I've been riding in Corsica over the past week. As you might expect it's very quiet, what you might not expect are the warm temperatures. There is a wide temperature variation depending whether or not you're by the coast or up in the hills but typically a February day near the coast has a range of 3-13˚c. It was 16˚c yesterday afternoon and warmer earlier in the week - more like what you'd expect in April. The snow line is high and spring does appear to have arrived early with splendid displays of mimosas, fruit blossoms and camellias. Will it last? Last year I got caught out in a snowstorm in late May up in Haute Asco however with plenty of coastal riding Corsica always has a warm weather alternative.
opposite sides of a ravine that leads down to the harbour. It's not remarkable that there are two churches, what is remarkable is that one, the Church of Assumption is Catholic and the other, St Spyridon is Greek Orthodox.
How did Corsica acquire a Greek Orthodox church named after the patron saint of potters?
In 1676 some 730 Greeks from the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnese arrived in the area after fleeing the Ottomon Turks at home and the imposition of new taxes. At this time the Genoese controlled Corsica and welcomed the Greeks as part of their colonisation plans. They were not made nearly as welcome by the Corsicans and this led to them spending nearly 45 years in Ajaccio. The French followed the Genoese in Corsica and post the Treaty of Versaille Cargèse was established in 1784 by what was left of the Greek immigrant population. Life for the Greeks remained unsettled but they hung on in there and it was not until 1976 that the last native Greek speaker died.
The catholic church dates from 1828 and the Greek from 1852. Both are still very much in use today as there remain some 200 families following the Greek way of life they inherited from their ancestors.
A short while ago I received the note below from Jakub Kalus who late last summer undertook the Randonnée des Cols Corses. Here is Jakub's tale...
Based on some recommendations for cycling in Corsica and thanks to the information about the Randonnée des Cols Corses I found on your website I decided to complete the Randonnée last September, 2013.
Unfortunately my attempt to contact the authorities of Cyclos Randonneurs Thononais failed so I went to Corsica without the possibility of getting the ‘Randonnée medal’. I don't know if they still work. Nevertheless, I followed the Randonnée map and it took me total of 19 days and a distance of 1,697 km starting and finishing in Ajaccio plus a 1 day of hike up to Mt Cinto, Corsica’s highest mountain at 2,706m.
Some facts from my trip:
The pictures show my bicycle in front of the highest Col, Vergio at 1,497m and me at the summit of Mt Cinto.
Norway, Jan 2014
I've just recently discovered that there is a small city in the state of South Dakota in the US called Corsica! I'm familiar with the popular American car, the Chevrolet Corsica but had no idea that there was a town of the very same name. How did the City of Corsica in South Dakota come by its name?
It was established in 1860 by railroad workers some of whom came to the US from their mediterranean island home. It was they who decided it would be a good idea to name their new settlement in honour of their home, Corsica.
Prompted by this I have delved a little further and discovered that Blooming Grove in Morrow County, Ohio was originally named Corsica! The town was established in 1822 by Salmon E. Harding who apparently was greatly inspired by Napoleon. The town was renamed Blooming Grove in 1835.
There's more - in Pennsylvania there is a Borough called Corsica in Jefferson County, population 354, established 1802 by John Scott. The name also appears to have been inspired by the French Emperor of the time, Napoleon.
Napoleon clearly had an inspirational impact in the US as did Pascal Paoli another of Corsica's favourite sons as there are numerous places named in honour of them both.
From my perspective very much a statement but for the island and its visitor driven economy most likely still a question that will begin to be answered next summer. One thing's for sure - never in the history of time has Corsica had such a large television audience. And, the weather provided the perfect backdrop for Corsica to showcase itself around the globe via more than 170 TV channels with an estimated daily audience in excess of 40 million!
To remind you, this was the first ever visit of the TDF to Corsica - the final two departments of Metropolitan France to receive the world's greatest bike race and arguably the world's most watched annual sporting event.
