Log #34j Corsica – Ajaccio to Bonifacio

May 15, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 34 Rome - Corsica - Sardinia, The Logs

Toulon, France

May 15, 2005

Hi Folks,

We have been in this Southern France area for several days now at anchor in various coves and islands and now here in Toulon the major French naval base in the Med. We met up with our friends, Jaques and Andrée in Sardinia and had a long 36 hour motor trip across to Provence. All is well with us and our friends, and we enjoy when they take us out for meals and when they do the dishes for us when we eat on board.

All the best,

Aubrey


 

Log #34j Corsica – Ajaccio to Bonifacio

Enroute to Provence

May 11, 2005

We departed our mooring at Ajaccio (41˚ 55.11’ N, 008˚ 44.58’ E) by 1030 after visiting Musee a Bandera, a Corsican history museum. The old port was a good marina charging 19.00 Euros a night, including tailed moorings with water and electricity, showers and laundry nearby. We motored most of the 25 miles to Propriano with only 2½ hours with a light wind giving us assistance for some motor sailing. The marina responded to our VHF call and a lady was there to take our lines, putting us alongside in front of the marina office ((41˚ 40.59’N, 008˚ 54.22’E). The fee was a standard 20.00 Euro including water and electricity (which we didn’t need) and one or two euros for a shower. There was construction work ongoing to upgrade the marina, making it an attractive part of the town dock area.

Propriano is an unassuming small town with a shoreline drive sprouting restaurants, ice cream parlours, souvenir shops and boutiques. We were looking for a car rental to go to Filitosa, the site of a Neolithic settlement, but one had no insurance until June and the other was not yet open for the season. However we saw an attractive woman sitting in a black Mercedes taxi, and asked her the fee for a trip out there, an hour at the site, and return. Her price of 60.00 Euros was reasonable as we would have had to spend more to rent a car or motor scooter, and the taxi would get us there that day, allowing us to leave next day. It worked out well.

The taxi driver seemed to know everyone in town, waving and greeting many friends as she drove out of town. The winding road was very scenic, going around the bay before heading inland to Filitosa. She also knew the owner of the site, and was quite happy to have a cup of coffee and chat with him while we went through the ruins. It was a well organized location with a path leading into rock strewn hills, and each site having a speaker system in multiple languages describing the location’s significance. The remains date back to 4000 BC, from a megalithic culture known for their statue-menhirs. Their use is uncertain, whether religious, militaristic, phallic, or clan, but this site has over 30% of all the Corsican statue-menhirs discovered. These are erect granite slabs carved with shallow faces, some with weapons and regalia. This society was overcome by the Torreens in about 1100 BC who in turn toppled the menhirs and built their signature structures of torri (towers) around the landscape. Many Torreens migrated south to Sardinia where their conical stone edifices are known as nuraghi, a modification of the torri found in Corsica. The natural stone shelters and caves used by the Torreens were fascinating and understandable as the granite stone slabs covering depressions and sanctuaries still provide shelter today. Many of the rocks could be interpreted as images seen from different angles. One of the more dominant ones was of a dinosaur, its neck and head extending beyond the body of granite. It was quite obvious how Neolithic tribes could use these natural rock shelters as a tribal base and construct the torri and nuraghi, and later still, castelli for group defense, worship or domiciles.

Back in sleepy old Propriano, after a late supper we couldn’t even find an ice cream stand open, and so had an early night, leaving next morning for Bonifacio. It was another 34 mile motor trip, the first few hours in fairly thick fog. This was only the third or fourth time we have encountered fog since leaving Toronto in 1998. It burned off shortly after noon, but made us keep a sharp lookout as the visibility was down to 100 yards several times. As we left Propriano we could see the banks of fog on the water, creeping up the inlet but not extending inland. Rounding Point de Campomoro, we headed down the indented south west coast of Corsica which has many small bays and anchorages, ideal for gunkholing, lunch stops and sandy beaches for swimming. We went between the rocky shoal strewn bank of Les Moines and the mainland with no problems in the clear settled weather. However I would not like to be so close to it in heavy seas, poor visibility, or with a non-functioning GPS.

