The weather in Switzerland was starting to cool off so we put our heads together to decide where our next weekend road trip would take us, their were some important factors to include: Great food, warm weather and of course limitless cycling with an abundance of climbs, the answer, Corsica, France.
Corsica France is a French island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the Italian island of Sardinia. Mountains make up two-thirds of the island, forming a single chain. Population: 302,000 as at 2008. The island is 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Tuscany in Italy and 170 kilometres (110 mi) from the Côte d’Azur in France. It is separated from Sardinia to the south by the Strait of Bonifacio, a minimum of 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) wide.
We pack up the car with all the essentials and do our best to beat the estimated drive time predicted by Michelin’s web site to drive to Savona on the Ligurian Sea in Italy where we take the 9pm Corsica ferry to our destination. The ferry supplied us with our own room and we had dinner in the restaurant while we left Italy in the background. A few beers later and we were all tucked in for our 7am arrival and of course like kids we were up early to watch the sun throw golden colours over the Islands beaches and mountains.
The huge tail gate on the ship lowered to the deck and we were off like prawns in the sun, straight to the hotel where we were unable to check in until 2 pm so straight to the cafe for eggs on Rye and 2 coffees, then it was time to get dressed in the Main Street and head off, funny place Europe, drop your pants and hardly any one blinks an eye!
We headed north along the coast and what an amazing experience, the crystal clear water needs to be seen to be believed, I remember when I did ironman New Zealand on Lake Taupo and how clear that was, well this was equal! We stopped after 45 minutes at a little fishing village to fill our bottles as we didn’t know how far we would venture that day and if we would be near shops again. After about 2 hours of nice undulating beach roads we headed into the first climb of the day through Calvi, claimed to be the birth place of Christopher Columbus and what an exceptional climb, we reached the summit and saw a small side road descending and thought let’s go down there! Down, down, down 18k and a dead end, whoopsie , sorry guys, so we climb back out of the 8% valley and continue on, where the side of the road is littered with wild olive and cumquat trees over looking the ocean in all it’s splendour. We were tipped by a local that there was a freak Gail force wind warning for later in the day and the boys laughed and nominated me to sit in front. We climbed again for another 45 minutes where we could see and hear the wind turbines on the top of the mountain humming like a bull roarer, I said that must take a good wind to turn those, and I was right.
We reached the summit and there was a 90degree turn to descend back down to make our way home, I pulled my drink out and held it to my mouth while I cruised around the corner when I was hit like a freight train by the strongest wind I have ever encounter on a bike, I had to unclip and brace myself from being blown over, we had no choice other than to retreat and return home on the same route, we heard on the news that night that this part of the island were experiencing gusts of around 100 to 120 k per hour.
The first descent on the way down was pretty scary and former world triathlon champ Andrew Johns and i had moments where we were being blown from the side of the road to the middle, we had a good laugh though!
We returned via a massive hamburger, coke and coffee and checked in to the hotel where we freshened up and had a nana nap, standard NATO issue for cyclists, when their wives aren’t with them! Finding a restaurant wasn’t a challenge as their are plenty in Bastia where we were based. We chose a steakhouse and had one of the best but undersized steaks I have had. Our basic French got us into a conversation with some locals who told us that tomorrow’s winds are expected to reach 170 to 180 kph, once again the boys said, your in front! I put my head on the pillow a little concerned I must say!
The next morning we took in the standard French breakfast of croissants, panno chocolates, coffee by the bucket, cheese and ham and off we went south for a new experience, we rode for 10k before we reached our first climb and the wind was giving us grief but we pushed on, after another couple hundred meters of elevation I estimate that the wind was 60kph and no place to be on a bike so we descended to the beach road where we cruised along with an 80kph wind and went for coffee, our boat that night was cancelled and we were shipped into Toulon near Marseille and drove home via Provence and Mont Ventoux, all in all we had a ball and we will be conducting a tour in French Corsica and Italian Sardinia in July 2014, don’t miss this trip as this is a cycling and culinary Mecca needed to be seen to be believed!