It is reported that Corsica paid some €2 million for the privilege of hosting the Grand Depart and three days of stage racing. The arguments and fears about coping with the Tour logistics proved unfounded - 4,500 people including 200 riders and 2,000 journalists plus more than 2,000 vehicles including 200 alone for the publicity caravan!
So with the 2013 drawing to a close was it worth the wait for Corsica? Well Tour supremo Christian Prudhomme appeared very happy talking in Calvi at the end of stage 3,
"it was a great stage and the scenery was absolutely superb. I am delighted with this Grand Départ, it has been magnificent. The people here have shown the kind of real fervor and enthusiasm which you so often see by the road on the Tour de France. But I have never seen so many people say ‘thank you.’ It was incredible. We have felt a real sense of pride amongst the people at being able to host the Tour.”
As for Corsica itself it's too early for any official data but there is no doubt that the TV coverage has raised the island's profile, the back end of the summer season got busier, there are more cycling tours planned for 2014 than ever before and my site visitors and enquiries have grown significantly.
Seasons greetings and see you en Corse 2014!
Lying between the northern end of Aregno plage on Corsica's northwest coast and the Total petrol station on the N197 is this amazing granite column. It is 17 metres in length and just under three metres in diameter. It is a thirty two sided polygon, more commonly known as a 'icosidodecagon'! The calculated weight is just under 300 tonnes which is the equivalent of 15 London buses or 1 unladen jumbo jet.
This column lies in the quarry it was cut from. This is the very same quarry that in 1810 provided the granite pedestal for the Vendôme Column in Paris which was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte as a commemoration of victory in the Battle of Austerlitz. Just like Nelson in Trafalgar Square, Napoleon still sits atop the Vendôme for all to see despite being temporarily removed in the 1870's.
Napoleon was of course a native of Corsica, born in Ajaccio and it was Ajaccio that placed the order for this column which was carved in 1836. The plan it is said was to erect a Napoleon's Column in honour of its most famous son. Alas the column proved to heavy to move and instead, other stone from the quarry was used to provide a base for the more modest Casone memorial just above Napoleon's grotto in Ajaccio.
So, it's not just Nelson that has a column nor indeed Santa who has a grotto!
Like many destinations, and if you're free of the school term dates, going out of peak season is often the very best time to go. How true that is of Corsica. As I write it's 25 degs outside, the sun is shining, there is a windsurfer in the bay and a handful of people at the beach. Many hotels and restaurants are closed but there's more than enough to choose from. The supermarket is the closest I've come to a private shopping experience! Put simply, you can take the best of what Corsica has to offer and have it virtually to yourself - riders and non riders alike.
I've riden almost 250kms over the past four days and what a joy it's been. Yesterday I saw the same number of cyclists on my route as I did jet fighter aircraft overhead - two! I rode a 22km descent and only saw three moving cars and one lorry. The main hazards on the road are pine needles, horse chestnuts and the occasional pig, sheep and or cow.
There are downsides - if you like crowds there aren't any, there's little in the way of night life, it can get cool in the evenings and atop mountain passes, entertainment mainly has to be self made. For the cyclist you must be totally self sufficient as you should assume on your rides that you will have to feed and water yourself as well as be able to carry out running repairs. Personally I don't recognise these as downsides, just more reasons to be here now!
Post script - I've just been asked if bikes can be hired this time of year. Yes, Balagne Cycles are open in L'Île Rousse and have a good selection road, hybrid and mountain bikes available. They also have paddle boards which are great fun.
I recently received an email from a reader in New Zealand who enquired whether it is possible to arrive in Bastia, cycle to the south of Corsica and cross over to Sardinia?
The answer is yes. Infact you could start in Italy at Piombino and take a 20km ferry ride to the island of Elba. Elba is well known of course for the exile of one of Corsica's most famous sons, Napoleon. It has 150km of coastline that can be cycled as well as some hill routes that rise to just over at 1,000m Mount Capanne.