Around the southwestern tip of Cape de Ferro the landscape changed to dramatic chalk cliffs similar to the “White Cliffs of Dover” as we approached Bonifacio. There were several calas (long narrow openings indenting the coastline) including the 1.5 kilometre long inlet leading beneath the fortifications of Bonifacio to the marina at the end. Before entering Bonifacio we explored, in Veleda, Cala de Paragnano and Anse de Fazzuolo, two interesting bays that would make great anchorages, especially out of season, in glorious cliff-walled beauty. Inside the cala leading to Bonifacio the Calanque de la Catena would also make a good economical (free) anchorage from which to dinghy into Bonifacio. However, we went in to the marina for a night (41˚ 23.30’N, 009˚ 09.82’E) at the reasonable rate of 14.00 Euros including tailed moorings, water and electricity (although we were not able to connect up to the water system). Showers were 2 Euros each, a charge which, I assume from the several places we have been, allows greater control over the use and cleanliness of them. Along the marina street and lower town were many restaurants, tourist shops, dive and tripper boat kiosks, and a few supermarkets, butcher shops and bakeries. The upper town inside the fortifications was a serious walk uphill which we chose not to take. Instead, next day we caught a tour bus that took us up to the upper town and fortifications and would let us hop on and off. We got off after it meandered through the upper town giving us an overview of the situation.

Upper Bonifacio is an interesting medieval walled town inside the fortress, with narrow cobblestone streets and steep-staired apartments above the street level boutiques, restaurants and tourist shops. At the outer end of the fortification was a cemetery containing stone walkways, with family crypts rather than individual graves. Incongruously, there was a modern hotel just outside it, with a fantastic view over the dramatic white limestone coastline, a couple of cruise ships anchored below, offloading their cutters with tourists to swamp the town. Behind the hotel I explored the abandoned French Foreign Legion caserne (deserted only two or three years ago) and wandered through the accommodation blocks, mess halls, officers’ and enlisted ranks’ clubs, and across the deserted parade squares. On the desolate cracked and chipped walls of the enlisted ranks’ clubs were still the colourful macho and bravado-filled crests, pictures, regiment and company logos, complete with weapons, tanks, parachutes, voluptuous women, skulls, and blood-dripping symbols to encourage them or represent their conquests. There is a sadness, a hollowness, in the echoes of abandoned buildings, especially military, which once housed living human beings; where they structured their lives, education, training, careers, hopes, disappointments, successes, friends, families, and social and ceremonial occasions (as well as preparing for deployments and battle in some of the hotspots of the world).

In medieval times Bonifacio withstood The Great Siege of 1420 by the King of Aragon, his fleet and army, against the Genoese garrison of Bonifacio, the last holdout for Genoa in Corsica after Calvi was taken. The town held out from August until December, the final strategy being for the townspeople, civilians, to dress in the clothes of dead soldiers to appear to the Aragonese a relief force from Genoa, winning more time until Genoa actually sent reinforcements, forcing the attackers to withdraw. After a mutiny in Calvi, all the Aragonese in Corsica withdrew in January of 1421, leaving the fractious island in Genoese control until French hegemony in the 18th century.

We enjoyed Bonifacio and could easily have spent several more days in the area anchored in various calas, enjoying the spectacular cliffs and shoreline of this southern tip of Corsica. Bonifacio Strait, a windy strategic body of water that separates Corsica from Sardinia, leads eastwards towards the Iles Levezzi, a maze of shoals and rocky islands off SE Corsica, and the Maddalena Islands off NE Sardinia. As we motored towards the northern group of the Maddalena Islands, we passed Ile Levezzi, where La Semillante, a French frigate, foundered on its rocky shoals en route to the Crimean War in February of 1855, killing all 773 people, crew and troops, on board. The island is now a national park, on which we saw, as we passed a mile off shore, the chapel, cemetery, and obelisk in commemoration of those lost lives. A few days later we were to wait out the fury of the west winds howling through the strait, similar to the ones that drove La Semillante onto the rocks. However we had an uneventful but tricky entry into Cala Lunga on the west coast of the fantastically distorted, upthrust ochre red granite rocks of Isola Razzoli in La Maddalena Northern Group, Sardinia, for a secluded quiet anchorage (41˚ 17.94’N, 009˚ 20.59’E) under the stars and a new moon, with the craggy silhouettes of the rocky shores encompassing us on three sides. More about this surreal geologically landscaped anchorage in my next log.