Cycling in Corsica: Climb aboard for the magical mystery tour

 

The bike was quite old, Jean said, but in its day it was top quality, and it was still in good working order. My curiosity was piqued. I was all ready to go and hire a bike for our fortnight's stay in northern Corsica, but Jean – the gruff but genial owner of the apartment we were renting – was having none of it.

He reached down and pulled open his garage door, and there it was, leaning against a wall, under a light coating of dust – a beautiful but neglected steel-blue racer with 'Motobecane' stamped on the frame. Ah, Motobecane – one of the hallowed names of French bike manufacturing, redolent of the era of Eddy Merckx, Brigitte Bardot, Sacha Distel.

Jean told me he'd bought the bike new in 1973 but he hadn't used it much. I wondered why. Later his wife told me he'd been in a car crash and lost some of his sense of balance. Poor Jean. He must have really loved the Motobecane to keep it all these years, and now he seemed glad to find someone to ride it.

That someone was a bit apprehensive. Would the bike fall apart under me? I fetched my pump, put some air in the tyres, and wheeled it out on to the road. I climbed aboard and pedalled off. Wow.

All that holiday, I rode the Motobecane. I've ridden it on half a dozen summer holidays since. Every year I go back, the Motobecane is waiting. And in that time I've realised that it doesn't get any better than cycling in Corsica, with its remote mountain roads, stunning views, spectacular landscapes, and slightly brooding tranquillity.

Cycling in Corsica has always had a low profile. On all the rides I've done, I've seen very few other cyclists. A solitary bike shop – in the coastal town of Ile Rousse – has served all my needs. Majorca, by contrast, is an established cycling destination.

One of the reasons is that Corsica has never hosted a major professional race – including any stages of the Tour de France. That tells you a lot about the strength of Corsica's independence from the culture and politics of mainland France. In 110 years since it began in 1903, the Tour hasn't dared go there. Until now.

Trepidation might be in the air when the riders line up in Porto Vecchio for the opening stage on 30 June. Will the separatist movement make its presence felt? There'll be three days of racing on the island, and for me the big moment will come when the Tour passes through Corsica's ancient capital – the mysterious hill-town of Corte, which is always my favoured destination when I set off on the Motobecane.

The ride to Corte is about 40 kilometres. It starts wonderfully, with a precipitous, hairpin-bend descent to the main road that links Bastia and Ile Rousse. The next 10km is a steady slog, not free of traffic, to the small town of Ponte Leccia. But for the rest of the journey the ride turns seriously magical. With a right turn over the railway line, a hush descends broken only by birdsong and the rustle of grasshoppers. The narrow, twisting road climbs steadily through the maquis and extraordinary vistas start opening up. In the far distance lies the Mediterranean.

Corte, when you get there, is one of those places where one can imagine disappearing and starting life under a new identity. Its setting is almost Himalayan. It has an air of secrecy. But it has a busy main street, and a citadel. It is powerfully Corsican, not French. Glance up and the mountains are right there, rising up all around.

I've had some curious looks when I've propped the Motobecane up against the railings next to my favourite Corte café. That's hardly surprising. But how will Corte react to the Tour? Will it be impressed? Maybe, like the Motobecane, it's been around too long for that.

More cycling holidays

* Take a family cycling tour around a little-travelled area of northern France where Normandy, Brittany and the Loire meet. Bike along the Mayenne and soak up the towpaths and country lanes. inntravel.co.uk

* Wine and wheels is a new 10-day self-guided cycle tour of northern California taking in the vineyards of Napa, Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, exploring the mighty redwood forests and offers plenty of stops to sample the state’s culinary landmarks. headwater.com

*Cycle from Saigon to Angkor Wat on a new group tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. Spend 15 days exploring rice paddies, pagodas and floating Mekong villages. Cycling averages 25-50 miles a day. skedaddle.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn