We spent a fortnight in the south of Corsica: one week near Sartène and another in Sampolu in the Taravo valley.
Corsica is a lovely cycling area, with quiet narrow roads, great scenery, wild flowers, scented maquis, cool forests and picturesque rocks. We took mountain bikes with the intention of doing as much roughstuff as we could sensibly find. It seems there is no prohibition on cycling of footpaths, but because the terrain is so rocky and steep, we didn't find any practicable routes other than those that were cart-tracks or unsurfaced roads. We had hired a car, and we used it to shorten some rides, as this was supposed to be a lazy holiday.
Maps. We used the IGN 1:100k and 1:25k maps, the former borrowed from Simon and possibly a little out of date, the latter new, and pretty useful. It's a little hard to get a feel for the lie of the land perhaps because the forest shading obscures the contours, and, my, there are a lot of contours and very convoluted they are. Roads doubly so : distances between places are longer than they seem from the map.
Shops. Sartene has a reasonable large supermarket which seems to be open every day and over lunchtime. There are decent boulangeries in town. In the Taravo, there is very little. Zicavo and Cozzano do have shops, which are not bad for their size. We did make a trip to Ajaccio on a wet bank holiday and went to a big supermarket (along with half the population of the island). In the mountains are mobile shops, vans that tour between places. Nearest bank is Ajaccio.
Rides from Sartene
Mola- Punta di a Petra d'Arca, a shortish ride. The D50 through Mola starts with a typical quiet narrow and endless climb through forest. Once over the pass, there is a grand expansive view of the Montange de Cagna and tantalising glimpses of road in the forest on the hillsides below. We had eyed a track marked on the 1:25K map going over Monte Grosso, but the way is barred with a locked gate. We descended to the Ortolo river then took the track following the river up : the track forks, the right goes to the reservoir but we took the left fork to climb the Punta di a Petra d'Arca. We found it challenging but this was our first day and it was jolly hot. Nice forest/maquis but many flies. The Punta is an attractive eroded granite stump. Fast road descent from Foce to Sartene, where there is well-deserved ice-cream.
Radici, a longish ride. From Sartene, the D69 (there are no signposts in Sartene to anything along this road) then soon after, the D148 through Granace. A pleasant quiet road that more or less contours round the hillside. Quiet hamlets where people and dogs stand around in the middle of the road. Continue to Tirolo - we took the higher road the D348 - which climbs gradually, and the forest starts to take over. After Tirolo you cross a minor pass and get into total forest. There's not much at Orone but a couple of km down takes you to Carbini where there's a delightful romanesque church and tall, slender campanile. There's a bar-cafe too. Back on the D59, climb to Radici, a hamlet just off the road and this is the start of the track. It's not that long and it's nothing challenging, then it becomes tarmac and continues pleasantly enough towards Sartene except for the slightly irritating drag up to Foce.
Guincheto, a little ride. From Sartene, the main road south for 10km to the turn to Guincheto, then climb up to the village. Turn just in front of the church and it's paved at least past the horribly steep stretch at the far end of the village. Then a pleasant winding track of the usual sort. Becomes more foresty and wilder higher up, and there's a sort of Druid Grotto (ok, old sheep-fold) near the high point by a rock that looks as though it means something in Maya. Last high section has the same great views down the valley and beyond as the Mola road in ride1.
Fozzano. We drove to Bains de Baraci. The Spa is derelict but there's a P sign in the overgrown meadow in front. Rode along the D257 up the valley, then turned off the road up the track towards Fozzano. Usual wide track, occasionally loose or sandy, and climbs. Poppies and grasses line the trackside, meadows, pasture and woodland on the hillside. There are route-markers for a cycle route no.8. Fozzano is often in sight above you. You pass a dear little chapel deeply lost in the grasses near the top, then you're rewarded with delicious honeysuckle scents. We got a little lost in the roads here, taking the first obvious right in the village. It's a dead-end to Figanella even if this is where cycle route no8 wants you to go. What Cycle route no 8 wants to do is head off on a narrow footpath, part of the Mare-Mare Sud long distance path. Its looks like a challenging if short MTB ride but it wasn't on today's agenda. Backtracked, found the correct road and climbed windingly up into sparser vegetation, rocky ridges and views of a line of villages below. There's a pass at 731m and the other side of the ridge is even more rocky and spectacular: ravines where rocks and trees give battle. When you drop to the valley and the road veers southwest and down, the map shows a maze of forest tracks leading north to the Col St Eustache but they seemed less interesting, particularly when faced with competition from the beaches and glaces artisinales of Propriano.
Campomoro. There is always one really stupid ride. This was very stupid and not even a ride. We parked at Portiglio, rode to Campomoro, a nice road but a bit busy since it leads to a beach and other people had noticed as well as us that this leads to a beach. We went for a swim. On the 1:25K map there is a footpath marked that climbs up to meet a cart-track down. We knew it would be a push; we assumed that there was indeed a path. Well - sort of. It was terribly overgrown. We saw a tortoise. I left Colin with the bikes to see what the prospects were but even the overgrown path seemed to peter out into fragments of possible paths, and no clear cart tracks at all. It was slightly scary - it would have been very easy to get lost in the scrub, and there were snakes (even if not poisonous).
Quenza, Zonza and the back of the Aiguilles. Drove to Ste. Lucie, drop down a quiet road into Rizzanese valley and total forest, then climb back up to Sorbollano, busier road to Quenza. Road up to Cantoli, no signpost. Track to Prugna, fairly level and good views of the Aiguilles. In Prugna follow the track s/p for the refuge. It's the usual wide track but a bit more challenging and interesting, a bit steeper and a few little fords, and some pigs. It took a bit longer than we thought to get to the junction for the track the other side, but the track is usually visible and the junction is obvious. The return was easier - because it was downhill. The steepest bits are even paved. There's a nice cliff section where you're vertically above the river. There are great tall forest trees. We met a German couple. The 1:100k map is a bit ambiguous as to the track alternatives but in reality you can only find the main one which climbs cruelly up to the road, near the hippodrome. Descent to Zonza which reminds me of Betws: the "Randonneur" serves pizzas that are an appropriate size for cyclists. Zonza is a bit busy : I do mean it is like Betws. The road past the Aiguilles is popular, and inevitably popular with motorcyclists. We also had the vast crowds of (real) cyclsits that we'd seen on the road to Bastia two days ago.
We managed to contrive a little more track on the return. The Germans had said the track from above the hippodrome that runs n-s under the Punta di Quecitella was nice, but we were too lazy to do all this and instead took the D368 (road) then the D66 (track) to Carabona. There are tracks that would make an alternative to the D368 but the 1:25k indicates barriers, whether they exist or not I have no idea. The D66 turns to road but track or road it is a delight except for the mini horrorclimb after Gualdaricciu.
Rides from Sampolu, Taravu
Tasso - Sampolu, short and entertaining ride. From Sampolu to Tasso on the road, then at the bend where the village starts, take the track right and heading up, past some houses, it's tarred for a short stretch then the usual variety of untarred track, at first mostly through forest then clearing into sunny yellow broom and great views of the Taravo valley and encircling mountain ranges. Today's wildlife was a fox. This track meanders some way high up the mountains and stops, but we take a right turn on a rocky spur, less well used than the main track, which drops stonily before veering left and up the side valley, in deep dark forest. The map shows a few tracks but the way we want is the obvious one. It's pretty steep and challenging at times, and a little wet where streams join it. Emerge into sunlight on the edge of Ciamannace.
Plateau de Coscione, the classic. We drove partway up the Col de la Vaccia, to the junction with the D428 and parked a little way beyond. We'd chosen to do the ride clockwise, doing the r-s north to south, really for reasons of weather - it was tending to be clearer in the morning so we wanted the most scenic part then. It may be an easier ride the other way as you get more of the climbing on tarmac. Climb on a roughish tar road, in and out of the trees, up and down. Pass the Bergeries de Bassette where there's a refuge, then wind about in a pleasant rolling country : you are high but there tend to only be views of local summits. There's a juncton where the right hand is tar, goes to the refuge San Pteru only, our way is the left and here the roughstuff starts. It's all attractive high meadows with boulders and outcrops and scattered trees like parkland. The route is clear but we did check it with GPS. The GR20 seems to follow the route now and then but this wasn't quite as depicted on our 1:25k map. There's a nice view down a valley to the north and you can see what you imagine your way to the south. There's a bouldery stretch, followed by a bend into a small velley with some powerful aromatic shrubs and the final climb to the high point of 1600m or so. Now descend a good track, lots of walkers, fabulously eroded granite tors and a knbbly summit straight ahead. A large granite outcrop offers some fun riding (posing for photos), then long shallow descent. There's a large ugly building at the end which isn't quite the start of the tar, but this seems to be the car-park. The tar's not long coming, and a glimpse of the Aiguilles before we swoop down to Quenza, panoramic views of everything to the south but we're too absorbed in enjoying the thrilling descent.
The Bar des Sports in Quenza has a short but decent menu, and good pizzas. Back along the road, which is nice, but not as nice as roughstuff.
Col di Verde : a long ride through forest.
