Nice and Corsica
August 7 / August 29, 2008

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montreal to Nice, Thurs. Aug.8
3  Nice, Fri. Aug. 9
4  Antibes, and Cap Antibes, Sat. Aug 9
5  Villefranche, Sun. Aug. 10
6  To Corsica, Mon. Aug. 11
7  Ajaccio to Porticcio, Tues. Aug. 12
8  Porticcio to Cutoni, Wed. Aug 13
9  Cutoni to Serro di Ferro, Thurs. Aug. 14
10  Serro di Ferro to Sartène, Fri. Aug. 15
11  Camping Olva, Sartène, to Col de Roccacampa, Sat. Aug 16
12  Col de Roccacampa to Bonifacio, Sun. Aug 17
13  Bonifacio, Mon. Aug. 18
14  Bonifacio to Porto Vecchio, Tues. Aug. 19
15  Porto Vecchio, Wed. Aug. 20
16  Porto Vecchio, Wed. Thurs. 21
17  Porto Vecchio to Zonza and the Massif Bavella, Fri. Aug. 22
18  Massif Bavella to ``too far from'' Porto Vecchio, Sat. Aug. 23
19  To Porto Vecchio, Sun. Aug. 24
20  Porto Vecchio to Ajaccio, Mon. Aug. 25
21  Ajaccio, Tue. Aug. 26
22  Ajaccio to Nice, Wed. Aug. 27
23  Nice, Thurs. Aug. 28
24  Nice to Montreal, Fri. Aug. 29
25  Maps and Comments

1  Introduction

This was another last minute trip. I was looking for something interesting at Air Transat that began sometime in August. July was out because I had to feed Petercat antibiotic pills twice a day for 3 weeks. The choice was between Toulouse or Nice. Although I have been to Nice several times, and Toulouse once, Nice won because of the possibility of going to Corsica, which is totally new. There is also much new, and almost new, outside of Nice.

2  Montreal to Nice, Thurs. Aug.8

It was an appropriately uneventful flight and, as before, my bicycle and camping gear were carried for free. We arrived a couple of minutes early, at 6:28am. One real advantage of Air Transat is that the flight was non-stop from Montreal to Nice. No hassle with a hub switch someplace in Europe. As usual, my bicycle and trailer were late to come off. I do wish I had more faith in the system.

3  Nice, Fri. Aug. 9

After many wrong turns, I discovered the bicycle path from the airport to central Nice, once you know. Just follow the service road out towards Nice, and it joins up with it. Unfortunately, Air Transit meals are not very high energy so I really needed more. I found a McDonald's, and although the Egg McMuffin did not seem up to par, they did have free WiFi, and even had accessible power outlets. I am currently in one near my campsite.

The bicycle path went along the Promenade des Anglais where, it appears that all the Nicois carry foam pads.

These beaches are for those that don't like sand. Some did show some pain walking over to the showers in the hot afternoon.

I wanted to change my ferry tickets to Corsica, but discovered that the ticket booth was quite closed. It was impossible when I arrived early in the morning. My intent for the 3 days before I left was to ride along the Grande Corniche, and stay in a campground. I started up, and it quickly became apparent, that I would not make it up. I didn't have any water, or bananas for power, but even with them, it would have been impossible.

I came down and wandered a bit through some ``nice'' squares.

Lonely Planet warned that August in Nice and environs, was quite crowded, and that it was almost impossible to find rooms without hotel reservation. Since, I camp, I didn't think it would be much of a problem. I was wrong. My first attempt to camp was just north of the airport, but I couldn't find that campground, and everyone I asked, said they had never heard of it. There were several others about 10km more west, but it was getting quite dark. After arriving in several towns, that had signs pointing to Campings, but with none on their town maps, I followed a car inside, but the security guard threw me out, and indicated that they were full. He sent me down the road to their main gate, but before that, I noticed a Camping Orion. It was much smaller, was also full, but the owner said he would let me set up my tent by the billiard table. I arrived just before 11:00pm, and the gaggle of teenage girls decided at about midnight that they were finished so I set up my tent. It was a pleasant night.

4  Antibes, and Cap Antibes, Sat. Aug 9

I asked how much my night would cost. He told me nothing. I had come in late, and the site was rather unconventional. That was incredibly nice.

Since I was so far west, I continued further and rode down to Antibes. I had been in the northern part of the town during my conference in Sophia Antipolis but never really in town,

never around the Cap d'Antibes. It was a pleasant ride around the shore. Even Monet was intrigued and turned some of them into paintings.

