Solo Cycling Corsica
So I came up with an idea: Cycling Corsica! It's cycle-friendly, relatively close and the temperature is mild. Then the sea during winter always fascinated me (me, living in the mountains!!).
Ok, once decided the destination, I had to plan my itinerary, just the basic track. The ferry leaves from Savona and the morning after stops in Bastia: from there, after loading my bike with a tent and the panniers, to the north to Cap Corse
, then Calanches
, with Calvi
and all the small ports of the western coast until Ajaccio and Propriano
, then towards the backcountry towards Bastia
and visit to Corte
and the hinterland, more attractive than the coast. I will have to cut my itinerary in Aullene
, and arrive in Solenzara
, due to my bad training (I only cycled 300 km before the start!). I've always believed that a bicycle trip helps to discover places at a slow pace
, allowing to taste better the road: if I continued on the planned itinerary, I'd run too much, being all the time on the saddle, and I wouldn't have appreciated the landscapes and the meetings... the trip! And that's what matters when we travel.
After having planned the itinerary of my cycling Corsica
, Saturday is dedicated to the preparation of the bicycle and the panniers
: as always it's hard to choose the few clothes to bring along, without forgetting nothing fundamental and thinking about the temperature we're going to face. Gloves, warm trousers, and jumper, windbreaker, k-way, hat...
but will all these clothes fit in the panniers? A hell of a preparation: but as Leopardi said: "il naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare..."
("And being shipwrecked is sweet to me in this sea"
, maybe he didn't mean it about a bicycle trip?). After some years of abstinence from the bicycle
, I'm pleased to organize one in one day and a half, even if it is a miny trip and maybe I won't complete it due to the lack of training... But let's jump into my Corsica
by bicycle trip!
Leg 1: Bastia - St. Florent - 133 km
Right away a very long day ahead: after the night spent on the ferry and the arrival in Bastia
t 7 A.M., I look for a café to get changed and have some breakfast. So here I am, ready for this adventure! The dawn welcomes me on the island.
The first kilometers are the strangest ones, as always! That weight on the rear tire isn't something I'm used to, so it takes some time to get the feeling. Then everything gets more natural: the ascent slower, the gear higher, the descent less stable... and I'm already out of Bastia, beyond Erbalunga
: the traffic gets less hectic and some cyclists passing by, with a look of mixed shock and envy, greet me, and I wave back. There's no time to stop, the coast forced the construction of a windy road adapted to it, and it's all in and out, a demanding up and down for my untrained legs. In the meantime, I get closer to Cap Corse
, the road starts climbing up, to cross east to west this part of the land.
to my left, I feel a little sound on the rear, I stop and realize that one of the two bolts of my carrier broke and I'm forced to proceed with caution to the next village uphill, in Ersa
, where I meet a gentle farmer who helps me fix my problem, so I can continue towards Centuri
. There I climb down to the port and I have lunch with a delicious baguette and Corsica cold cuts, next to some sunburned mariners. After a while I start again, despite I rode 70 km, I'm only halfway through towards St. Florent. Speaking of distances, don't trust the signs on the road: the distances are wrong, many times it's more than the distance marked on them! The windy road is very narrow, and basically all mine: I met 10 cars during the whole afternoon. The landscape is wonderful and I almost run over some sheep passing by on the road. After this brief forced stop, I keep cycling, leaving back Pino
, reaching St. Florent
for the night, very tired.
Leg 2: St. Florent - 15 km from Galeria - 99 km
Another tough day, right away uphill from St. Florent to reach, after 10 km, to a deserted upland, where an unusual show awaits me: on one of the rocky peaks around, a storm of seagulls is making a terrible noise and surrounding a predatory who failed its attack.
Following the road, after this unusual distraction, I pass by the group of houses part of Santo Pietro and I start descending towards Ile Rousse. The road is empty (I meet more or less 5 cars) until the very end of the descent, 15 km from Ile Rousse. From now on, until Calvi, the road gets pretty busy, even if with a large emergency section to be used. Once in Ile Rousse, I stop to have some fresh fruit which I previously bought in a shop and I realize that some clouds are forming at the horizon.
With my faithful MTB, I continue towards Calvi
, the next destination. Once again, there's no flat surface, only up and downhill. At the peak of the last ascent, in the village of Lumio, on the horizon, I can sight a plain in front of me, and a wide gulf with a village at the top of it: what a show! Down to Calvi! The first thing I do is going to the beach to rest a bit. Meanwhile, the menacing clouds left space for the sun to warm me up. After this moment of relaxing and a little run to the market, I visit the upper part of the city, with its beautiful views. It's still early, and I decide to continue on the road towards Galeria
along the coast: if you ever pass by, and have the opportunity to choose, please follow this road and not the internal one: the show of the Calanches
at sunset is amazing! The road is very narrow, but nobody uses it (I don't want to think about the summer...) overhanging the sea. The sun paints the rocks and makes everything perfect.
