday I am so glad that we are only going to Ajaccio today. It's only 19 km (12 miles) away. I can deal with that. 
Drive from Porticcio to Ajaccio
On the way there we pass one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Horses grazing on a colorful, flowering meadow, mountains in the background, the sky reflecting in the water nearby. If it would be a painting I would think it's tacky. Made by nature it's absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately it's by the highway, so we can't stop to take a picture. From the moving car I only manage the picture below - not very impressive.
Drive from Porticcio to Ajaccio
On arrival Ajaccio seems like any typical Mediterranean city. Palm trees, water, boats and pastel-colored buildings.
Entering Ajaccio
Entering Ajaccio
Ajaccio street
Ajaccio Prefecture
We park in an underground garage under Place De Gaulle, a lovely, spacious, but for some reason very windy square.
Place De Gaulle, Ajaccio
Place De Gaulle, Ajaccio
Place De Gaulle, Ajaccio
Place De Gaulle, Ajaccio
We set out to explore the Old Town, just randomly walking the narrow streets. I find the pastel-colored architecture very pretty.
Old Town, Ajaccio
Old Town, Ajaccio
Old Town, Ajaccio
Old Town, Ajaccio
Old Town, Ajaccio
Old Town, Ajaccio
Orange tree in Old Town, Ajaccio
Old Town, Ajaccio
We walk by two of Ajaccio's churches, the Eglise Saint Jean Baptiste and the Cathedral. Ajaccio's most famous son is of course Napoleon Bonaparte, and the 16th-century Cathedrale Notre-Dame de la Misericorde is where he was baptized. Unfortunately it's closed, so we can't visit the interior, which also houses one of Delacroix's paintings, the Vierge du Sacre-Coeur.
Cathedrale Notre-Dame de la Misericorde, Ajaccio
Eglise Saint Jean Baptiste, Ajaccio
Then it's out to the busy waterfront, and even busier Marche Central on Place Foch, where the lovely displays are as much a treat for the eyes as they are for the stomach.
Ajaccio waterfront
Place Foch, Ajaccio
Cheese display, Marche Central, Ajaccio
Olives for sale, Marche Central, Ajaccio
Charcuterie, Marche Central, Ajaccio
Fountain of the four lions and the statue of Napoleon, Place Foch, Ajaccio
View of  Hotel de Ville (city hall) from Place Foch, Ajaccio
From the market we are heading to Maison Bonaparte, the house where Napoleon Bonaparte was born and spent his childhood. Inside we can see numerous memorabilia of the Bonaparte family, such as the room Chambre de l'Alcove where Napoleon slept on his last visit to Corsica in 1799. There are many personal items on display, including his mother's glove.
Maison Bonaparte,  Ajaccio
Sign declaring that Napoleon was born in this house, Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Park in front of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Old sketch of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Interior of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Interior of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Glove of Letizia Bonaparte, Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Chambre de l'Alcove, Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Interior of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Interior of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Interior of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Interior of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Mirror in Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
View from one of the windows of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Replica of Napoleon's crown, Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Piece of wall covering from the room where Napoleon was born,  Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Pieces of fabric from the room where Napoleon was born, Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Bonaparte family tree, Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Cellar of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Cellar of Maison Bonaparte, Ajaccio
Understandably Ajaccio's streets have plenty of references to the city's most famous son. Streets and statues, but also restaurants and ice cream places named after him.
Bonaparte ice cream, Ajaccio
Then it's back to the lively waterfront for a late lunch in one of the many restaurants, where we discover that Corsica has it's own cola, called, what else, Corsica Cola.
Approaching the waterfront, Ajaccio
Ajaccio waterfront
Ajaccio waterfront
Ajaccio waterfront
Ajaccio waterfront
Corsica Cola
We pass through the Old Town again and finally circle back to Place de Gaulle for an ice cream.
Old Town, Ajaccio
Place De Gaulle, Ajaccio
The children spend the rest of afternoon in the hotel pool, while we catch up with our friends poolside.

For dinner we follow the hotel staff's recommendation, and head to a restaurant called le Piano - Chez Toinou on the other side of Porticcio. Excellent recommendation. Food is very good. Service is friendly. I try some grilled fish filled with Corsican cheese and it's delicious.
Grilled fish filled with Corsican cheese, Le Piano Chez Toinou restaurant, Porticcio
Day 4:

After a leisurely breakfast with our friends we head to the airport. The return of the rental car is a bit cumbersome, as the car needs to be dropped off at the garage, and the papers in the Hertz office across the terminal (no sidewalk between the two). I am glad we don't have large suitcases!

There are not many food choices at the gate waiting area, only a small sandwich stand. But there is also a little store with local specialties, and he sells pastry filled with Corsican cheese (unfortunately I lost the note with the name of it). Never one to pass on an opportunity to try local food I get myself one of them. The gentleman casually throws in a "but we don't eat the leaf" comment. My French being quite imperfect I assume I misunderstood. Seeing my puzzled face he turns the pastry over and sure enough, there is a real leaf stuck to the bottom. Interesting! The pastry is delicious. It's seems to be filled with the same cheese as the fish last night. 
Corsican pastry filled with cheese
Leaf on the bottom of the cheese-filled Corsican pastry
Then it's a short flight back home to beautiful but mostly wild-flower-free Paris.
Wildflowers, Corsica

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment