Skedaddle has been running trips to Corsica for years, way before the Tour de France decided to visit in 2013. Classic Road Cycling product manager David Hall tells us some of the secrets Le Tour missed.
When the Tour de France announced that the peloton would visit Corsica for the 100th edition of the great race, I wondered what had taken them so long. I first visited Corsica about 10 years before I worked for Skedaddle. I was on a cycling tour of the Hawaiian islands, sat in a guesthouse depressed about my imminent return to work and I picked up a copy of National Geographic and saw a picture of Corsica. I didn’t even know where it was then, but it looked beautiful and on the spot I decided it would be my next holiday.
I went there twice the following year with my touring bike and tent. When I joined Skedaddle it was the first overseas destination I worked on and with the experience I’d gained through my previous visits, it didn’t take long before we were able to create our first route with the help of our local team. I fell in love with the place and have been going back ever since.
Some stereotypical French traits are exaggerated here; depending on their mood the people can be incredibly indifferent, even stand-offish or they can be extremely welcoming and warm. And whilst Corsican people can be a little hard to crack at first, once you are welcomed in, the hospitality can be overwhelming. These days I’m greeted with open arms and hugs and kisses, in even some of the most remote corners of the island. There are times when Corsica feels like my second home.
Eating & Drinking
Corsican food is rustic and rural. Chestnuts feature heavily because of the vast forests in the interior. Cakes, liquors and even the local beers are made from them. The charcuterie has a distinctive taste because of the chestnuts eaten by the pigs which are left to roam wild in the countryside. Food is seasoned with the herbs of the local maquis, the aromatic shrubbery that covers most of the island, which has given Corsica its nickname “the scented isle”. Corsica has a great deal of livestock roaming freely. In some areas we need to take special care, particularly on blind bends! As well as the pigs, horses, goats, cattle, if you’re very lucky wild boar might be encountered – many of them feature frequently on local menus.
Things you shouldn’t miss when cycling in Corsica
HIGHEST CLIMB – A 35km climb though the magnificent Spelunca Gorge, from the seaside resort of Porto to the summit of the Col de Vergio (1477m above sea level).
MOST FUN DESCENT – The descent down from the highest climb goes through a narrower but no less beautiful gorge, the Scala di Santa Regina. ‘The most fun you can have with your pants on’.
COASTAL BEAUTY – Cap Corse, the “thumb” of Corsica, the northern cape, takes you past an ever-changing coastline, dotted with Genoese towers and is different to any other part of the island.
CHESTNUT FORESTS – La Castagniccia is a virtually unvisited region of the island. It is remote, unspoilt and very traditional with little traffic and is utterly fantastic.
THE GARDEN DESERT – The Desert des Agriates is another very sparsely populated region. Historically it used to be very fertile but quite inaccessible. Northern Corsicans would row their boats down the coast and scramble the cliff faces to farm the land. Over time this fertile area was over exploited and is now a deserted scrub landscape. Beautiful nevertheless and offering fantastic riding.
Skedaddle Runs two road cycling holidays based in Corsica – the Beautiful Isle and the slightly more challenging Southern Secrets trip as well as a more leisurely self guided holiday – click here for details. Our Grand Tour of the Med road cycling holiday also visits this amazing island.