Cozzano is about 3km from Sampolu as the crow flies, by road, it's more like 10km as the tar does this way and that, trying to find a way across the deep chasm of the Taravu. Cozzano is a picture-perfect hill village in the Italian scenic style. Stop an take photos. Then take the Zicavo road, and at the edge of the village there's a sharp left leading up steeply. The tar disappears when the gradient eases and then you're on a very winding forest track which climbs gently, mostly in forest but now and again clearing and affording glimpses of snow on the range opposite and the villages below, which never seem to be receding. It's a bit of a puzzle to work out the route on the 1:25k map but the track itself is not hard to follow. Nevertheless we did manage to get lost. There's a junction at 1125m unmarked on the map and we took a bend right, thinking this looked the more convincing way. The GPS could only find one satellite through the trees. The track didn't match quite what the map depicted and after it led us to a col underneath an impressive towering crag, with no sight of any continuation we concluded we should have take the left turn. Wrong though it was it was quite a thrilling place to be, with what looked like a valley of totally impenetrable and unexplored forest below.
The true track continues straightforwardly. The pine forest is refrshingly aromatic but the cones surprisingly and obstacle and there's the occasional malignant thud right close to you. The flowers are pretty : purple vetches, foxgloves and scabious. You reach a high point then drop to an isolated chapel and contour round. The ridge too is closer and it's jagged and menacing - this is the GR20. A crag leaps out ahead : the Rocha da la Penta. The forest turns to a mix of beech and dizzyingly high pines. It's still where we are but you can hear the soft rushing of wind in the high trees. Near the top there's a little deviation by which you can join a the GR20 in a rocky descent to the pass. There's a refuge here, no electricity but steak and chips.
There's a similar track on for the descent, but shorter. It's easy and offers different views and it's a lot quicker than the uphill. It's also "our" side of the vally. We hit road at Palneca, a tidy and attractive place but seems half-deserted.
Ghisoni- Vivario loop, a long road ride Drove to the top of the Col di Verde and parked and so started the ride with a pleasant cool descent through forest, views of still-snowy Monte Renoso above, and impressive craggy crags to the left, best of all the spectacular Kyrie Eleison. Still descending through Ghisoni and a gorge and then the Defile de Incuzzena, the only way to see this is on a bike. At (another) Sampolu (where there's a restaurant) as the scenery was flattening out towards the coastal plain, turn left to cross a ridge and join the road heading back into the mountains. Views north to more rolling ranges : the Castagniccia. We felt perhaps the ride would have been better the other way, so the views we'd seen in on the descent would be taken more slowly and appreciatively in ascent. This side didn't seem as interesting, until after Vezzani where you cross a pass and ar epresented with a vast panorama of the central valley, and higher snowy peaks surrounding, villages vertiginously below. We were hit by the wind here which made the descent towards Vivario interesting - as was the lunch sitting out in the little plaza. The main road runs through the village and lorries have to squeeze through its twisty main street.
The enormous plates of chips we had with lunch had seemed like a good idea until we had to lug our bellies out of town and up the unforgiving gradients of the main road, a broad expanse of heat-reflecting tarmac. The turn to the D69 isn't far, and it's back to pleasantly quiet roads. Last time we were here, the final climb was all in forest but it clearly wasn't now and the final zigzags were all too obvious in their brutal nakedness. Forest fires to are to blame, but there is new growth. The descent is shaded, and where there are gaps, you can see right down to the beach. But we weren't going that way, we had to finish with yet another climb. And Colin had planned this ride? But it was cool and quiet in the late afternoon, and it's not at all steep.
Olivese-Aullene. Mostly road, but with a bit of track. We parked near the top of the Col de Vaccia, same layby as before, rode down to just past the D428 junction and took a left onto a cart-track running below the road, through some bergeries and small plots. This was a delight, you ride through low shrubbery of broom, hawthorn, bracken and bramble. There are hundreds of pigs, there are tidy vegetable plots, and half-buried cottages. The track meets the Olivese road below the Vaccia refuge. We took the road down: it's more scary in descent with the unfenced sides. From Olivese to Moca you'll find a few cars, from Moca the little road climbs up and you have that to yourselves. That's a nice stretch, with forest above you and crags poking out. You meet the D420 just below the Col St Eustache, and this does have traffic. The Col has a cafe but is not the high point, the road continues up but the rocks above are increasingly like lurid red surrealist fanstasy rocks and a diverting sight. We had toyed with the idea of doing some tracks above the road but it didn't seem worth it and as usual we were more interested in finding lunch. There are plenty of places in Aullene. The Hotel de la Poste has a good menu but perhaps not best suited to those who have to ride up a pass soon after. The owners (I think) have compiled a collection of walking routes and cycling routes based from here.