Thursday, 8 September 2016

Northern Corsica - September 2016

Once again the club seniors set the pace for new adventures, this time on the beautiful island of Corsica.

Just a two hour flight from Gatwick, Corsica is a little gem, with rugged mountains forming the spine of the island and a varied coastline adding further interest. Cycling has been excellent, with well graded slopes and, for the most part, good surfaces. Using hired top-end 'Look' carbon bikes, we've all enjoyed rolling up and over the many bumps along our way. Corsica doesn't 'do' flat!

Food has been great, fresh fish at every turn and excellent chèvre keeping us healthy, although the local Pietra beer is a little too strong at 6% abv. Our salvation has been the pression Pietra Blonde and some good local wines. But don't expect rapid service anywhere. Corsica has it's own (slow) pace, so our President has had to have a course in patience, delivered by the master of chill, Jan.

So, what of the route?

North from our start point in Bastia quickly led us on to the flat roads on the eastern side of Cap Corse, a very pleasant warm-up with coastal views dotted with Genoese watchtowers and hazy views to Elba, before tackling a 350m ascent to cross to the more rugged west coast. A lunch stop in the small port of Centuri meant a steep descent and a long grind back up on to the main road, with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees, and we had our first test of the trip with the long bumpy haul south to St Florent under clear blue skies and increasing humidity. But a great ride, with some long sweeping descents and fine views. St Florent was a great little spot to overnight in, a bustling little harbour and busy market square. Our first day's effort: 110km and 1,441m of ascent.

A 'flyby' of this stage, courtesy of, is available from this link.

Setting off from Bastia
West coast of Cap Corse

Looking back along the west coast of Cap Corse
St Florent
Suitably refreshed, day two took us southwards from St Florent to the larger town of Calvi. We were soon into some bigger climbs, the first taking us up into an area called the Desert Des Agriates giving us expansive views and a taste of Corsica's wild interior, covered in scrub called maquis. Minor roads with great tarmac took us up the long climb to Novella, a village which probably hasn't changed since the middle ages, and on to the Bocca a Croce at 513m. Plenty of up and down today and our lunch near Belgodère was very restorative after reaching the high point of our day, the Col de San Colombano at 692m. From here we enjoyed a high traversing route towards Muro and then an exhilarating descent to Calvi, made even more exciting by fast moving traffic trying to kill us all on the final stretch into Calvi. Stats for the day: 106.5km and 1,314m of climbing.
Calvi, with it's Citadel and harbour full of powerboats, yachts and super yachts, kept Heyddie fully engaged, and we all enjoyed the contemporary style of our hotel for the night, the Revellata.

Climb out of St Florent

Col de San Colombano

Onwards. Day three's route took us further south along Corsica's west coast, with extensive views, although we had some 10-15km of bad road surfaces across the Capo Mondola area, a trial for our carbon frames and our posteriors. After a quick coffee break in Le Fango, we were straight on to our main climb of the day, a nice but somewhat busy road which led us up gradients of around 5% to the Col de Palmarella at 408m before a fast descent to the Col de la Croix at 269m, both with great coastal views and east to the mountainous interior, the tops now threatened by a big cloud build up which took the temperature down a touch but also producing some challenging gusts of wind on our continuing descent. Lunch in Curzo, then down towards Porto before a final sting in the tail, a 2-3km climb which brought us on to a fabulously exposed section of road which traverses the steep cliffs above Porto.
Arriving in Porto, the sun started to shine again, revealing an interesting little port, with bags of character, a great spot for a rest day! A shorter day today, 'just' 80.5km and 967m of ascent.

A 'flyby' of this stage, courtesy of, is available from this link

Approach to Col de Palmarella

Col de Palmarella

View back on our route from the col

Approach to Porto
Final descent into Porto

Our penultimate ride was a meaty one, leaving Porto and straight on to the climb, a mere 35km uphill at an average gradient in excess of 5%. Very rapidly we were into the dramatic environs of the Gorges de Spelunca, a well surfaced road taking us steadily through it with some fantastic drops to our left. 

Up through the Spelunca Gorge

With some 800m of ascent under our belts, we passed through the pretty hill town of Evisa, spurning any suggestion of a coffee break with the immortal words ‘let’s just get it done’! The next long section of the climb took us up through the tall conifers of the Forêt d’Aitone, which snuffed out the views but gave us much needed protection from the sun, although the temperature was now noticeably cooler due to altitude. Emerging from the forest we reached the Col de Vergio at 1477m, and here took time for an injection of Orangina and salty crisps.


Heyddie, KOM at the Col de Vergio, 1477m

View of our route down to the east of the Col de Vergio
On the way up we had to negotiate around groups of pigs which the local farmers allow to forage alongside the road. A repeat of this, augmented with the odd cow and herds of goat, made the long descent through the Forêt de Valdu Niellu a little more challenging than it needed to be, and our speed was much reduced. 
After we cleared the forest the landscape on this side of the central mountain spine of Corsica is much more arid, and we grabbed a simple lunch in the scruffy little town of Calacuccia, which sits under the bulk of Monte Cinto, Corsica’s highest peak at 2706m.
From here we delighted in an exciting descent though the narrow gorge of Scala di Santa Regina, a narrow road frequented by motorists who took it in turns to try and knock us off our bikes by dangerously cutting corners! 15km of descent was fun though, and emerging at the bottom of the gorge we turned south to climb another 350m, up and over the Col d’Ominanda, before enjoying a fast sweeping descent into the university town (and former capital of Corsica), Corte.

Scala di Santa Regina

We eventually found our hotel on the other side of town, the delightful les Jardins de la Glaciere, situated south of the town in the Gorges de la Restonica, before sitting down to enjoy a few beers whilst we waited for our luggage to arrive.

Stats for the day: 89.9km with 1839m of ascent. The route can be viewed as a ‘fly past,’ courtesy of at this link.

Our final day took us through the mountainous region of Castagniccia to our final overnight stay in Lucciana, close to the Bastia airport. Only four cols to cross today (gulp), and the Col de St Antoine above Sermano provided a good test with slopes in excess of 11% at the top,  endured in very hot conditions. 

Descents were, for the most part, quite technical. Steeply down on narrow roads, with uneven surfaces and intermittent patches of fine gravel and sand which could be unnerving when the rear brake locked the wheel. Big drops to one side and deep guttering to the other focused the mind in places, the steepest section, through dense woodland down to La Porta being a case in point!

The aptly named second col of the day!
Views back to the central mountains

This is a very remote region, with tiny villages and few opportunities to find a drink and a snack, but in the tiny hamlet of Giocatojo, before our last long descent, we happened upon a small bar/restaurant full of hunters who were enjoying a rest from their weekend wild boar hunt. The friendly patron was quick to offer us some roast boar in a simple baguette and a local beer, a great and fortuitous moment! 

The 13km descent that followed was technical at first but eventually offered some wide sweeping curves to enjoy before the bottom. But, as on other days, there was a final sting in the tail, a small ascent of 150 m before we reached the coastal strip near Bastia airport, but lovely views and a fast final descent on good surfaces.
Stats for the day: 101.8km, 1662m of ascent, 2060m of descent....and a lot of beer afterwards :-)
The route can be viewed as a ‘fly past,’ courtesy of at this link.

Footnote: we used Europe Active to organise our cycling in Corsica, with our luggage transported from hotel to hotel along the route. Twice our luggage failed to arrive before we did, forcing us to consume beer whilst clad in sweaty Lycra after a long day in the saddle. Inept, inefficient and lazy. For this reason we do not recommend Europe Active as tour operators, although their routes were good and mapping generally accurate.

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