Bastia is just a 50km ferry ride from Elba. From there it is 175km to Bonifacio, Corsica's most southerly port where you can catch a ferry to Santa Teresa on the northern coast of Sardinia. This crossing takes less than an hour. Sardinia, at more than twice the size of Corsica has plenty of riding options. If you ride to the south of the island to Cagliari you can take a ferry to Palermo in Sicily. From Palermo to Messina is around 250km where you can take the short crossing back to the mainland and cycle back to your start point. I have calculated, excluding ferry crossings, that by taking the most direct routes this is some 2,000km of riding! It certainly would be an interesting tour and with some planning could take in some of the routes used by the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia. I sense a book in the offing...
Piombino to Elba with Moby Lines
Elba to Bastia with Corsica Ferries
Bonifacio to Sardinia with Moby Lines
Sardinia to Sicily with Tirrenia
(Note: these are all seasonal services)
Post script - last week I received an email enquiry from a reader in Rio. I have misplaced this so please send again, apologies. Mark
It's been thundery here on Corsica in the past couple of days and the lightning strikes have been fierce. I see from the forecast that the UK can expect some severe storms in the next day or so too. Very sadly a German tourist was killed here on Corsica by a lightning strike ten days ago on the terrace of his accommodation. So what do you do if you're out riding and a storm brews? The simple answer is, TAKE SHELTER preferably in a house, stone building, cafe or car and certainly not in any metallic shelters or near water. If the lightning is very bad I would have no hesitation stopping a car or seeking shelter in a nearby house.
What however if there aren't any shelter options available and that is certainly a real possibility if not probability here and in other less populated places we love to ride? A review of the literature and guidance says:
- don't be the tallest object around
- leave high ground such as ridges and cols i.e. turn around and ride down hill as fast as is safe to do so
- avoid lone trees
- stay away from poles, pylons and fences
- avoid ditches especially so if there's water around - avoid all contact with water e.g. streams
- if there's no shelter available and you're in the open then separate yourself from your bike (regardless of what it's made from), separate yourself from your companions and squat on the balls of your feet with head on chest/legs and hands over ears - the aim is to minimize your size and contact with the ground. This is known as the lightning crouch!
- if a vehicle comes by don't be afraid to ask for a lift to the next village or town
Of course it is advisable to check the weather before setting off, Two very good sources for Corsica are Corse Matin either online or inside the back page of the daily paper and, France Météo.
The probability of being struck by lightning is of course very slim but as we saw recently it can happen and it's best to take precautions if you get caught out. Do let me know if you have any other and/or different advice.
It's the eve of the Grand Departure here on Corsica and to say that there's an air of excitement would be an understatement and that's just here at our place. There's great anticipation for the first ever visit of the Tour to Corsica and for its very special 100th edition. There's also great expectation from us Brits because this time tomorrow evening there's a good chance Mark Cavendish will be wearing the Maillot Jaune.
The cycling media has, rightly so, gone into overdrive adding to the excitement. One of my favourite magazines, Cyclist dispatched Mark Bailey here several weeks ago and this week in its Tour Special you can read all about his epic day out with local guide Nicolas Miaskiewicz of Europe Active. It's a great read capturing the essence of road riding here en Corse and is stunningly complimented with excellent pictures by Pete Webb.
It will be hard to crowd dodge over the next few days as the Tour works its way around the L'Île de Beauté watched by fans from around the world. After the Tour has gone though this is very definitely a place where you can, "ride without the hordes".
If like me your planning to be in Corsica for the first three stages of the Tour have you decided yet where to spectate from? Here are links to the detailed timings for each of the stages:
Given that this is the first time in Corsica for the Tour and that this is the 100th edition then Porto-Vecchio is going to have a very special atmosphere as the riders get underway. Also, because they will head south on a loop there's the opportunity to see them again as they head north towards Bastia perhaps at the Cote de Sotta (D659 or D859 south west of Porto-Vecchio) or along the coast on the N198. For those based in the north then the run in towards the finish along the D107, east of the airport, on the narrow strip of land between the sea and the Etang de Biguglia should be fast and furious with Cav upfront.