There was one climb over the tip. At the top was a small grocery store, but I was able to buy a bottle of cold rosé, and had it, and some left over pizza for lunch at a delightful small harbour on the western side.

I rode back towards Nice, hoping to ``Camp Sauvage'' in a forest preserve I had seen earlier in the morning. However, it was too open, crowded, and I eventually saw a no camping sign. I did see a wilder area across the road, between the road and the train track. Eventually I found an acceptable, hidden spot and stayed.

5  Villefranche, Sun. Aug. 10

My neighbourhood McDonald's was closed for breakfast when I came by, but I was delighted to find that Spar market was open. I had almost no food so I stocked up. Apparently the smaller markets are open Sunday mornings, but the big hypermarchés are closed. I will get some more water tomorrow, but have enough tonight.

Since I now had enough bananas, I decided to tackle the easiest Corniche, the Basse Corniche. This goes to Villefranche, has a castle at the top.

It also has some magnificent views of the Nice harbour.

The Corniche is pretty flat at the top and looks down into the bay between it an Cap Ferrat. This is where the big cruise ships moor, because the port at Nice is too small.

The Villefranche boat harbour is obviously for small boats.

I think the small line near the top of this ridge is the Grande Corniche.

I didn't realise from the maps or description that Cap Ferrat was so hilly.

After a stop to write, and check email at my neighbourhood McDonald's, I went back to my campsite. It may be noisy but it is a pretty place.

6  To Corsica, Mon. Aug. 11

It was a beautiful night, and my only disappointment for the morning was that my neighbourhood McDonald's was not open for breakfast so I couldn't continue with my mail and reports.

I leave at 3:00pm so there was much time to explore some more. The Place Massena must be one of the largest squares in Nice.

I was the last on, but the first off when we arrived at about 8:30pm. I was aiming for the Les Mimosas campground, and a sign showed me that the GPS coordinates that I had were indeed wrong. However, from there the signs were good so I found it easily, but had no idea how far I had to go. I put my tent up in the dark at about 10:00pm.

7  Ajaccio to Porticcio, Tues. Aug. 12

Mimosas is too far away for me to catch my ferry on the 27th so I will probably spend the night at the terminal.

Ajaccio is a pretty, and very hilly place.

The signs to the `''Centreville'' seem to be all up hill, and clogged with cars and this is only the coast. The interior mountains look rather intimidating, so I will go south to Bonifacio along the coast.

After passing several beautiful beaches

I stopped just south of Porticcio at Camping Europe. I indulged with iced rosé using a bag of ice cubes from the campstore.

8  Porticcio to Cutoni, Wed. Aug 13

I left quite late after writing using the electricity in the washroom. The coast here is quite rugged, and I started out uphill. By noon it was, about 35C or about 95F. I had only gone about 10km, but I was exhausted, so I stopped at a small beach store, had a litre of cold orange juice and stayed a few hours. I refused the kind offer of a ride up the hill, from a bicyclist that was being rescued by his wife. In retrospect, perhaps it was a mistake. The climb was about 5km,and very soon I was suffering from terminal exhaustion, having to stop and rest every 50m. I started looking early for a place to camp, but all were too small and exposed. Finally, as I was about to collapse on the spot I reached Cutoni. There was a small field, some industrial waste and a small road leading into the scrub. I was totally invisible so I quit.

9  Cutoni to Serro di Ferro, Thurs. Aug. 14

This was another day of fighting uphills with resting every 30m to 50m. This road is not flat, and the downhills do not compensate for the pain of the uphills.

There were some surprises. A group of industrious ants had constructed 10m plus highway leading to ???.

Many houses were made of huge granite blocks, but a large number were abandoned.

Much to my surprise, I was able to make it to Camping Turranccou, with the final pain of having to ride up a steep hill to get there.

10  Serro di Ferro to Sartène, Fri. Aug. 15

Today was a much easier day, starting with a long downhill. It continued to be rather common, but quite pretty, hill covered scrub. I passed a large number of campgrounds, right by the water, that had not shown up in any Internet search.

I also had the kindness of the trip. My rear derailleur had started to overshift into the wheel, on my hill climbing granny gear. I tried to adjust it once, tightening the derailleur that had somehow loosened, but it was still misbehaving. I stopped again, but was having no real luck. Then two guys on a motorcycle stopped and one asked if he could help. One assured me the other one knew what he was doing - ``He owns a bicycle shop.'' He did indeed know, after a few minutes, and adjusting a screw I had never touched, it was declared fixed. It seems to have done well so far.

