Sunday, September 19, 2010

Corsica Cycling Adventure- Sep 2-18, 2010

SEPTEMBER 2- The flight to Corsica
It was a long flight to Corsica; LAX, Chicago, Newark, Paris, then finally Ajaccio, Corsica.  I couldn't help but have one of those delicious french baguette sandwiches in the Paris Orly airport even though it was only 10am!  We were anxious to get to our hotel and get the bike built and enjoy the Sofitel.
I could eat these all day!

First beer in Ajaccio waiting for the van
SEPTEMBER 3- Hotel Sofitel- Porticcio (Ajaccio)
This hotel defined the word paradise.  It sat on a point across the bay from the capital city, Ajaccio.  They had comfy couches and chairs on the lawn facing the water with swoopy umbrellas for shade.  Toss in an infiniti pool and as they say in France, whala, you've got magic!  Once the bike was built it was time to relax...

Time to chill before we bust our butts on the bike
Shot from our room looking to the "Med"
Lunch doesn't get much better than this

Our general route for the next 14 days

SEPTEMBER 4- Porticcio>Tassinca>Col de Gradello
Today we headed out for our first look on the roads of Corsica.  Heading south on coastal Hwy D55 passing beach after beach of crystal blue water.  It's the clearest I've ever seen anywhere in the world.  As we climbed from small villages on the coast the views up above were gorgeous.  The terrain reminded us a lot of southern CA or even Mexico.
Acqua Doria lookout with Ajaccio in the background

A welcome lunch spot at the summit of the Col de Gradello after climbing over 3,000 feet 

Plat de jour- stuffed squash and tomato with sausage on "riz"
SEPTEMBER 5- Porticcio to Zicavo
Today is the official first day of the tour.  Our group numbers 26 riders, three of which are tandems.  We leave the picturesque coast for the inland mountains.  We climbed the other side of the col de grandello across more scub like mountain ranges to St. Marie Sicche.  Here  we began to see pines and a real mountain feel.  The final climb to the small village of Zicavo (famous for its salami and sausage) was really steep and we were ready for a rest after 51 miles and 5174 feet climbed.  
A forest of cork/oak trees.  They are only found in Corsica in the south.

Potty stop views don't get much better than this, up the col de Cortone

The two Marks and Jenny taking a "col" break

The village of Zicavo, a welcome sight after a day of climbing
SEPTEMBER 6- Zicavo to Corte
There's nothing like starting out of the gate on a big climb to get you in the "suffering" mood for the day.  The only saving grace was the idyllic small mountain villages that dotted the mountains as we rode.  This day saw plenty of pine filled forests before riding the main hwy from Venaco to Corte.  Corte (pronounced CORT) is set at the base of the Gorges de Tavignanno.  This gorge winds its way 9 miles up a rocky canyon and 3,000 additional feet of elevation.  It's quite spectacular as was our hotel.  Today's stats- 51 miles and 5108 feet climbed.
Rest stop above the village of Cozzano

Foret de San Antoine, St. Pietro e Verde
One of the most dramatic descents of the trip

More mountain ranges as we head east


Hotel video in Corte

SEPTEMBER 7- Corte to Porto
We decided not to ride the gorge since it would put this day's total climbing close to 7000 feet.  The climb out of Corte was nice, not too steep and we enjoyed maybe the best descent of the trip from Castrilla.  We then tackled scala di St. Regina, a long rocky, dry gorge that seemed as though it would never end.  Once at the summit we moved into another forest.  I think this is what makes Corsica such a dramatic place to visit and ride.  Porto is a beautiful little town right on the Med with it's own "mini" harbor.  A bit touristy but still worth the visit.
Midway up the col d' Ominanda looking back to Corte

Climbing away on the Scala di St. Regina

Foret de Valdu Niellu- lots of pigs in here!

The captain in Porto 

Porto looking back to the mountains that we descended coming to town

Our first pizza in Porto
SEPTEMBER 8- Porto to Calvi
One look outside today with big dark clouds rolling in from the west, and I knew we would be in for some inclement weather.  The coastal road from Porto to Calvi was one of the best of the trip.  After an hour of climbing we got hit hard with rain and wind in gale force proportions.  We holed up in the small village of Partinello hoping to wait out the storm but learned that would not happen.  We pressed on riding through literal rivers coming off of the mountains. Within an hour the sky was as blue as ever and we enjoyed a truly spectacular ride into Calvi.  Daily stats, 58 miles, 3600 feet climbed.

Dramatic coastline and a storm on its way

 A little video on the storm upon us

Incredible view and water on the road to Galeria

Calvi harbor
SEPTEMBER 9- Calvi to St. Florent
Another picture perfect day leaving Calvi. This would be a day of incredible varied terrain from ocean roads to the "desert".  We quickly began climbing to the small village of Montegrosso.  It was steeper than we thought, close to 15% in some sections.  We proceeded to work our way northeast through tiny inland roads to Belgodere then decided to take the long route through Novella.  Our tandem partners Alan and Lisa joined us.  The area around Novella was something out of the AZ desert.  Not much but cows and scrub trees.  This big "U" turn took us back to the main hwy D81.  Our last climb, the Bocca di Vezzu was our strongest effort of the trip.  It was a beautiful ridge road that wound its way to the final 40 mph descent into St. Florent and a two day rest for us.  We were ready.  Daily stats- 71 miles, 4725 feet climbed.