Stage 2 crosses the island from Bastia to Ajaccio. There are several excellent points to see the action. You may want to take a look at using the train to access some of the mountainous parts of this route - see Corsica Trains who are running a modified service for this stage. My recommended spots are Ponte Leccia - watch all the action at one of the bars next to the Super U and see the caravan and peleton close up as they cross the bridge and go around the round about and off toward Corte. The tiny villages of Venaco and Vivario will be spectacular. Probably best accessed by train as the Tour squeezes through their narrow streets - The Bar Central in Venaco will be a prime location as it's on the fast descent from Santo-Pietro. After the Col de Vizzavona, Bocognano which will afford a view of the jaw dropping descent from the Col.
For the third and final stage on Corsica then the Piana Calanques will provide an incredible backdrop as will the Scandola marine reserve alongside the D81 perhaps at the Cols de la Croix or Palmarella. My favoured spot is the final climb en Corse at the Col de Marsilino just a few kms before the stage finish where the GC contenders will be watching each other very carefully. It's an amazing viewpoint but note there's no parking, no shade and no facilities - parfait pour la tour!
Post script - here are links to two important documents if you are spectating. All you need to know re road closures etc. They're in French but easily understood (!). Just click on the blue,
Despite the mistral I've enjoyed a good day’s bike riding up and down a couple of cols out of Ghisoni in central Corsica. On the way back I stopped in Corte the old capital and whilst in the Tabac noticed a copy of today’s Times of London. Couldn’t resist – it was the picture on the front page of Tom Whipple at base camp for the 60th anniversary of the first ascent.
Lots of excellent coverage inside of what was without doubt a monumental achievement by Hillary and Tenzing – up there with the moon landing for me – and executed with exquisite timing to mark the coming to the throne of Elizabeth II, our monarch.
So, what’s all this not what it used to be malarkey? The mountain hasn’t got any smaller and as far as I know it’s not yet been linked to the ‘Trois Vallees’. Earlier today I read an interview with Ueli Steck. If you don’t know Ueli he is in my humble opinion probably the best mountaineer the planet has ever seen. In 2008 he climbed the north face of the Eiger in 2 hours 47 mins. A truly incredible thing but even more so when you discover that he did it solo – no partner, no one to hold a rope.
The interview with Ueli I read today is shocking – yes it’s one side of a story but shocking nonetheless. I won’t bleat on, you can read it here and make your own judgement. Meanwhile I’m sticking to Corsica col bagging -there's 150 of them - until I’m no longer able to propel me and my bike uphill. I might consider a BMW RS 1200 when that time comes as they appear to be the weapon of choice with the many motorcyclists presently enjoying the open roads here.
If you are kicking your heels while waiting for Le Tour to come by in June why not take an early morning motorboat from Bonifacio to the Îles Lavezzi. Cruise through the narrow harbour past deep rocky inlets and into the magical Grotte du Sdragonatu and a nearby cave where the movie Guns of Navarone was filmed.
It takes about an hour to get to Lavezzi and the limestone and granite rock formations are so mind-blowing that it’s fun to pick out shapes along the archipelago including a sunken ship, Winnie-the-Pooh, a rhino, a dragon and a coypu!
Look out for the memorial to honour 700 soldiers who lost their lives in a ship on its way to the Crimean War. They crossed between Sardinia and Corsica because it was considered a quicker route; but the message is… don’t cut corners!
On the islands, giant granite rocks look like Henry Moore’s sculptures – all smoothed by centuries of erosion. There are lovely beaches so you can laze about or wander looking at the blanket of wild flowers including a rare species of yellow horned poppy and white sea daffodil.
There are no cafes so take a picnic.
On your return you can cruise past Cavallo Island and the Pointe de Sperone passing villas including one owned by Caroline of Monaco (on one of the islands few golf courses). Look up at mighty Bonifacio, hanging on the rock’s edge and before you know it you’ll be back in the port, exhilarated by a unique journey past geological wonders of limestone strata created over millions of years.
It is turning into a bit of a saga reminiscent methinks of formula one and team orders. Will he won't he lead the Sky team at the Tour next month and to add spice, one of the WAGs is chipping in regularly via Twitter, the other has maintained a dignified silence from her perch - oh Cath Wiggins please start tweeting again!
