Cycling touring in CorsicaCol De Vaccia and a town named after me; I had only been there four days, they work fast these Corsicans!
The Tour started for me on by catching the 4.27am Sunday morning train from East Croydon to Gatwick, now at that time of the day I expected to be the only one on it, instead I blended in wearing my baggy shorts and flip flops with all the sparkly night clubbers stumbling home from a night ‘up the smoke’; the train was infact absolutely packed. I sat there happy and if I am honest a little bit smug, in the knowledge that I had throbbing thighs to look forward to as apposed to the throbbing heads that I could see that many of my fellow travellers were already starting to enjoy.
The tour officially started in ‘Nice’with a late afternoon ferry crossing to take the fifteen riders to ‘Calvi‘ in Corsica. As I got to Nice early morning I was able to bimble around and soak up the atmosphere at the Marina, lounging around in one of the many cafés just watching the world go by, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, not a bad start I thought as I ordered another Café aut lait and Pennine; sufficient fuel to allow the serious business of lolling around to continue while I waited for the ferry.
I have always loved Marinas, something about the ambience and the gentle lapping of the water that creates a feeling of well being, although I dare a say a pond with frogs in the back garden would do the trick for me just as well; except that I haven’t got a back garden, or a pond, my rubber duck in me bath somehow just doesn’t cut it, so I will just have to make do with Nice! Plus I kind of like the contrast between my lifestyle and the owners of the multi million pound gin palaces that were ‘ten a penny’ in this place.
I am by nature someone who enjoys the simplistic lifestyle that is typical of a touring cyclist, covering miles powered by my own little legs and fuelled by Rice Crispies, relatively self sufficient and self reliant. Don’t get me wrong, I could quite easily get used to being rich, very rich even, but even though I love admiring the super yachts I am not that envious and I probably would not get one even if I were a Trillionare; maybe after a new bike…..and maybe an Aston Martin DB9...oh and a Spitfire as I am British after all, plus I look good in Blue. I think I may have just convinced myself that in my next life I might give this being ‘Rich’ thing a bit of a go.
Corsica is just spectacular, differing from other Mediterranean islands in as much that the people are ‘mountain people’, Coastal towns are few and far between, in land, or to be more accurate, in the mountains, is where most reside. The first day had us riding to one of these few and far between coastal towns, during which we climbed over two small cols at just over 400m as a small taster of things to come in the following days, both came in the afternoon, meaning that a few of us struggled on the first one as we tried to digest what had been a hearty lunch washed down with a Corsican ’Nut’ beer or two.
The long descent along the coastal road next to the cliff face into Porto had simply stunning views over the ocean, as such it nearly took nearly as long to descend as it did to climb, as I did not want to whiz down it and miss the scenery, every so often I just had to stop and soak up the view. Cycling is perfect for this as you can just stop by the road side, hop off and take a picture or two. Having said that my pal Ian later in the tour did just that and was promptly hit from behind by a motorist who also admiring the view, wrecking his £1800.00 bike as a result, we were all bit more careful after that!
For the evening meal we dined at local restaurant, the Veranda of which afforded a view of the picture immediately above, a spectacular setting if I have ever seen one. For only nine Euros we eat like kings, the evening was warm enough even in late September for short sleeves and flip flops, the setting was delightful as was the food and apparently the wine. Give a rider a good route, feed and water them well and you will not go that far wrong. We found several times that we could eat well for very little, most common in the larger villages where there was healthy competition, less so in smaller villages where one restaurant may have the monopoly and charged more as a result.
Day two has us heading inland, from sea level we gradually climbed over the 1467m ‘Col de Vergio’ the highest pass on Corsica and at over twenty two miles one of the longest and according to my guide book also the most beautiful; it was. As you can see in the picture above the sun shone gloriously and the climb was gradual, allowing us to absorb and admire the stunning location as we meandered up the pass. I spent most of the tour plodding along with Sue and Cliff, great friends for many previous tours. Both Sue and I were recovering from bad backs, hers from a crash and mine from dislocating my shoulder just over three months ago, as such we became know as ‘Team Rehab’, we both challenged each other not to do anything so silly as trying to hard and getting all unnecessary in the cross eyed department! Not quite sure that plodding up 1400m climbs is the best way to convalesce but hey I am a cyclist and it was good for the soul to get back on the bike, plus we both knew if it really came to it we could always go in the support vehicle. One of the reasons I like organised tours is the support we all get; I doubt either of us would have had the confidence to attempt an unsupported tour.
The Climb took Sue, Cliff and I all morning, so we were more than ready for the long descent after lunch. It was not possible to descend that quickly, although the road going down had a good surface the traffic was quite bad, although not with cars; it was pigs and cows! The pigs especially have no regard for road safety, they were not even remotely bothered about any vehicles, even coaches. The local car drivers had the knack of getting them to move, they simply nudged them carefully out of the way with there bumpers, the pigs were familiar with this technique and had perfected a piggy wiggle, using the bumper for a quick scratch accompanied by a satisfying ‘Oink’ with tail wagging in total satisfaction as it helped them on their way.