I spot an old kiosk and I decide to camp there, but in 10 minutes a guy shows up and asks me to leave. So I ask him whether there is a place to stay nearby, and he points me an old castle on the top of the hill, so I move there all my stuff using my front light. For today I hope the surprises are over, and even if it seems stupid (I obviously didn't think about it at the moment): don't place your tent in a private property, even if it seems uninhabited!
Leg 3: 15 km from Galeria - Porto - 73 km
It's only my third-day cycling in Corsica
but it looks like I've been here for months. The roads don't trick me anymore: after an uphill, there's always a downhill, but once down there, there's another ascent! The plain does not exist. Today, after the night in the tent I woke up early and after a great breakfast with bread and ham, I pack my things and come down from the castle descent where I ended up yesterday. Once on the saddle, the direction is always the same: towards the South, Galeria
, an isolated village on the sea, with UNESCO heritage coast, like Girolata just a bit more south, giving fame to the area and all the Calanches.
After a little detour to visit a village outside of the main road, I'm on the right way towards Partinello
and then Porto. After a few kilometers, I find out I'll have to face an 11 km ascent (actually it's 12!) until the mouth of Palmicella
. The gradients aren't too much, but with 30 kg of luggage, you can feel it all. Nevertheless, a classic of every bicycle trip, a flat tire! Uphill... at least I can rest a bit. Once at the top, I'm forced to keep my handlebar still because of the wind, but I find out I'm only at 400 m above sea level. Once more, some construction works on the road obligate me to ride 10 km of gravel downhill. The gulf of Girolata
and its thousands of little beaches alternating to rock formations are a pretty good show, from the top of the road. Once reached the village of Partinello
, down and up again for 3-4 km, before reaching the destination of Porto
. Today I end my track pretty early, so I can enjoy the sea during winter. While I walk on the deserted streets of the village, I think about the hundreds of people crowding it, and I realize I'm pretty lucky having this possibility, listening only to the water crashing into the rocks.
Leg 4: Porto - Propriano - 160 km
After a quiet day, a good track awaits me today. Yesterday walking in Porto I met two crazy Spanish guys who are traveling around Corsica by bicycle. Since we're staying in the same hotel, we had a little chat, and I discovered that Luis and Tony, from Alicante, are having a 10-days trip, leaving from Ajaccio, then Bonifacio, then Corte and then down to Porto. They'll end their trip following backward my itinerary to Bastia. After an exchange of contacts and addresses, I asked them about the road from Sartene to Corte and discovered that I'll have to cross three hills (1300 m) and that it's a 150 km leg. It's tough to complete in one day with luggage and my level of training... After the start in direction of Ajaccio, I wonder whether to cut my original itinerary or try it anyway. Since my initial itinerary was "only" of 80 km to Ajaccio, I decide to cycle to Propriano. The first kilometers, all uphill, are majestic, crossing the Calanches of Piana
, pieces of art built by Nature in the rocks. After Piana, I have to raise the pace, if I want to arrive on time.
I ride through Cargese
without noticing, and I start a 7-8 km uphill road to altitude 400 m. I've almost arrived at the top, and I notice the beautiful view from here. After some pictures down again towards Ajaccio
, which I only touch to arrive in Porticcio
. 4-5 km of a very busy road and I have to make a choice: if I took the main road, there'd be only 75 km to Sartene, a little city 15 km south of Propriano. The traffic and the desire to enjoy the view from the coastal road make me choose the longest way. A few kilometers after the decision, an old French cyclist tells me that... well... I don't understand anything, except "sur la mer", so I stay here "sur la mer". I leave a crossing towards Coti-Chiavari
, and up and down I keep following the cyclist's advice not taking into consideration that following my map I should be on the way to Propriano
. Fascinated by the windy road and the view on this coastal road, I then stop at a kiosk to ask for some information, thinking I have 25 km left, but actually it's 40! I'm scared: will I manage to ride before the sunset? I don't want to use the tent right now, I must ride faster, so I put aside my camera despite the stunning sunset (it will stay in my memory only) and I touch the village of Propriano at 6.30 P.M. with my rear light on. The hotel I'm staying in is the very same my parents stayed at, some years ago. Very tired, I take a look at my cycling computer: 160 km! At least, I'm prepared to what comes next, tomorrow... maybe!
Leg 5: Propriano - Solenzara - 113 km
Mission aborted. I won't be able to finish the itinerary I planned ("planned" is a strong word since I looked at the itinerary the day before leaving... The initial idea was to pass through the backcountry, by Zicavo and Corte, to then come down to Bastia at the end. Today I chose to modify my plan and make it easier and shorter because it would have transformed into a run against time, and I couldn't have enjoyed the views as much as I want to.
