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Corsica, France (2012)

Report of a cycling trip on Corsica in April 2012. The road takes us along the rough west coast, over high passes and through deep canyons. The mountains in the central area are beautifully covered with snow this early in the season. In one week, Rudi and I cycle some 650 km and climb 11,600 m up the mountains.

Day 1: Ajaccio > Porto (90 km)

From the camping we first follow the wide and not too difficult D61 and next the D81 to the north. On top of the 400 m high Bocca San Bastiano (“bocca” = col) we can see the central mountain chain, which is situated from the north-west to the south-east, and that has its tops covered with snow. We turn left and take a narrow road to the coast near Pevani where the waves bash the shore. In Ancone we have lunch on the sandy beach on which several people are sunbathing.

Between Sagone and Cargèse the landscape gets more interesting, with nice views of the Golfe de Sagone. We climb 500 m through green hills. From the Bocca di San Martino we have a magnificent view to the west. Piana is exceptionally situated on top of a hill. Golfe de Porto, mountains covered with snow and last but not least the famous Calanches – rock formations rising steeply out of the water: all framed in one picture and enlightened by the evening sun. In Porto we find a nice spot on the nearly abandoned camp site.

Day 2: Porto > Calvi (83 km)

We keep heading north on the D81. The road is well engineered: a constant but moderate slope along the coast, sometimes with deep cliffs at our left side. We have a splendid view of the Golfe de Girolata, behind which we can see Scandola, a peninsular rising steeply from the sea. On the Col de Parmarella we say goodbye to this lovely area and descend 400 m.

Just before Galéria we take the D81-bis, a very bad road up to Bocca Bassa. The landscape, which has been quite boring for some now, changes abruptly when we reach the Baie Nichiareto: from here to Calvi we can see the beautiful mountains and rough coasts again. At our destination in Calvi we head for the citadel from which we have a good view of the white summits in the south-east. After a snack we go at the municipal camping where we try to hide from the fierce wind.

Day 3: Calvi > St. Florent (108 km)

After a few kilometers on the busy N197 we take the D451. This road continues to the hills at a mild slope. There we have to conquer several 10-15% hairpins in order to arrive in Montemaggiore. This village is strategically situated on a “saddle” between the hills and the high mountains. From the D71 we have a panoramic view of Calvi, the villages on top of the hills as well as the bright blue sea.

From Cateri the road, which stays more or less at the same altitude, brings us through and along little villages that seem to be “glued” to the mountains. Next we take the narrow D663 to Speloncato. From here the D63 goes to Groce d’Olu – often 8-13% and sometimes up to 20% - ending at 1100 m.
From this pass road we have one of this week’s most stunning views: from Calvi light house at our left all the way to Cap Corse’s north cape.

On top of the col there is a restaurant where we order two cokes. I ask the host if the unpaved high altitude road that is projected on my map is doable, and his answer is ‘Tout neuf!’ Of course in reality the road is a really, really bad jeep track. Nevertheless, thanks to the 360 degree view it will be a highlight of our Corsica trip. After an hour or so of severe bouncing and dropping 400 m in altitude, we reach the tarmac and take the D963 and N197 to the east.

We turn left and take a narrow road that climbs to Novella alongside a railroad. From there we descent spectacularly on a narrow, recently paved and continuously meandering “chemin communal” to the north, through a green and completely desolated area. Then we cross the N1197 and follow the wide road through the beautiful Désert des Agriates. It is almost dark when we arrive in the coastal town of St. Florent.

Day 4: St. Florent > Francardo (72 km)

In the middle of the night the western wind starts blowing very hard. Not continuously, but with heavy blasts every now and then. The squalls test my new tent quite thoroughly. We had in mind to do a “tour du Cap Corse”, but with the wind getting fiercer and the mountains covered in dark clouds, this seems a bad idea. So we decide to skip the Cap and head south instead.

From St. Florent we take the narrow D238 to Oletta. It is only a few kilometers out of the coast but the weather improves significantly. We take the D38 and climb to the Col de Bigorno at 885 m. Like most mountain roads in Corsica, this road has a mild slope of about 4 to 5%. In front of us a sun beam lights up the picturesque village of Lento, where we arrive after several sharp hairpins. It is very beautiful up here.

Next we take the D105 that connects Canavaggia to Ponte Leccia. This is a wonderful, high-altitude road, with continuous views of the snow-topped mountains in Corsica’s central area. After some 12 km a series of superb hairpins bring us down. The wide N193 brings us to the south and we stop at Francardo natural camp site.

