Major Menhirs and the Fortes of Piana

We arrived in Bastia at the northern end of Corsica around noon, and immediately set off to redeem our confirmation as an actual ferry ticket. We had done this before boarding in Livorno, but the agent in Bastia said we had to go to the ticket office, which was closed until 2pm. So we found an actual parking place, and bought some French stamps, cheaper than Italy by half, even accounting for the guy overcharging us by 4 euros. We were not making it easier for him, going through all his commemoratives to solve the linear programming diaphantine equation that is post card philately. This took about 90 minutes, so it was time to get the ferry ticket. We bought bread and had a pique-nique in a minor park, eating a prefab Greek salad and some finocchiona sausage we’d gotten in Massa Marittima. While we were eating, we got the most elaborate “ZZ Top” shout-out to date. Two bums, of the sort you clutch your camera to your side when they approach, paused about ten meters in front of us and played around with their cell phone: after a couple of minutes they did a “She’s Got Legs” walk to our bench, accompanied by the music they had just downloaded for the occasion.

We drove across the island to Ajaccio, where we stayed two nights. Our airbnb host met us at our car and helped us take our luggage to his place nearby. His tiny son pulled the suitcase. After the five-flight walkup in Livorno, we were thrilled to have a one-flight walkup. He also did our laundry, starting it a second time because he thought it still smelled. I will have to read his review of us on airbnb to hear his side of this. We found an excellent Corsican restaurant, Da Mamma, sampled the local sausage, figatellu, and had a fantastic plate of roasted goat and French fries. We call them French fries for a reason.

Corsica is an extremely mountainous island, the most mountainous in the Mediterranean. And so it’s inspiring to see people on bicycles, quite far from town, pedaling up the long inclines. We were mostly on paved roads, though some were quite narrow. One we took had a pair of women on roller skis, pushing themselves along with poles. I’m sure there’s a name for this setup.

Tuesday our mission was to explore prehistoric sites featuring menhirs, or standing stones. First we drove to Filatosa, the most developed park of that type on the island. There were little kiosks that played descriptions in one of four languages; there were lots of lights for nighttime visits. What there weren’t many of were menhirs: one with distinct carvings here, six mostly without there, and another five arranged around a large tree. There was a quarry area. There was much documentation, telling you what shapes and scrivening corresponded to what neolithic cultures, and the best current guesses as to the timing: 4000-1000 BC, about.

Next we went to a place Ray found by extracting the GPS location from a picture he found on Instagram or somewhere. We followed the Garmin down a series of diminishing dirt roads until we came to the smallest road yet, which was blocked with a pile of rocks. On a post on the surrounding fence it said, MENHIRS. We climbed over the rock and continued Garmin-walking an unmarked path through the chapparal which took a few turns but continued generally in the direction of the target lat-long and suddenly through the trees we saw several rows of standing slabs. There may have been 70 or 80 in a very small area. Some of them were standing in groups, a group of 10, a group of 8, a group of 3, etc.; many more had fallen over and were in piles. Still, it was exciting to find so many with so little documentation. They were undecorated, except for three on which you could faintly make out a characteristic “v” that many of the Filitosa menhirs had, which might be interpreted as a sword point. So they weren’t all of the earliest cohort.

Finally we went to the plateau of Cauria, which featured a walk to two small sites with 10 menhirs or so, and a third site with a dolmen, slabs of rock arranged as a shed or mausoleum or house of cards. We returned to Ajaccio, found a parking spot near the airbnb (a task made much easier by the tininess of the car), and went to dinner at a Sardinian restaurant on the port, having a plate of spaghetti with bottarga.

Wednesday we checked out of the airbnb and drove up the coast toward the Calanches of Piana, a World Heritage site in the national park which makes up about a third of Corsica. Just north of the town of Piana, the impression is of Zion National Park in Utah, red rock in pretty formations. A calanche turns out to be an inlet where rock has collapsed, and we stopped frequently to take pictures. The most frequently-photographed rock has a hole in it the shape of a heart.

When we were talking to the owner of the restaurant we ate in the last night in Venice, he told us about a friend on Corsica who runs a restaurant that we were driving past anyway. We found it and stopped, but it turned out it was closed on Wednesdays. So we continued to Bastia, where there was another airbnb (at which we could park in the yard), and a cute restaurant where the fish guy walks around in rubber boots and apron. Everything was quite good. We chose “loup” roasted with fennel seed; the waiter explained that this was seabass. Ray supposed that “loup”, wolf in French, indicated that this might be a fish renamed for marketing purposes: who wants to eat wolf-fish?