26 August 2013 | Corsica, France
We rented a car in Bonifacio and ventured around Corsica for a couple of days, with the excuse of doing a history-related school trip.
This island has a rugged coast with shear cliffs peppered with holes and caves. The beaches, where everybody concentrates, are pebbly and not that interesting. Corsica's real beauty is in its mountains which cover most of the interior of the island. These are not New England-type rolling hills, these are Alps-like, serious mountains. The views are spectacular, mountain ranges galore, with tiny villages scattered on the sharp sides of mountains. The serpentine roads follow the edges of the mountains, and in my opinion were never intended for two way traffic with normal size cars. One can always tell a local driver from the tourist, because they go at least 20 or 30 km/h faster and pass slower car-s 10 m before impossible sharp turns.
From Bonifacio, we took the coastal route on Corsica's east side to reach the ruins of Aleria, the only substantial Roman settlement in Corsica. We wandered around the ruins of the forum, theaters, temples and baths; trying to imagine life in Roman times.
From Aleria we ventured inland, leaving all the coastal hustle and bustle behind. Up the mountain range we drove to Corte, a University town in the heart of Corsica with a 14th century citadel. The drive was breath-taking - mostly because of its beauty, although a couple of sharp turns also took my breath away. Hiking trails sprouted here and there. Serious cyclist were sweating up the steep road (and, presumably, having a blast coming down.) What a contrast between the busy, rushed and touristic coast and the tranquility and slow-pace life in the mountainous inland! Any guesses which one we preferred?
On our way back to Bonifacio we finally saw the famous wild boars of Corsica happily munching on the side of the road. Although, as Mark pointed out, the dark looking piggies seem to be curiously close to fenced pig pens. In fact, it looked like they were returning home to their pens after a hard day of free munching around the neighborhood's forest. In any case, they were so cute that I snatched few pictures and titled them wild-boar sighting 2013.
On the second day we concentrated on prehistoric settlements. Corsica (same as Sardinia and Menorca in the Balearics) has a fair amount of these settlements. We stopped at a couple of small museums with extensive collections of prehistoric tools and weapons from the area and visited the Cucuruzzu site. The Cucuruzzu visit is structured as a 3 km loop meandering through forest and big granite rocks that were used as prehistoric refuge. In the main site, prehistoric people had constructed a common area using conveniently located granite boulders and building around it with stone bricks. I do not know why I am always amazed at the level of complexity and sophistication that these early cultures show (Hummh! That did not sounded patronizing at all :-) Prehistory, still conjures images of hairy and stocky ape-like man dressed in animal skins and dragging the missus by the hair towards their cave while carrying a bat-like wood weapon. Nothing seems farther from the truth (at least from 6000 b.C. onwards). These people made buildings that have lasted thousands of years, had a complex social arrangement, carved dolmens and menhirs many with human faces and features, etc. etc.
Driving around Corsica, I could not help thinking often about how much our friends would enjoy a vacation in Corsica: beautiful hiking, challenging cycling, local wines, French food, and beautiful scenery. I wish you were here to share it with us!