There it dropped into town. Just as I entered Propriano, I was hit with something I never expected here in Corsica - rain. I was just passing a fried chicken stand, so I waited it out, with some french fries, and a Prieta, a (the?) Corsican beer. I continued through town, and up the cliff, to Camping Olva. Except for the initial climb out of Propriano, and a gentle climb near the end, the road was mostly flat.

My neighbours tonight are three Italian bicyclists. They have been in Corsica since mid July and this Was their first rain. They agreed with my assessment that the mountains were scary, and they were in their 20S.

11  Camping Olva, Sartène, to Col de Roccacampa, Sat. Aug 16

The ride from Camping Olva to Sartène was 5km of moderate, but still noticeable uphill with spectacular scenery, both back down the valley and up to the top of the cliff where I was heading.

I wondered if I was going up to the top of the ridge or around it. It was to the top.

I was fortunate to arrive during the weekly Saturday morning market in the main square. To say the least, it was rather crowded.

This is the ``most Corsican of Corsican towns''. The narrow streets and stairs did not surprise me but the four and five story buildings did.

Apparently tile roofs and stone walls are not enough to prevent destruction.

As expected it was down out of the Vielle Ville an d then back up the ridge on the other side. Here you could see some of the new town,

the complete old town,

and the example of man's miscalculations.

After the top of this ridge, it was downhill most of the way, through beautiful country, until the climb to the Col de Roccacampa

I couldn't find the campground, and the one I did find was full and a couple of km down a gravel road by the sea. The road south of the Col was quite new and there were remnants of the old road leading off it. After several trials, I found one that was isolated and had only the most curious of trash.

12  Col de Roccacampa to Bonifacio, Sun. Aug 17

It was fairly easy ride to Bonifacio. The country was quite pretty, and it showed again that this is a granite island.

Bonifacio showed up on the top of its rocky spur when I was still quite far out of town.

I stayed in the, very crowded, campground right in town, and had one of the less crowded sites, with my bicycle right nearby. This was much more convenient than climbing 5km up the hill to a nicer one.

The Haute Ville is completely surrounded by walls on the land side, and protected by sharp cliffs on the seaside.

Inside the walls, the streets were, of course, very narrow, but there were still cars up there.

The east coast is as rugged, and pretty as the town side.

13  Bonifacio, Mon. Aug. 18

This does satisfy the accolade of being the jewel of Corsica. I rode up to the Haute Ville, leaving my trailer behind, and out to the harbour entrance. This was a vista of walls and fortifications.

The harbour is not big enough for all the boats so there is an overload bay.

The houses on the other side seem to only accessible by water, and one owner obviously decided that it was too much strain.

I rode back to the center of town, and pushed my bicycle through the crowds, ``Produits Corse'' is a big business, and many shops advertised having them.

Some shops had things that were rather ridiculously priced.

I left my bicycle at the beginning of the promenade along the cliffs to the east of the Haute Ville. It showed, dramatically, the grandeur of the cliffs.

It is ``worth the journey''!

14  Bonifacio to Porto Vecchio, Tues. Aug. 19

The morning started with someone pointing out that the trailer tire was flat. I was at a service station just across the road from where I paid off the camping so I took off the tire, and, after not seeing any obvious hole, replaced the tube. A check of the old tube, in the water bath at the station, did not show any leak.

After the uphill climb, out of town, the ride was relatively easy. I checked the tire again about halfway to Porto Vecchio, and noticed that it was getting soft again. After pumping it up, I continued.

After arriving in Porto Vecchio, I started to look for a campground. I had GPS coordinates for several, all derived from a study of ``camps'' from Google maps. My GPS routed me up over the Citadelle, and it seemed to me that there would not be anything there. This was straight up a very steep hill, so I walked up and found nothing, although there were signs pointing to a condo development with the same name.

I gave up, and rode down a very steep one-way street, the wrong way, to the port. My destination now was Arutoli Camping which Lonely Planet said was 1km beyond the traffic circle. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong traffic circle, and went a couple of km, all uphill, with no luck. I asked a pair of passing cyclists where the camping was, and they said down the hill. I saw nothing going down, nor did I see any place where I could Camp Sauvage. My next mistake was to follow a sign that said Arutoli Bungalows. This time I was stopped by a lady, who said the road was a dead end, and that there was no campground there. She did tell me that there was a small road, to the right, as I was leaving that had the campground. Again I did not find it, and went along the main road back to Bonifacio. Just before the next traffic circle, I saw a bunch of RVs huddled together behind some trees, so I thought that this may be it.

