Categories
2012 France

Climbing on Corsica

This is the report of our cycling trip on Corsica in April 2012. The trip takes us along the rugged west coast, over high roads and through deep gorges. Early in the season, the snowy peaks of the central mountain range are always in sight. In one week, Rudi and I cycle about 650 kilometers and climb 11,600 meters.

Day 1: Ajaccio > Porto (90 km)

From the campsite in Ajaccio we follow the wide and not too difficult D61 and later the D81 to the north. On top of the Bocca San Bastiano (400 m) we see for the first time the snowy peaks of the central mountain range that spans the island from northwest to southeast. We turn left and reach the coast at Pevani via a narrow road, where the waves are crashing against the rocks. At Ancone we have lunch on the sandy beach, where several people are sunbathing.

Between Sagone and Cargèse lies the beautiful Gulf of Sagone. We climb 500 meters through pristine hills to the Bocca di San Martino where we enjoy a beautiful view to the west. Piana is situated magnificently on top of a hill. The Golfe de Porto, snowy mountains and the steep rock formations rising from the sea called Calanches: all of this concentrated in one setting, illuminated by the evening sun. In Porto we find a nice spot on the almost deserted village campsite.

Day 2: Porto > Calvi (83 km)

We continue our route northwards on the D81. The road is well constructed: we climb at a constant gradient along the coast, with occasionally deep ravines on our left side. For a long time we have a beautiful view of the Golfe de Girolata with behind it Scandola, a peninsula that rises steeply from the sea. One can only get there on foot or by boat. At the Col de Parmarella we say goodbye to this exceptional area and descend 400 meters.

Just before Galéria we take the D81 bis, a road with a bad surface until the Bocca Bassa bar. The landscape has been a bit boring for some time now. That changes at the Baie Nichiareto: up to Calvi there are beautiful mountains and rugged coasts, nicely situated in the evening sun. In Calvi we first cycle to the citadel, from where we can look out on the snowy peaks in the southeast. After a snack we settle down on 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 continue on the D451. For a long time this road goes up at a mild gradient towards the hills, and once there suddenly via some steep (10-15%) hairpin bends to the strategically located Montemaggiore. The view from the D71 on Calvi, the villages on top of the hills and the clear blue sea in the background is great.

The road stays at approximately the same altitude from Cateri for a long time and leads through and past small villages that seem to be glued to the mountains. Via the narrow D663 we reach Speloncato. From this village the D63 leads steeply (8-13% with peaks towards the 20%) up to the Groce d’Olu (1,100 m). Here we enjoy the spectacular views, from the lighthouse behind Calvi all the way to the extreme end of Cap Corse.

On top of the pass road we order coke at a restaurant. I ask the host if the track to the northeast, which is marked with a dashed line on our map, is feasible, and he answers ‘Tout neuf!’. In reality it turns out to be a bad jeep track, but with its 360 degree view it is the icing on the cake. After having bounced down 400 meters, we take the D963 for a while and then descend further east on the N197.

After five kilometers on the N197 we turn left and reach Novella via a road along a railway line. What follows is a grandiose descent over a narrow, winding and recently asphalted chemin communal to the north, right through a green and completely deserted area. We cross the N1197 and at dusk we reach the port of St. Florent via the beautiful Désert des Agriates.

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

In the middle of the night, the wind from the west becomes very strong. Not continuously, but with gusts. At first, we hear a rising sound, followed by strong gusts of wind that put the new tent to the test. In the morning, the wind has become even stronger while the mountains on the Cap Corse are shrouded in ominous air. That doesn’t bode well. We had in mind to do a tour du Cap Corse, but instead we decide to skip the Cap and head south.

Via the narrow D238 we go to Oletta. It is only a few kilometers out of the coast but the weather improves noticeably. We climb steadily over the D38 to the Col de Bigorno (885 m). Like most mountain roads on Corsica, this road has a moderate gradient of 4 to 5%. In front of us the picturesque village of Lento is bathing in sunlight, where we arrive after several sharp hairpins. It’s very beautiful here.

Next we take the D105, which runs via Canavaggia to Ponte Leccia. This is a wonderful, elevated road, with continuously offers views of the snow-topped mountains in Corsica’s central area. After about twelve kilometers we descend via a beautiful series of hairpin bends. After riding south on the wide N193 for a while, we stop at the Francardo natural campsite.