Day three had us climbing over two climbs at over 1200m and two at 700m making this the hardest day of the tour. Like all the climbs so far, all were gradual and extremely scenic, I confess I prefer these climbs to the high Alps, although a few take as long to waddle up as they start from nearer sea level, the very fact they do not go as high means that the summits are not freezing cold, snow covered or bleak. Of course the high Alps to some represent unmatched beauty, having ridden both I preferred the Corsican climbs, in part as the views always appear warm as apposed to grey or snow covered; horses for courses as they say. The days route had us once again passing through many pretty villages built into the hillsides, many of which you could see had been there for generations. Again descending was best undertaken with care due to a combination of road surface and animals out for a stroll.
Although animals on the roads were common place and included dogs, the latter were so laid back that many were fast asleep, even on fairly busy roads they could often be seen snoozing carefree right in the middle of the road! If they did have the decency to wake up as we passed, all we got was nonchalant and I personally felt something of an aloof side ways glance that gave us a clear message that they quite simply had better things to do than chase cyclists. I assume on the theory that if we were mad enough to ride up mountains for fun all day then perhaps they might catch something if they bit us !! I was feeling very rejected it had to be said, as annoying as being chased by dogs obviously is I kind of missed it when it never happened!
By way of compensation the piggies would normally come over for a quick sniff, oink and grunt to greet us, especially if we were diving into our food rations. We once made the mistake of feeding a couple of pretty little ones, a quick oink later and we were suddenly stampeded by loads of great big pig ugly ones that appeared from secret hide aways; I bet they’ve used that old one a few times! If they were not holding up traffic they were either eating or trying to breed with one another, one form of courtship was a simple series of head buts followed by the damsels acceptance as she tiddled on the butte’s ear; I immediately made a mental note that I in my next life as well as being ‘Rich’, I could be a pig.
Day five from ‘Zicavo’ to ‘Zonza’ was very short at only 28.1 miles, purely to give some a break from the mountains and secondly as those who wanted to get in some miles were able to head towards the coast or climb the local Col which, as usual, afforded spectacular views of the gorges and mountain tops (see pic below). This was one of the few passes that coaches could get up, as such it was far busier than the passes that we had just ridden and the one where Ian came a cropper with the sight seeing motorist, although it has to be said it was a spectacular view all the way up, although I’m not sure if Ian would agree!
Day Five has us heading back to the coast, so essentially a day of descending out of the high mountains and down to sea level, so by the end of the day we were all feeling very Lance Armstrong as we hardly had to pedal yet out average speed was very high. This was again to be a short day at only 37.8 miles, in part as the lunchtime stop was a good one, so the majority of us sat down to a three course lunch overlooking the bay in the pretty coastal town of Propriano
I had spent time in Propriano the previous summer on an activity holiday, so was able to point out, rather sheepishly, the very beach on the other side of the bay that I had to be rescued from on my wind surfer, I had sailed out to it in the morning only for the wind to change direction during the return journey, I completely lacked the skills to sail close to the ever changing wind and had run out of time to do the tacking thing so was towed in by the sailing school to the cheers of my new friends waving triumphantly from the beach bar. Note during the passing of a year I have up spinned the little adventure to ‘sailed’, when at the time in reality I spent more time falling off in every imaginable way that it is possible to fall off a windsurfer, I belly flopped so many times I had cauliflower nipples! Propriano is set in a beautiful bay with crystal clear warm waters that were superb for the water activities that were part of the holiday last summer, Corsica may be a country of few Coastal resorts, but those it has it does well.
The days destination of Porto Pollo also had a lovely beach, which many of us hit late afternoon in a bid to even up our cyclists tan before another slap up meal in the evening, which was effectively our last night as the next evening was the ferry cruise back to Nice. Consequently we all basked in one another’s magnificence with tales of daring do, all of which became more exaggerated, yet somehow gained more credibility, with each bottle of wine consumed in a true ‘last night’ traditional celebration.
The last day to Ajaccio was again quite short as we were to catch the late afternoon ferry back to Nice, so all day we stuck to the coast road, as we whizzed along ahead of schedule it afforded time for yet another superb value lunch stop, the accumulative effect was that in spite of hours of climbing I actually came back heavier than when I went, all OK with me, cycling for me is as much about the stopping and absorbing the local atmosphere as it is about the cycling. This rates as one of my favourite tours of all time, for a number of reasons, the scenery was superb and unspoilt, the food was generally top quality and good value, weather was perfect for me, warm in the valleys, not to cold higher up, plus of course three months ago I was very doubtful that a dislocated shoulder (see London-Paris toolbar on left) would see my cycling again this quick, especially over this kind of terrain. I had met up with some old friends and made some new ones which is always a very big plus. For any who have not considered Corsica as an option for cycle tour, all I can say is do!
This group tour was organised by www.bikeavdentures.co.uk; please note that since this write up Bike Adventures has become a limited Company with new management, so the tours on offer may differ, although I have no experience with them under the new ownership I would hope they still offer quality tours; for anyone interested I have included a link to their website below:Tour organised by :www.Bikeadventures.co.uk