I was wrong. This was a collection of RVs that had gathered in a field, to apparently spend some summer time. However, there was much extra room, so I decided that I would spend the night there. As I was going over to a vacant place, relatively far from the crowd, I was asked what I was looking for. I said a place to camp, and there were no complaints.

As I was putting up my tent, a woman came over, and gave me cold bottle of mineral water. A little later, her husband came over with a plate of steak, and cabbage, for my dinner. They were all very kind and gracious.

15  Porto Vecchio, Wed. Aug. 20

This morning I left very early, and, after pumping up the completely flat trailer tire, tried again to find Arutoli Camping. This time I was successful. The sign was very obvious at the traffic circle I passed twice last night, but I managed to miss it. I noted where it was, and went to a Cycle/Motorcycle store that I had seen yesterday to see if they could fix my tire. It was completely flat when I took it in, so the filled it with air, and when it did not all leak out immediately, declared it fixed. I protested a bit, but they were convinced it was OK. I went back to Arutoli, and checked in. I left the trailer there and went back up to the Citadelle to find the Internet Café that I had seen yesterday. After writing my report, and putting together the Porto Vecchio portfolio pictures, I walked down to find that they were in the process of permanently closing their café. They did tell me that there was free WiFi access in the port at some of the ordinary cafés there. I successfully found one, using my wrist watch WiFi detector, and sent the report.

16  Porto Vecchio, Wed. Thurs. 21

The trailer tire was essentially flat again this morning. I left it there, and went and bought two new tubes. I would have bought a new tire, but the stores only had 14 and 20 inch tires, and not the 16 inch that I needed.

I went back up to the Citadelle, to have a more leisurely look, and to search for the station for the bus to Ajaccio, that ran through the mountains. I discovered that it was not a ``station'', but rather just a ``bus stop''.

Corsica, was under Genoa's control for many years, and this Citadelle was built by them.

Eglise St. Jean-Baptiste was both on the main square, and had a little square at its other entrance.

This Citadelle does not have the sea to protect it so it is completely surrounded by walls.

To the west were the mountains, and to the east, the port.

It was very difficult to find a place with some shade in the port, and this was one of the most pleasant.

17  Porto Vecchio to Zonza and the Massif Bavella, Fri. Aug. 22

I got up before dawn to catch a 6:45am bus to the mountain town of Zonza. After pumping up the trailer tire again, I was at the Renault Garage where the bus started with about half hour to spare. The driver was a little late, and I was worried that the bus would not actually run. However, it came, and after a few more stops in town, we were going up the hill. It was a very steep climb, and in many places, the road was laced with pot-holes.

We arrived, and my bicycle was taken off the roof. The air was crisp and dry ... a delightful change from the seaside. Zonza is on the side of a cliff, with a deep valley on one side, and the cliff face on the other. I don't think there was a flat road in town.

Lonely Planet was totally taken with the town so I had intended to spend three days there. Unfortunately, though, all the campgrounds were down very steep roads, so I was less than enthusiastic. Lonely Planet also felt that the Needles of Bavella were spectacular, and must be seen. However, the comment that changed my mind about staying in Zonza, was that the road on the other side of the Col de Bavella was an ``astonishing 30km'' downhill.

I began the supposedly 8km, which was really 10km climb to the Col. The needles were visible before the Col, but I didn't think that they lived up the author's accolades, but perhaps it is a little difficult to be overwhelmed after have seen the Torres in Torres del Paine.

The Col de Bavella itself was very crowded, and hardly a wild vista.

Over the Col was the small town of Bavella, with several restaurants, an auberge, and some small houses.

Most of the mountains in Corsica, are really sharp, heavily forested ridges. The Bavella Massif is quite different. Both sides of the valley are high shear granite faces. It was the most spectacular scenery that I saw in Corsica.

The surprise of the ride, though were some small black pigs that had gathered an audience, and were running around in the woods. There were many places where the road was lined with parked cars. This must have been a rare river in Corsica, and it had attracted a large number of swimmers, wherever it was accessible.

I didn't really believe that a 30km downhill could exist, and I was right. After about 10km, there was about a 1km climb, after which it started down again. It was about 5:00pm when I started down from Bavella, and this was enough to ensure that I probably would not reach my intended campground before dark. However, just before dark, I did find one beside a large picnic/swimming area so there was a place to stay.