Montegrosso looking back to Calvi

An interesting sight at 40 mph

Ridge road on the final leg to St. Florent

Our beach front hotel in St. Florent
SEPTEMBER 10-11- St. Florent
We decided to actually take a rest day on the 10th.  St. Florent was a bustling little town full of restaurants and toursity things to do.  We walked to town from our hotel which turned out to be quite a little jaunt.  I think it did our legs good to do something other than cycling.  I sampled the mussels for lunch and was happy.That night we found a cool restaurant right on the water below the Citadel.  Their specialty was "feu de bois", "wood fired" grilled fish.  

Octopus salad, really good.

The wood fired grill.  Check out the size of the logs.

One of the favorites, chevre chaud, warm goat cheese salad
A fun little store with some great salami, coppa, and proscuito
The next day was the planned "rest day" ride around Cape Corse, the top of the island.  We passed and did the lovely 35 mile ride to the east of town on roads that wound the hillsides and small villages.  We had a great lunch at what we Americans would call a "pool club".  All in all a very delightful day and perfect weather.

Col de Teghime, beautiful climb

Summit looking back to St. Florent

Tomato and mozzarella salad, one of the best on the trip

Prosciutto salad.  Not bad for a pool club!
SEPTEMBER 12- St. Florent to Piedicroce
Today we head back inland through more narrow roads (no guard rails here for the weak at heart) with some outrageous descents (Col de Bigorno) as  you will see from the pictures below.  This day was very much the essence of "wild" Corsica and confirmed this was no ordinary bike trip. Today's stats, 57 miles, 5892 feet climbed.

All smiles before we take off in St. Florent

Wicked descent.  The crazy tandem descenders
taking a break to wait for the others

Rough road but what a blast

My favorite descent shot just passing the "sisters"

Looking out from the deck of our hotel in Piedcrocce
 SEPTEMBER 13- Piedicroce to Corte
Today we would circle back to Corte.  It was only 13 miles as the crow flies but our route took us 48 miles and 4416 feet climbed.  We are still kicking ourselves for not stopping in to visit Orezza where they make the refreshing sparkling water we drank EVERYDAY.  Make sure you never ask for Perrier in Corsica, it must be Orezza.  We crossed a number of mountains to find ourselves back in familiar territory in Corte.  After a great lunch in town we made our way to the hotel where I had new found energy and took our friend Jenny's single bike solo up the Gorge du Tavignano, 8.8 miles and 2,936 feet.  A great ride on Jenny's new DeSalvo Ti S&S bike.  This was one of the biggest day's I have ever done totaling 57 miles and over 7,000 feet climbed.

Just down the road from our hotel, the oldest structure in Corsica dating to the 1400's

The mothership as we would be named with her child before lunch

Carbo and rose loading for the upcoming ride up the gorge

SEPTEMBER 14- Corte to Solenzara
Today we would ride to the east cost town of Solenzara.  We decided to take the long route to avoid to big highway and soak in as much mountain scenery as possible knowing we are nearing the end of the trip.  These roads were really off the beaten path as we slowly made our way down to sea level.  The east coast terrain was vastly different than the west.  It was much flatter and no real mountains near by.  Quite boring.  It was a long day and we were the last to arrive in.  Today's stats, 73 miles, 5,536 feet climbed.

Hotel in Solenzara. We didn't see much of this town.

Long gradual climb up the Col de San Cervone

Not as many fountains in Corsica as mainland France

Chain got wedged sideways behind the cassette. Master Hayes came to the rescue.

A welcome lunch spot with some locals

Beware of the boar!

The ultimate refreshment on a hot day
SEPTEMBER 15- Solenzara to Propriano
There was a lot of hype for today's ride.  We would ascend the Col de Bavella, Corsica's biggest climb and a VERY popular tourist attraction.  We climbed 4,000 vertical feet from the ocean to the top in 20 miles.  The last five miles was an 8-12% grade, really tough.  We compared this climb to our ascent up the col de Bonette, the highest paved pass in Europe, in 2008.  We think this was harder.  Once at the top we assumed it would be downhill all the way to the west coast town of Propriano.  NOT!!!  Glenn wound us around more mountains including a few dirt roads.  A great adventure but we were beat at the end of the day.  Thank goodness we would be staying at this hotel on beach for two nights.  Today's stats, 56 miles and 6,594 feet climbed.

Stunning mountains that lead to the summit of the Bavella

It was hard to believe there would be some 12% grades after riding this for miles

SEPTEMBER 16-17- Propriano and the beach
We did nothing for the next two days but lay around the beach, eat and drink.  It was well deserved.  We did partake in a bit of culture by visiting Filitosa, the 8,000 year old stone structures. It was worth the trip just to say we had been there.

A great deck right next to the ocean provided some great serenity

Maria and Master Mark at the Filitosa museum

One of the mysterious stone carvings
Just chillin
 SEPTEMBER 18- Propriano to Porticcio- the last leg
Our last day riding was over some familiar ground as we retraced our steps in reverse from the very first warm-up day ride.  It was only 30 miles and a sprint to the finish.  That evening we enjoyed our last night at the beautiful Sofitel.  The sunset tells the story.  All in all a fabulous trip, 660 miles and 58,000 feet climbed.  We discovered a country that had it all for the cyclist; mountains, oceans, climbs, descents, and perfect weather.