Posted by: Ian | July 19, 2011

I’Ile-Rousse, Calvi, Galeria

Today I enjoyed a type of European cycling that was different from the Engadin circuit I wrote about last time. For the next two weeks we’re in Corsica and today I had my first long ride. If you find yourself in the same area I can recommend the route. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t start in L’Ile-Rousse as the title suggests (we’re staying at Marine de Davia, a few km away) but it easily could.

Here’s the route map:

I started at 6:30 so that I wouldn’t be tackling the worst of it in the midday sun. This also gave me the advantage that I could progress to Calvi along the main coastal road (the N197) without the nuisance of much traffic. This first section, which is 24 km from Ile Rousse and a bit less from the place where we’re staying, offers continuous views over the stunning shoreline and beaches and is lovely when the roads are quiet but less so once the cars and lorries come out.

From Calvi the route continues along the D818 towards Galeria. There’s a rise towards a lighthouse-tipped outcrop that encloses the Golfe de la Revellata. Last time we were in Corsica we rented a villa along this coastline. It’s much quieter than the beaches in Calvi here and the sea shelves off more quickly and is better for swimming. When the hill flattens out the traffic finishes too. From here to Galeria it’s about 30 km of quiet cycling along a much more rugged coast road. When I cycled this two years ago I came to a point at which the road falls into a terrible state of disrepair that continues for seven miles. It was, unsurprisingly, exactly the same today, if not worse. The upside is the tranquility. This morning I saw a pair of hoopoes along this stretch.

A few miles out of Galeria the road surface improves before becoming dreadful again on the descent down to the River Fango. Every time I ride this road I wonder what the rationale is for repairing only one section of the road; I still haven’t worked it out.

Just before the bridge over the Fango to Galeria the route joins the D81 going the other way (left) back towards Calvi. This is the start of the seven or eight mile drag up to the Bocca di Marsolinu that I was keen to complete before the sun gets going. Bocca is Corsican for Pass. There’s precious little shade and on the one occasion I cycled it in 35 degree heat (unfortunately without water) the pleasure evaporated way before I got to the pass.

At the other side of the pass the road lends itself to making up time. Even cycling quite cautiously I hit 47 mph. At the T-junction that comes quickly in about 3 miles you can take a left to go past the airport and back onto the N197. Instead, I turned right and then took the first left. I expected this to be signed to Calenzana but it wasn’t. Nonetheless, the road does indeed go to Calenzana. It’s a little-used road and the surface quality initially reflects it but it’s not as horrible as the road to Galeria and it’s well worth it to be almost alone in the beautiful landscape of the hills.

Another fantastic feature of Corsica is the scented maquis that surrounds you everywhere you walk, run or ride so long as you avoid the main roads. The balance of fragrances changes though the essential palette is consistent. Today I noticed a greater contribution from the fig trees, which I bet won’t be mentioned if you Google “maquis”.

Approaching Calenzana I scanned the encircling mountains and wondered how on earth there could be a makeable route to Ile Rouse. Wisely, I ignored that thought. Coming into Calenzana you need to make a right up the hill into town and continue on the same road beneath the main square where the church is. Last time I was here we went to see Meridanu at this church; they were fabulous. Before that, I’ve been to Calenzana to start the GR20 (twice) and the Tra Mare e Monte long distance hikes. But today, after checking with one of the locals that I was on the right road, I pressed on before being held up briefly by a herd of goats.

Although there are no signs to announce it for several miles, this is now the D151 that takes you all the way back to the start. It doesn’t feel like any sort of main road. Rather it implausibly strings together one stunning hill town after another.

There are several places to stop for supplies and springs spouting out free drinking water; I just used the water, fruit and gel that I took with me.

The trend of the route is upwards but it doesn’t feel hard. All through the day I only used my small chain ring for the last drag up the Bocca di Marsolinu and for a quick sprint past the traffic up the hill into Calenzana. Even so, by the time you get near the large radio masts at Col de Salvi and survey the Balagne way below you there’s no missing the fact that you’re now at some altitude – something over 500 metres in fact.

The corollary of this is that from here it’s pretty much downhill all the way in. There are a few more picturesque hill towns to speed through, though these, being more accessible, are busier than those passed already. There is also an impressive convent on the right that Paula and I cycled up to last night for some exercise after dinner. Nearer to sea level, I took the left to Algajola, which dropped me on the N197 just before the turning for Marine de Davia. If you’re really starting at Ile Rousse stay on the road and it takes you there.

It’s a 70 mile ride incorporating 5,500 feet of ascent that took me 5 hours plus photo time. It’s as well that I got back when I did: soon after I got in we had a thunder storm, which has continued since.



  1. […] Beast, weekly loops round Regent’s Park – and some innovations – outstanding riding in Corsica, my first audax, the very enjoyable Engadin Radmarathon, a preview ride round the Olympics road […]

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