îles de Beauté

The thing with Corsica, though, is that it’s so goddamn beautiful that it doesn’t really matter where you are. The bottles of wine it makes advertise themselves as being produced in the île de Beauté, I mean come on

So I docked in at Propriano at 6am or so and headed for the nearest campsite thinking, if there’s a spanner in the works of my original plan, I may as well have a day of it. I spend the day, as one does in Corsica, in cafes and on the beach, drinking Corsican wine and eating (probably not Corsican) cheese and thinking, you know, Corsican thoughts such as, can he go for a swim right after eating that whole baguette? Corsican! (like ‘course-he-can, ha ha!)

Then I was thinking I would cycle north to Ajaccio, get the train inland to Île Rousse or Calvi, and then cycle back down the coast to Bonifacio and hop across to Sardinia – not too far from my original scheme. Fortunately, however, I checked online and the Internet informed me that you can’t in fact take bicycles on the train in Corsica, as it’s a tiny old rickety thing, or something, so it was back to the drawing board.

When I did get to Ajaccio, I was struck by a lurgy that made me re-rethink the route of my Corsican adventure, and in the end I went just as far north as Porto, just past the island’s most famous attraction – the calanchi di Piana – and stayed there for two nights before heading back the way I came. 

The calanques (apparently the word more or less means “inlet”) are formations of pink granite through which the road winds and weaves, and from which you can see all the way down, panoramically, to the coast far below. Piana is at about 500m elevation, so the view you get is pretty spectacular, and there are lots of nooks and crannies off the road where you can sit and observe the whole scene. Granite comes in several colours, it turns out, and this is but one of them.

So much of it all together, in crags and caves half a kilometre up right down to the cliffs that plunge into the sea below, is quite stunning, so that passing through it all twice – in both directions – actually felt like the best way to go about it.

And speaking of the sea, the afternoon I spent on the beach was a particularly raucous one, waveswise. A lot of people just sat on the sand and watched them crash into the shore. One chap went in, causing a lot of us, I think, to wonder if something terrible might happen. I wrote a little story imagining what it would have been like things had gone awry, called A Day At The Beach. All the details of it are true to life, except one.

That’s the beach, there.

When I got back to Ajaccio, I visited the house of the Bonapartes. Napoleon was a Corsican lad, once upon a time. And I stood in the room he was born in, probably. Saw it all, I did, and then had a pizza at the market. At the campsite that evening I spoke with a Frenchman who, as far as I understood, had walked from Crete, minus the large bits of water, to Corsica, which I thought was very impressive. He gifted me a barely used gas canister when he left, since he couldn’t take it on his flight to Toulouse. Quids in. The boat left Ajaccio for Porto Torres (on Sardinia) early in the morning, and was waiting, majestic and bright Sardinian yellow, when I arrived at the port. Luckily for me, there was only one to choose from…

Sardinia is where the trip’s first real tears were shed, barreling down, up and around the glorious peaks and troughs of the island’s northwest coast, between Alghero and Bosa.

Cyclist’s high is real, and don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t. With the right piece of music and sufficient momentum, the tingles will start and the tears will flow. At a campsite just outside Bosa I met Martin, whom I would see later in Cagliari. He told me I was the first cyclist he’d met who was heading east out of Europe, and I said likewise. No more of that Canal du Midi rubbish for us!

In the southern half of the island it was much easier to find wild camping spots, and the three or four days it took me to get to Cagliari were spent hugging the coastline, swimming morning and evening, supping well, and marvelling at Sardinia’s great scenery. It mightn’t be a big Island, but its diversity gives it the impression of being immense: cove after cove, large stretches of flat windswept beach, rolling hills that beckon, swathes of agricultural land divided by avenues of brittle bush and thick evergreen, with an understory you can stick your hand right into.

The brisk valley wind carries the shrill bleats and squawks of pigs and sheep while boar roam free, tusks cocked like weather vanes, their retinues of boarlets hopping and skipping in single file in front of them. Herds of goat amble about over the road, interrupting the flow of cars and causing drivers much chagrin. Horns bleat. Geese honk.

The Tunisian storm tearing up the country, spared, for the most part, the isle of Sardinia so that, while northerners were losing family members in floods, Sardinians we’re greeting each other, seemingly endlessly, in torrents of ciao and buongiorno and arrivederci and buonagiornata and buonasera and, again, oh look there’s so-and-so, ciao, ciao-ciao, come stai

To cycle half a day is to journey between distinct climatic regions. There are elephantine promontories jutting out into the Mediterranean, wearing tufts of windswept earth that appear dragged carelessly into place; dry green rolling hills that look like massive boulders draped over with tarpaulin and decorated with foliage and dry grass; beaches miles long, almost completely flat and, in appropriate weather, accommodating to surfers, otherwise played upon by percussive waves.

And then there are the fecund flats surrounding Arborea, which smell of Devon: acres of farmland separated by coniferous forests of fir and pine, their needleblankets feet thick. There is a type of tree that grows there, and the best way to describe it seems to be to say it looks like a hand. It does not have a single trunk, but five or six of equivalent dominance, each sprouting from a common base of thick wood.

So that, besides the last couple of hours, which were spent on a gruelling coastal highway in the driving rain, both my wheel- and downtime in Sardinia were very joyful, and filled my reserves of strength and energy. Both of which, it turned out, I’d need in spades to get across bloody Sicily.

If anyone cares to enlighten me as to what kind of tree it is, I’m all ears.

Buy me a coffee, an inner tube, or fresh brake pads!

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Every bit of support is greatly appreciated. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s