Let's get back to this morning: leaving Propriano very early to arrive in Ghisoni early is mandatory, climbing up to Aullene, Zicavo, and the Col de Verde. I leave towards Sartene and after 3-4 km uphill, a majestic village appears behind a curve, at the top of the hill, with narrow roads and a super lit square, similar to Umbria or Tuscany. From Sartene I'm back in the valley (I figure out that I could have avoided the uphill part, but I would have missed the village!), towards Aullene, in the backcountry. The road gets tougher, and after 30 km uphill I'm finally in Aullene, 850 m high above sea level. Here I have to decide: towards the coast to reach Bastia tomorrow and having Sunday off, or follow the backcountry road to run to Zicavo and Ghisoni completing the initial idea passing by Corte? I ask a very kind guy, who tells me some very interesting stories, and then I follow my legs and continue towards the coast and Zonza. Every km I ride I'm more and more convinced I made the right choice: without staying in the places I pass by, and speak to the locals, and always thinking about arriving... it's not the spirit of a trip based on "slow" and "discovery".
After this short (or maybe too long) digression about my interior conflict, let's get back on track. From Aullene to Zonza the road is like on the coast, down and then up. In a village I can enjoy a lunch break, knowing that today I won't have to turn my bicycle rear lights on before reaching my destination. I still have 10 km uphill (500 m of elevation gain) to reach Col de Bavella (1243 m). Once on top, the clouds surround me, and one picture after and wearing the windbreaker, down we ride for the last 10 km, until Solenzara, completing the crossing West to East in one day.
Leg 6: Solenzara - Bastia - 115 km
After a lot of effort and sweat, here I am at the starting point! Externally I am sunburned, but inside it's totally different. Six days ago I was looking forward to exploring, riding, leaving... Now I am satisfied, tired, pleased. Sitting here, at a café of the new port in Bastia, in front of a beer to celebrate, in front of me I see all the picturesque places I've ridden in: leaving the ferry, the sunset in St. Florian, the wonderful roads of the western coast, the endless uphill road to Col de Bavella, and finally the busy eastern coast. Everything part of this journey will be part of my memories, likewise or maybe more than the other trips so far, because being alone amplifies the feelings, having nobody to share and split the experiences. Let's come back to today's leg: from Solenzara to Bastia, the road is straight and way less up and down as the previous days. And so the landscape is more boring. For sure it's the less interesting leg of my journey: if you have to possibility, avoid this road! To sparkle the day a misadventure: I leave the hotel without taking back my identity card, but when I realize it, I rode almost 60 km already. What to do now? It'll become a 120 km or more day... or I could go to Bastia than take a bus and hope to make it on time back for the ferry, or spend a fortune on a taxi... I'm too tired, and I choose to ride a bit faster, arrive in Bastia (arriving at 1.30 P.M.) ending here my cycling Corsica trip, to then visit the "gendarmerie" to discover whether I can come back to Italy. The kindest policewoman on earth helps me filling a missing form, which will definitely help. I can relax and look for a hotel, visit Bastia and... finding myself in this bar writing the conclusion to this article about this wonderful adventure by bicycle in Corsica!
It's time to draw a conclusion to this "beautiful madness" (as I called it before leaving). This trip ends and the melancholy (like every "last day") travels with me. What to say about this bicycle trip in Corsica? Far less exotic than the USA on the road and less adventurous than my Patagonia by bicycle, but it's for sure a special one for me: firstly because it's my graduation gift, so it draws a line between the "before" and "after" the graduation, and partially because it's a solo bicycle travel.
Many said "it's so lonely and sad to travel alone!", but I tend to disagree because it's not being alone in the middle of the people, but in the middle of Nature, with isolated and silent landscapes.
About Corsica, I am a bit sad not to have seen the internal part of the island: Ghisoni, the Col de Verde, Zicavo, Corte; but for sure the western coast and Cap Corse are worth the trip. And maybe they have a little more value being February, in the lower season. I really enjoyed Aullene and Zonza in the backcountry, as like as Sartene. A little less interesting the eastern coast, but I knew it all along, mainly for cyclists having to face a pretty busy road, and less "panoramic". The city of Bastia, for what I could see in the morning, is very pretty: concentrated around the old port, with the Cathedral on the top and the citadel inside the walls...
Au revoir, Corsica!
Cycling Corsica was the first destination of my solo bicycle trips. After this experience, it was time for the Balkans, an exciting adventure for slow travelers!
The other soul of lifeintravel
, Vero, has visited Corsica some years after my experience... let's discover all the other articles about bicycle touring in France like Loire à Vélo