Escape to Corsica
the twenty-five riders with us were experienced on
Continental roads. Apart from myself and one other
none had experienced riding on Corsican roads or the
Corsican driving styles. They were in for a surprise!
The group was a mix of 12 BMWs, 6 Hondas, 3 Triumphs,
a Suzuki, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and a Ducati.
Ten with passengers and fifteen riding solo. They
came from far and wide to escape the speed cameras
and crowded roads of the UK the furthest travelled
was from Co Durham and the closest to Dover was Herne
Bay a mere 10 miles to the port.
was back on a BMW after an interesting session on
a SilverWing scooter and another year on a Honda CBF1000.
Having ridden the first K1200GT to St Petersburg a
few years before I new what to expect from the K1300GTSE.
I wasn’t to be disappointed. I was excited about
this trip and I couldn’t wait to experience
the riding qualities of the bike over a serious ride
that would certainly warm the oil up.
This bike is a no holds barred serious tourer, it
has all the whistles and knobs that the touring biker
would put on his ‘wish’ list and it does
everything so very well from luggage capacity to suspension
all the group met at Dover, a couple had left UK a
day earlier to take a more leisurely ride to the first
hotel, another rider came across from Southampton,
others found it more convenient to take the ferry
into Zeebrugge. It’s a plus point about these
tours as the travel arrangements are flexible and
you are free to take your own routes to the rendezvous
Notching sixth gear on the A26 autoroute towards
Reims the smoothness and ride comfort behind the fully
adjusted electric screen was magic. We held a steady
legal limit – and sometimes pinched a bit more
– no buffeting and no adverse comments from
the pillion seat, we were off to a good start. The
onboard computer gave a creditable reading of 48mpg
I was happy with that.
ride through the wonderful rolling vineyards of the
Burgundy countryside was great and meeting up with
our friends at the first hotel in Beaune made the
arrival even better knowing that most of the group
had made it to the first hotel although there was
still more to join us on route.
Next day we had the 350 miles down to Toulon on a
mixture on ‘N’ and ‘D’ roads.
Our suggested route took a short stretch of autoroute
to Tournus, Bourg en Bresse (where the famous white
chicken with blue legs come from) and onto Belley
and Grenoble before picking up the Route Napoleon
around Sisteron. The French transport Ministry are
phasing out the ‘N’ roads making them
a ‘D’ classification with a prefix number
just to confuse us travellers. These days it seems
best to follow place names and GPS instructions rather
than road numbers. We picked up traffic heading for
Aix en Provence but the agile GT and instant throttle
response made passing manoeuvres a cinch. Under normal
riding the motor felt docile and perfectly balanced
but when called upon 160BHP produced so much torque
it almost made changing gear redundant.
rugged scenery of this wonderful part of France deserves
more than a passing journey. As nice as Burgundy is
the dramatic grey rock formations that border the
route down to Aix en Provence can set your heart pounding
at the thought of hairpin bends and sheer drops.
At first we had planned to sail from Nice to Ajaccio
but Corsica Ferries, bless them, messed up our plans
and changed the schedule to depart from Toulon. Not
a problem in terms of mileage but not being familiar
with Toulon hotels and their location to the port
could present a small problem. Hoteliers can make
life difficult and this was the case down at Toulon.
In the age of communication we found communication
difficult. It wasn’t until two weeks before
arrival that we had confirmation of rooms, price and
meal availability. But on arrival the welcome was
great and the arrival of two more riders made the
briefing spelt out the arrangements for the ride to
the ferry port. So that no one would miss the ferry
we would ride in convoy following a taxi to the departure
lanes. This idea worked well, all but one rider was
up ready but with the taxi waiting we went. I was
pleased to say all made the ferry in plenty of time
for the 08.00hrs departure time.
Checking in was a well organised shambles. At the
port an official zapped the bar code on the ticket
directing us to the waiting yellow Corsican Mega Express
ferry. With the bike safely stowed against the bulkhead
we settled down for the six-hour crossing.
The first experience of Corsican traffic came during
the scrum as the ferries cargo spilled onto Ajaccio
but this was Corsica. Being pushed along by the following
traffic there was no time to hang around for the group
we forced our way out of the city in temperatures
hovering around 40degrees.
It was an exciting ride to our hotel in Propriana.
The road dips and dives following the coastline. No
need to use all six speeds in the box here fourth
was the tallest needed. The GT mirrors are brilliant
and necessary, Corsican drivers follow you closely
seemingly never aware that traffic comes towards you
as well; they will pass in the most unsuitable places.
