The Isle of Corsica – One of the Hidden Gems of France – Part 2 of 3

From Ajaccio we worked our way south along the west coast towards Bonifacio, which is located at the southern end of Corsica. Two interesting locations on the way to Bonifacio are Filitosa and Sartène.

Filitosa

Filitosa is one of several prehistoric sites on Corsica and probably the most well known, having earned UNESCO World Heritage status. This site is privately owned. It is located about 65 km (40 miles) from Ajaccio. Although not far, it takes about 90 minutes to get here on the roads that follow every curve of the hilly country. This site dates back as far as the early Neolithic era (6000 BC), and covers a pretty large area. Surprisingly, the ancient artifacts here were not discovered until 1946.

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One of the earliest dwellings at Filitosa.

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One of the most detailed and best preserved menhirs at Filitosa. There are also carvings on the back, representing the physical back of a human.

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A field of menhirs in Filitosa.

There are upright carved stones in human form (called menhirs), temple structures, a quarry, some fortifications and foundations of Bronze Age huts.

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A lookout platform at Filitosa.

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A chamber in what is called the Western Monument.

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This place is called the Central Monument at Filitosa. It has a commanding view of the countryside.

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The enchanting hill where the monuments are found. It has a feel like it could be a location right out of “The Lord of the Rings”.

We found Filitosa quite interesting. Allow a couple hours for a visit. We got there first thing in the morning and had the site largely to ourselves. You can obtain a guidebook at the site and there is a small museum as well.

Propriano Corsica (3)

The town of Propriano, just south of Filitosa. It has a beautiful harbor surrounded by mountains. We stopped here between our visits to Filitosa and Sartène.

Sartène

This town is known as “the most Corsican of Corsican towns” and is in a picturesque hillside location. It also has an attractive old town center. The type of stone used here for construction gives the buildings a very austere appearance.

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View of the exterior fortifications of Sartène.

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Street scene in Sartène.

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Old doorways in the center of Sartène.

We enjoyed wandering through the streets and admiring the old buildings.

Bonifacio

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If driving in to Bonifacio, this is your first stunning view. The “Stronghold of the Standard” bastion was used until the 18th century by the Genoese to defend Bonifacio.

If I had to pick just one favorite place in Corsica, Bonifacio would be it. The unique sight of a massive fortress and medieval town jutting straight up from the little bay on a narrow strip of land is striking. The Republic of Genoa took control of Bonifacio in 1195 and the whole of Corsica in 1294 after defeating the Pisans. Bonifacio became an autonomous city of the Genoese republic in 1388 and even issued its own coinage.

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The steep walk up to the old medieval fortifications from the harbor.

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A view of the old medieval town of Bonifacio from a cliff walking path.

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The last part of the ascent into the bastion of Bonifacio.

No wonder this town withstood numerous sieges, and was considered such a strategic spot. One siege by the King of Aragon (a region of modern Spain) lasted for 3 months. In the end, the King, even with his mighty fleet, could not take Bonifacio and he left in defeat in early 1421.

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Looking down on Bonifacio’s harbor from the bastion.

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Another view of the walls surrounding Bonifacio. You can walk along most sections of the walls.

We spent two days here and you could easily spend more. This is perhaps the most popular spot on Corsica, and it does receive cruise ship visitors. There are a number of beaches in the vicinity and good coastal walks too.

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The steep Escalier du Roy D’Aragon (King of Aragon’s Stairway) can be appreciated from a boat excursion. This stairway accessed a water supply in medieval times.

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Climbing the 187 steps of the Escalier du Roy D’Aragon. Doing this a few times a day will get you in great shape!

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The walk along a pathway below Bonifacio, accessed by the Escalier du Roy D’Aragon.

We took a boat excursion (highly recommended) for a view of the cliffs and old village which somehow clings to the top of the cliffs–you have to wonder when the whole town might fall into the sea.

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A view of Bonifacio from our boat tour. The houses are literally at the edge of the cliffs.

Boats will also take you to nearby islands which have good beaches. Since we were just past the swimming season, we opted for the coastal tour with a glass bottomed boat, and as part of the tour we were able to go into a small secluded grotto and a beautiful small bay-very cool.

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Inside the grotto on our boat excursion.

In my last post, we’ll cover the Roman ruins of Aleria, the interior village of Corte, Calvi and the north eastern city of Bastia.