Anyway all has become clear this morning with just over 51 days to the Grand Depart. Dave Brailsford has obviously been at the white board over night and has told Cycling Weekly, "Let's just reiterate our plan....the plan has always been the plan and we are sticking to it". Good, well that's cleared that up then.
So this does pose an intriguing question, one formulated by my other half to be fair. Will Bradley be the 'Defending Champion' if he's not defending the Tour?
I suspect we won't really know what the plan is because it's very likely to be fluid. What a geat position for Dave to be in who, unlike the rest of us, Cycling Weekly say, remains calm.
Corsica became a temporary home for this event in 2010 in what was widely regarded as a series of test events for the first visit of the Tour de France. It would be a mistake however to see this race as a test event! It's one of the classics and the 81st edition will be run in Corsica this weekend. What a year 2013 will be for pro bike racing in Corsica.
The Critérium International was formerly a three day road race designed as a mini Tour de France - a sprint stage, a time trial and a mountain stage - an all round test. The modern format remains similar in terms of the test but it's squeezed into two days with the first of those being a 'split stage' - a 90km road race in the morning followed by a short individual time trial in the afternoon.
Porto-Vecchio in the south of Corsica has been the race start/finish and it's also where the Grand Depart will take place on the 29 June. Being a classic it has attracted the big names and recent winners in Corsica include the Australian, Cadel Evans who won the Tour de France in 2011. The only Brit to win this race was Chris Boardman back in 1996 when it was held in mainland France. Irishmen Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche have won the event three and two times respectively and it's a shame Dan Martin can't be here this weekend given his current form!
The route is the same as in previous years and just checking Meteo France it looks like sun and showers saturday and more in the way of rain for sunday. Eurosport usually provide excellent live coverage of the race but their schedule at the moment is just showing sunday's stage only. I will tweet if this changes.
For cycling fans visiting Corsica the ride out from Porto-Vecchio to the Col de l'Ospedale at 965m and back through Levie is not only a great way to experience part of the Critérium route but also a great tour of the Alta Rocca region.
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USS, United States Ship, the initials that precede all American navy warships and of course, Captain Kirk’s starship Enterprise. There never has been a US navy ship (or as far as I know a Starfleet craft) with the name Corsica so where did USS Corsica come from?
Like much of Europe and all of France, Corsica was occupied during World War II but on the 16 September 1943 it became the first part of Metropolitan France to be liberated. Some 12,000 local partisans known as the Maquis drove out the occupying German and Italian forces.
Following liberation the island became a key base for US air force operations. Some fifteen airfields were rapidly established making it a ‘carrier island’ hence, USS Corsica. The airfields were constructed and made operational in a short period of time by specialist engineering brigades designed for the task. Many of these 800 man strong units were comprised solely of black Americans reflecting the segregated nature of the US at that time.
The 812th ‘black’ brigade arrived in Corsica from Africa in late 1943 and set about the airfield construction task. The bases were primarily for B25 and B26 bomber aircraft. Serving with the 340th bomber group was one Joseph Heller, the soon to be author of Catch 22 which he wrote in the 1950’s and said, was influenced by and based on his time and experiences in Corsica.
Between 29 June and 1 July this year the Tour de France will weave its way past a number of these historic air fields – Figari, Basita, Ajaccio and Calvi – all commercial airports today and not forgetting Solenzara on the east coast which remains an active military airfield. Today there is little evidence of Corsica’s role in WWII however if you’d like to visit a unique relic of the era why not take a dive trip from Calvi and see the wreck of a B17 flying fortress bomber which has been lying on the seabed nearby since 1944.
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It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Postman Pat does it? Postman Guy, Postman Guy, Postman Guy and his black and white cat.…
I think it probably loses something in translation.