Day 5: Francardo > Corte (100 km)

From Francardo to Corte would normally cost us 45 minutes. However we take a diversion by climbing the island’s highest pass road, the Col de Vergio (1477 m). Just a few kilometers from the camping the Scala di Santa Regina begins a narrow canyon with rough mountains at both sides in the middle of which the Le Gelo streams peacefully. It is nice here, but can’t compare with the big canyons on the European mainland.

 

In a village next to the reservoir we have lunch on a bench in front of a supermarket, when suddenly three cows stroll down the street. But this is normal on Corsica: cows and later on today also wild boars strolling on the road. About the pass road: Rudi is enthusiastic about it but I am not. The road, which becomes very wide near the tiny ski resort, is rather boring.

We quickly return, first to the reservoir and next through the Regina, and in Ponte Costirla we turn right to Corte. After climbing 300 m we have a magnificent view of the mountains that rise high behind Corte. The evening sun lights up the meadows and orchards in a very special way. Amazing! Corte itself is a nice old university town with a castle high up the hill. We have to search for some time before we find the lovely camp site at the north west side of the city.

Day 6: Corte > Tattone (60 km)

On today’s menu is Val de Restonica: a top destination according to the tourist guides; something we can’t neglect. And I must admit it is a wonderful road: varied, with lots of curves, through forests, with steep mountains all around us tops covered with snow further away. The first part up to the bridge is moderately steep, 5 to 10%. The second part to the restaurant is narrower and, above all, much steeper, between 9 to 15%.

We return to Corte and move on to the south. Where possible we avoid the wide and busy N193; we cut off at Botro and Santo-Pietro-di-Venaco (and gain some extra height). After a long descent to Pont du Vecchio we climb to Vivario. Cars pass by with 100 km/h speed difference. When we arrive at Camping du Soleil we are not allowed to stay here, although the camp site will officially be open in a few days. How sad… We have no other option than to find refuge on an abandoned camping nearby the railroad.

Day 7: Tattone > Capitoro (117 km)

Our warming-up is the 15-20% steep climb from the abandoned camping to the N193. We continue right away to the Col de Sorba at 1250 m. This is a nice pass road, with three hairpins near the summit. It is a shame though that track drills are making the complete road nearly twice as wide. While Rudi is doing is interval training, I have my own troubles. Actually, I have complains every day. Saddle-sore, cramps, itches in my eyes… Today it is the heat.

In Ghisoni there is no shop, forcing us to order a sandwich in a bar. The owner wonders where we come from. When he hears “the Netherlands” he shouts “Johny Rep, captain de FC Bastia!” Right. Time to move on to the next pass, the Col de Verde. This one is quite boring and we can’t enjoy the surroundings. So we quickly descent to Cozzaro where we take the D757 to Grosseto. A nice road, except for the last, wide part to the Col de Granace.

We had intended to finish our trip in Grossetto, but there is no camp site (different from what my “research” back at home showed). And it is 18.50h by now. We decide to prolong our trip and ride another 35 km to the west coast, via Albitreccia and the Bosca d’Aja di Bastiano. In particular the D55’s last 7 km are of extraordinary beauty. Next we take the D302 to Ajaccio. With a slope of 5% and many curves this is one of the best descents ever. Just before sunset we arrive at the coast and have a wonderful view of the Golfe d’Ajaccio.

Dag 8: Capitoro > Ajaccio (25 km)

On this last day of our Corsica trip it is hot: 32 degrees in the shade and there is no wind at all. We don’t feel like doing a long tour today. So we have a rest day, and drink and read a lot. We look like retired people. Late afternoon we ride a detour through a rather uninteresting area to the Ajaccio camp site. We’re done. It’s time to fly back to Holland.

Statistics

- Day 1: Ajaccio > Porto (distance 90 km / climbing 1.544 m)
- Day 2: Porto > Calvi (83 km / 1.050 m)
- Day 3: Calvi > St. Florent (108 km / 2.022 m)
- Day 4: St. Florent > Francardo (72 km / 1.311 m)
- Day 5: Francardo > Corte (100km / 1.643 m)
- Day 6: Corte > Tattone (60 km / 1.784 m)
- Day 7: Tattone > Capitoro (117 km / 1.924 m)
- Day 8: Capitoro > Ajaccio (25 km / 350 m)