The mountainous island of Corsica is both a beautiful and challenging place to go bicycle touring, as Mark & Maria Williams found out in September 2010.
On their tandem bicycle, they spent two weeks exploring the island as part of an organised trip with Erickson Tours.
They enjoyed great food, almost perfect weather and spectacular views but had to work for the privilege. Corsica has several mountains hovering around 2,000 meters.
Mark tells us more about their bicycle tour of Corsica, in this edition of 10 Questions.
1. What attracted you to Corsica as a bicycle touring destination?
It sounded like a real adventure. My father has motorcycled the island twice and shared his maps and trips with us. Bottom line: out of the way, small roads, little villages, not too “touristy”, real varied terrain.
2. Can you describe the scenery you encountered, and did the interior differ from the roads along the edge of Corsica?
The beauty of Corsica is the diversity of terrain. Coastal regions (west) were dramatic, narrow two lane roads with the bluest water we’ve ever seen (that includes CA, HI and the Caribbean). There’s nothing flat about them. The interior has mountains up to 2000M filled with pines, rocky gorges and sparsely populated.
3. Corsica is very mountainous, with several peaks over 2,000m. Does that make it a strenuous place to cycle?
Don’t go to Corsica if you are not willing to climb. The good news is there are limited “steep” climbs in excess of 10%. Most of what we rode was 4-6%, and not longer than 5-7 miles at the most; and very manageable on our tandem. We climbed 58,000 vertical feet in 14 days of riding. You won’t see the spectacular scenery unless you are willing to to UP! The descents were equally spectacular, several in excess of 10 miles!
4. You went in September. What was the weather like, and do you think this is a place you could cycle year round?
The weather was perfect; 75-85F, low humidity compared to southern France. We had one major rain storm, but it was warm and lasted only a few hours. Winds come out of the west, but were never an issue. In the winter they will get snow in the mountains but I believe the range is 50-85F from winter to summer.
5. What were the roads like?
We were told the roads were excellent, but it was some of the roughest roads we’ve experienced in Europe. They were still very rideable and all paved. Most were quite narrow; not atypical of Europe but surprising for all the wide open spaces they have. That being said, there were plenty of very nice sections (Col de Bavella for one). There was considerably more traffic than expected for September, which is generally the end of the tourist season. Many of the roads in the interior had very little traffic. Even with the traffic, we never had an issue taking up the space we needed. Everyone seemed very “bicycle” conscious. Motorcycle touring is very popular on Corsica. Because the roads are quite winding, they don’t get the speeds which was good for cyclists.
6. Is there one stretch of road that really stands out in your mind as spectacular?
Two in particular- Porto to Calvi on D81- dramatic coastal views, Col de Bavella on D268 (4,000 ft vertical climb from Solenzara with incredible Dolomite like mountains).
7. What was the cuisine like? And was it easy to find restaurants and cafes along the way?
Cuisine was rustic like the island. This is a place for the carnivore. They are famous for their salami, Copa, Proscuitto, anything from pigs which are everywhere, including boar (sanglier) which is actually quite good in a stew (much like beef Bourgogne). There are plenty of excellent sheep and goat cheeses. Vegetables can be found but they don’t seem to be a staple like you would see in Provence.
There are six wine regions and we found the dry roses to be delicious and the best value. Restaurants can be a little sparse in the smaller interior villages. It’s best to stock up in the larger villages or bigger cities. Remember the mileage is never that great, but the mountains are.
8. What kind of a budget should you count on, and is money easy to access?
We found Corsica to be about as expensive as mainland France. We bought lunch everyday and some dinners. The larger cities Ajacccio, Corte, Porto, Calvi, St. Florent, Propriano, etc. had plenty of ATM’s. The smaller villages didn’t have much so get your cash in the larger cities. Almost every restaurant took credit cards.
9. What’s the main challenge of cycling in Corsica?
It would have to be the climbing. Don’t let it intimidate you. The terrain is really worth it. Again, most climbs are reasonable grades and worth every foot of effort.
10. What’s your most treasured memory of cycling in Corsica?
It has to be the incredibly varied terrain and being able to ride from crystal blue waters to the pine forests in a matter of hours.
Thanks to Mark & Maria for answering 10 Questions and providing the photos.
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for bike touring in Corsica.
- Tour of Corsica – A 1 week self-supported bicycle tour
- Touring Corsica by Bike – An article from the Times Online newspaper