Its wild, its Corsica! From time to time we could
get a glimpse of the shimmering sea and rugged coast
through a gap in the roadside foliage. On those roads
it’s not wise to take your eyes from the tarmac
too many times.
As far as location is concerned our hill top hotel
had a pole position overlooking a bay enjoying a private
secluded beach. Suggestions for the free days were,
slob about between beach and hotel, visit the amazing
town of Bonifacio and its overhanging limestone rock
formation or walk into town for lunch in one of the
many open air cafes. Without luggage some of the group
choose the site-seeing option down to the furthest
point south to Bonifacio were the ferry departs to
Sardinia. Others strolled to the town. It’s
an interesting walk the road weaves its way through
a cemetery of grey granite mausoleums. Corsica is
virtually an island of rock with very little soil
for graves so the burials must be done on the surface.
When the road was pushed through those on the extremity
were cut off from the main cemetery and perched precariously
on the cliff edge no doubt their occupants will eventually
experience a second burial, this time at sea. Word
about the Corsican sardines spread quickly and the
entire group found their way into the scruffy tumble
down shack on the beach. Evening meals were a hoot,
the waitress was a ‘foreigner’ and joined
in the fun, she came from Savoie (North East France)
and was used to Après Ski parties – this
was similar she said. With empty bottles of Pietra
beer littering the tables and several pitchers of
robust Patrimonio red wine – from the same grape
that produces Chianti - later and bellies full of
the best sardines I had ever tasted we could hardly
appreciate the wonderful sunset that had developed
out to sea.
Having explored the southern part of the island it
was time to pack and ride what looked like a simple
ride to our second hotel in Calvi. Remembering that
in Corsica distance is measured in time not miles.
GPS and Michelin said it was only 110 miles but what
a ride. After Ajaccio the D81 north hugged the coastline
it was a scenery overload all the way to Calvi. With
the marquis – a mixture of lavender, rosemary,
and pine - on the landside and the sea on the other
it was truly a ride to remember.
The D81 passes through E Calanche one of the most
remarkable natural attractions in Corsica if not the
Mediterranean. It’s a cathedral of jagged pink
granite rocks stretching from way above road level
to plunge into the sea. The road narrows to a single
lane through the gorge, ok for us, but a nightmare
for tourist coaches and one solitary artic who’s
GPS had obviously sent him on the shortest route!
Lunch was scheduled in Porto, its harbour lined with
red granite, pink marble and eucalyptus trees, in
the next bay rested Robinson’s boat yard. Arrivals
here were positively fired up about E Calanche and
wanted to do it again.
Continuing on the sinuous coastal road the big GT
weighing in at 635 lbs plus luggage handled like a
lightweight, speed on these roads isn’t the
issue but the light steering and that superb front
end suspension made easy work of the demanding road
and its unreliable surface. Journeys end that day
was a hotel in Calvi that I had used on one other
visit. Like many other things in Corsica nothing changes
very much. In the distance stands the imposing citadel
where Nelson lost his eye during the great siege of
Calvi trying to capture the island to gain access
to the tall Laricio pines for the masts and spars
of his fleet.
Evenings were no less of an occasion than in Propriano,
the allocation of mini bus seats to take us into town
was a scramble Corsican style, the culture was beginning
to effect us all. The compact town has no shortage
of restaurants. I try to eat Corsican if I can, one
night grilled red mullet with olives and on another
it was saddle of lamb roasted with garlic, finishing
with Broccio blue veined Bleu de Corse washed down
with a deep coloured Corsican rose wine. It was party
atmosphere, balmy temperatures, clear star-lit skies
you would find it hard to repeat anywhere else.
Remembering the reasons for the convoy to the port
at Toulon a mild panic swept through the group we
had 50-mile ride back to Bastia and it was difficult
to assess journey time. Looking at the map it was
more of what we had ridden on the previous riding
days. We decided on a departure time of 05.00hrs,
it was still dark and these Corsican roads are not
easy to ride at night, and was the thankful for the
blue/white Xenon head light beam of the GT.
We counted everyone in at Bastia and watched the
huge yellow Mega Express edge into the quay. Seemingly
within minutes we were staring at the Corsican coast
disappearing into the distance and the port of Nice
getting ever closer. We had time to reflect on the
past six days every one had different high points
and a different set of memories to look back on. For
me it was a combination of several factors. Above
all it was the group that gelled like no other group
of recent years; the combination of beach at the first
hotel and the swimming pool at the second; the weather
through out and the character and atmosphere of Corsica
it’s so different.
Strange that Napoleon didn’t get even get
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