18  Massif Bavella to ``too far from'' Porto Vecchio, Sat. Aug. 23

My trailer tire was again flat this morning, so after pumping it up again, I started off. Again, it was slightly uphill, and the granite mountains continued, but getting more forested as I got lower.

After resupplying in Solenzara, I continued along the coast. I found couple of campgrounds along the way, but felt that they were still too far from Porto Vecchio to stop. Finally I found an overgrown road leading into the woods, and stopped there.

My trailer tire was still giving me problems, and it was clear that I couldn't find the nasty thing that was piercing the tire. I decided to take the current tube, cut it in half, and use it as liner in the tire with a new tube. I hoped that the double layer would stop the puncturing. It did, and the tire remained inflated all the way home.

19  To Porto Vecchio, Sun. Aug. 24

It was a relatively easy ride into Porto Vecchio. Cork oaks are common here, and this harvested one was guarding a driveway.

I checked into the Arutoli campground at about 9:30am, and, as I expected, my spot, which is too small for anyone else, was not used.

I went down to the port to check email at one of the free WiFi spots, had some lunch, and came back to write and recharge the computer.

20  Porto Vecchio to Ajaccio, Mon. Aug. 25

Again I was up before dawn to catch the mountain bus. It was late again, but I had more faith this time that it would actually come. After a stop in Zonza, the bus continued to Bavella. The Aiguilles de Bavella, may not be spectacular, but they are very pretty in the morning light.

After returning to Zonza, we continued down and up and down to the smaller hillside town of Quenza. We stopped for a while to allow the driver to get some coffee and smoke, so I could wander a bit around town.

It is a little hard to get a feel of how clustered on the side of the hill these towns really are from the inside. Unfortunately, we did not stop any place where I could get a picture.

We arrived in Ajaccio at about 11:00am, and after putting the wheel and trailer hitch back on, with an attentive audience from the bus, I went up the hill to Mimosas. My trailer stayed here for two days, until I caught the ferry back to Nice.

21  Ajaccio, Tue. Aug. 26

Ajaccio has a long beach, with the Citadelle Miollis at one end. This may be an historical site, but currently it is an active military base. Interestingly enough, they did not arrest you for taking pictures.

The beach arches off to the west with steps leading down to it.

There is a very conspicuous sign by the steps,

but obviously not everyone is terribly concerned by it.

At the far end of the beach, you can look back and see the central core of the city.

The cathedral is rather small, but so is the city.

Ajaccio like Nice, is over run by Irish Pubs. Some, though, seem to have mixed up their languages.

Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, and his birth house, is both small, closed, and seem to be ignored. His birthday was Aug. 15, but the only sign I saw of it in Corsica were signs in stores that said they will be open on Aug. 15.

The small fishing boat harbour near the Citadelle Miollis was quite active, and off limits to all cars except for those of fishermen.

Ajaccio has not forgotten that the Romans were here, but I got the feeling that the dismay was far less for them than the Genoese.

22  Ajaccio to Nice, Wed. Aug. 27

I was a little worried when I arrived at the ferry dock at about 7:00am for the 8:20am ferry that there was no boat. It didn't actually arrive until 7:30am, but they were able to unload, and load again to actually leave on time.

By 3:00pm, we were all off, and I slowly made my way to my Camping Sauvage site about 10km west of the airport.

23  Nice, Thurs. Aug. 28

Today was a very lazy day sitting, and riding around Nice, before I rode back to spend the night at the airport. For me it was easy. I washed with my no-rinse body wash in a washroom, took out my foam pad, sleeping bag, and pillow, and slept quite comfortably on the floor.

24  Nice to Montreal, Fri. Aug. 29

I checked in at 4:30am when Air Transit opened their check in. I asked for a window seat in front of the wing, and received one that should have been by a window, except that the Airbus 310 has some ``window'' seats without windows. This was one of them. It was a good flight back and we arrived about half an hour early. I waited for my neighbour Tony to pick me up and I was home.

25  Maps and Comments

Corsica, in August, is overrun with tourists. Most of the two-wheeler tourists are on motorcycles, or huge scooters. They tend to be a couple, and certainly find it easier to go up hills than I do. There were four other bicyclists in the Bonifacio campground, but there were none in any of the others where I stayed. I have split the Google Earth maps into two, one for Nice, that covers the rides to Antibes and Villefrance (Nice Map) and Corsica (Corsica Map).

It was a good, and exhausting trip.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 09:25.