However early in the morning, just as day was dawning Guy, like Pat, picked up his post bag and set off not in his van but on foot to make a 14km round trip to deliver the post to Girolata. This is a tiny coastal village in the north west of Corsica which is only accessible by foot, boat or parachute! And for Guy, as a former French Foreign legionnaire the latter must have been an option he’d considered many times as the round trip takes about four hours.
On the 1 July this year the Tour de France peloton will spend around four hours racing from Ajaccio to Calvi. The route will pass the start of the Sentier du Facteur or Postman’s Path at the Col de la Croix in some of the most stunning coastal scenery. No doubt Phil Ligett and David Harmon will tell us a little about Guy, Girolata and the Scandola nature reserve as the helicam zooms in on this Unesco world heritage coastal paradise guarded by an imposing 16th century Genoese watch tower.
But what of Guy Le Facteur? Well he made his final delivery in May 2008 and the residents held a party for him on the beach which if you really want to, you can view on YouTube. Guy is the one who looks like Uncle Albert and come to think of it, this is just the sort of yarn he’d spin to Del Boy and Rodders! Guy clearly was a cushty geezer or so the fifteen permanent residents of Girolata thought – I can’t help but agree with them.
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If you type into Google, ‘Tour de Corse’ you’ll find 1,830,000 results largely about the motor rally that has been run there almost annually since 1956. Known locally as, the rally of a ten thousand bends, it used to be part of the World Rally Championship and was won twice in 1997 and 1998 by the late and great Colin McRae – the only ever British/Scottish winner. Interestingly in 2012 a British/German car won the rally – a Mini, albeit no ordinary One!
If you type into Google, ‘Tour de Corse Cycliste’ you’ll find 112,000 results largely about a bike race with an even greater heritage and which first ran in 1920. That first race was won by the very aptly named Napoleon Paoli - yes the very same man who later that season crashed into a donkey during the Tour de France. I say aptly named because of course Napoleon was born in Ajaccio and Pasquale Paoli was a revered Corsican revolutionary and author of the state constitution which he wrote in Italian. Paoli the revolutionary was exiled to London in 1795, died in 1807 and is interned in St Pancras churchyard. The last seen of Napoleon Paoli he was disappearing into the distance astride said donkey and later abandoned the tour after being hit on the head by a rock – all true!
Since 1920 the Tour de Corse Cycliste has been run 36 times. The 37th edition will roll out from Bastia on the 23 May for four days of racing over 516km. Notable past winners have included Bernard Hinault in 1982 and, in the preceding year, Stephen Roche. It was Roche’s first pro victory and he beat Hinault in the process. No surprise then that the ‘Badger’ should come back a year later and right the wrong, as well of course as winning the Tour de France in ‘81 and ‘82. Stephen followed his win in Corsica with victory in the Paris-Nice and the rest as they say, is history.
It's pretty cold here on Corsica, the mountains are blanketed in snow and many of Corsica's tiny ski stations are open. The snow cover is not quite as much as I was reading about in the Pyrenees or Boston which means that if you layer up it's a great time to ride. The roads and villages are incredibly quiet and the winter scenery is truly stunning as I'll hope you agree – take a look at my new winter gallery. The higher mountain roads are snowy so it's a time to stay sub 450m altitude which in coastal Balagne is easy to do. I've only seen one other cyclist in the past few days I think the locals are either hibernating or out skiing! Tourists are also thin on the ground although having said that I did see a camper-van from Finland yesterday – it probably feels quite tropical here for them!
Today I'm launching CorsicaCyclist.com which is a guide to road cycling in Corsica. This is I believe the first ever dedicated english guide to cycling in Corsica.
It's a very, very big year for cycling in Corsica, quite possibly the biggest ever. Not only is the Criterium International returning for a third time but also the Tour de France is coming to the island for the very first time. Corsica will host the Grand Depart and the first three stages in this 100th edition of the race - its centenary. The stages will make for some fantastic racing and despite the absence of a prologue time trial I'm confident that we'll see a Brit in yellow at the end of the first stage bunch sprint in Bastia. There's plenty of information about each of the stages on my website plus a nice video which will give you a taster of what to expect.
© M.Lund 2013-19