Day 5: Francardo > Corte (100 km)

Normally, cycling from Francardo to Corte would only take 45 minutes. However, today we want to make a detour. Now that we are here, we head for the Col de Vergio, the highest through pass on the island. After a few kilometers the Scala di Santa Regina starts, an increasingly narrow gorge with rugged mountains on both sides, and in the middle the mountain stream Le Gelo.

When we arrive at the reservoir, we sit on a bench in front of the supermarket and have lunch when suddenly three cows are walking on the street and in between the cars. On Corsica, straying cows and wild boars on the road are quite normal. About the pass that follows: Rudi is enthusiastic about it, but I don’t really like it. Not the twenty kilometers of false flat to the pass height, nor the wide road from the tiny ski resort.

From the Col de Vergio (1,477 m) we quickly go back along the reservoir and through the Regina gorge, and turn right at Ponte Costirla to Corte. After 300 meters of climbing, we have a magnificent view of the mountains that rise behind Corte. The evening sun illuminates the meadows and orchards in an astonishing way. Corte itself is a nice old university town with a castle on top of a rocky peak. After some searching and climbing, we find a nice campsite northwest of the city.

Day 6: Corte > Tattone (60 km)

This morning we will visit the ‘star attraction’ Valle de Restonica. This turns out to be a beautiful road: varied, with many bends, through forests, and with steep mountains around us and snowy peaks in the distance. The first part up to the bridge is at a moderate gradient (5 to 10%), while the second part is narrower and much steeper (9 to 15%).

From the end point (1,382 m) we return to Corte and then continue southwards. Where possible we avoid the wide and busy N193; we cut off at Botro and Santo-Pietro-di-Venaco (and gain considerably extra height). After a long descent to Pont du Vecchio there’s a climb to Vivario where motorists drive very fast. We’re not allowed to stand at Camping du Soleil near Tattone, because it doesn’t open until a few days later. We find refuge a bit further on, on a deserted campsite next to the railway line.

Day 7: Tattone > Capitoro (117 km)

From the abandoned campsite we immediately climb (15 to 20%) to the N193, and from there on to the Col de Sorba (1,250 m). This road is quite nicely constructed with hairpin bends in the upper part, but it’s a pity that track drills are making the entire pass road a few meters wider. While Rudi is performing an interval training today, I have my own troubles. Actually, I always have something to complain about: one day it’s saddle pain or cramps, and the other day itching in my eyes. And today it’s coping with the heat.

There is no shop in Ghisoni, so we have a sandwich at some bar. The owner asks where we come from. When he hears ‘The Netherlands’, he immediately shouts ‘Johnny Rep, captain of the FC Bastia!’ I don’t know Johnny Rep, and have no interest in football… After this, the Col de Verde (1,289 m) follows. This one is a lot more boring than the previous one and the views of the surrounding landscape are not inspiring as well. We descend quickly to Cozzaro, where we take the D757 to Grosseto. This is quite a nice road, except for the last, wide stretch to the Col de Granace (865 m).

In the intended finish town of Grossetto there appears to be no camping site, and it’s already 6.50 pm. We decide to cycle another 35 kilometers to a campsite at the coast. We go via Albitreccia to the Bosca d’Aja di Bastiano. Especially the last seven kilometers of the D55 are very beautiful. Then we turn right and continue on the D302 in the direction of Ajaccio. This is the ultimate descent: continuous 5% on a curved road. Near the campsite and just before sunset we enjoy a beautiful view of the Golfe d’Ajaccio.

Dag 8: Capitoro > Ajaccio (25 km)

On this last day it’s really hot. It is 32 °C in the shade and completely windless. We would have liked to make a big tour, but we lack the energy. That’s why we take a rest and read and drink a lot. Halfway through the afternoon we take a small detour through a rather uninteresting environment to the campsite in Ajaccio. It’s time to fly back.

Statistics

– Day 1: Ajaccio > Porto (90 km; 1,544 altitude meters)
– Day 2: Porto > Calvi (83 km; 1,050 alt.m)
– Day 3: Calvi > St. Florent (108 km; 2,022 alt.m)
– Day 4: St. Florent > Francardo (72 km; 1,311 alt.m)
– Day 5: Francardo > Corte (100km; 1,643 alt.m)
– Day 6: Corte > Tattone (60 km; 1,784 alt.m)
– Day 7: Tattone > Capitoro (117 km; 1,924 alt.m)
– Day 8: Capitoro > Ajaccio (25 km; 350 alt.m)