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Bicycling the Mediterranean: Corsica and Sardinia

by ExperiencePlus! - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 Bicycle Touring Sardinia

The Mediterranean is one of the world’s most attractive vacation destinations, and its islands are renowned to be amongst the finest bicycling locations on the planet. In fact two of our favorite places to bicycle are also two of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, Corsica and Sardinia which also combine easily and if you do both tours back to back you’ll save $400 per person.

Both islands have an intriguing history entwined with that of the rest of the Mediterranean basin which mixes, mashes and at times conflicts with a unique and fiercely independent people. Each island enjoys a degree of autonomy from its respective country (Sardinia is Italian, Corsica is French) and factions within each island would like complete independence! Corsica is north of Sardinia and mere kilometers away by sea, though surprisingly the two islands are quite different topographically which is great if you’d like to combine both trips! Though both are older than the Alps and were eroded to look more like the lower Jura and the Massif Central in France, Corsica had a newer Alpine “veneer” thrust over most of it when the Alps were formed.  The result is two islands of similar geologic origin with Corsica appearing more alpine in the center (the highest mountain is 8,888 feet) and Sardinia, the larger island, having lower, more rounded mountains no higher than 6,017 feet.  Both islands feature stunning mountain and coastal scenery ideal for bicycling. Add rural roads with minimal traffic, quaint hilltop villages, comfortable accommodations, great food and hospitable people and you have the ideal bicycling vacation.

We interviewed our Tour Leader and Country Coordinator in France, Jonathan Hancock, for his impressions of Corsica, and Monica Malpezzi Price, ExperiencePlus! co-owner and frequent Sardinia Tour Leader tells us about Sardinia. To see photos of these tours click on the galleries below.

  • How is the Cycling Corsica tour similar to other bicycling tours we offer in France? Corsica has our signature quiet country roads with stunning scenery. Many Europeans say it’s their favorite place to bicycle in Europe. We’ve taken the best bicycling routes on the island and blended it with all the spectacular places we feel one shouldn’t miss when visiting Corsica. Like our other tours, and perhaps even more so, it has a truly distinct identity that emerges throughout the trip in the landscapes, architecture, food, and especially the people. The Corsicans are a fascinating group of people with strong character and a will to protect their island that has prevailed over centuries of invasions.
  • What are some highlights of the Corsica tour? You get the best of both worlds- gorgeous coastal scenery with sandy beaches and emerald blue waters as well as the lush, dense forests with isolated hilltop villages and snow capped mountains as a backdrop. Pristine, refined coastline and a rustic, untamed interior that historically harbored Corsican bandits and helped preserved the Corsican culture and language.
  • If you have a few days before or after the tour, what would you suggest doing? Scuba diving off the southern tip of the island or heading northwest to visit Ajaccio and the beautiful coves and cliffs of the west coast (maybe even take a day trip by boat to one of the hidden coves with beaches accessible only by boat). The west coast resembles some of what we see on the panhandle in the beginning of the tour: dramatic rocky cliffs that drop into a clear blue sea.
  • What is the food like in Corsica? Surf and turf par excellence. The locals enjoy fresh fish and seafood straight off the coast whereas the interior offers specialties made from wild pigs, lamb, sheep cheese (brocciu) and chestnuts which they use for flour and fodder for the wild pigs. It’s said to give the meat a special flavor. Corsica also has reputed wine producing regions with several AOC labeled reds and whites. Some of the grape varieties are specific to the island.
  • What is a unique thing about Corsica that most people may not know? Corsica’s short lived independence and Constitution (one of the first of its kind) was based on the ideas that inspired our Founding Fathers when drawing up the Declaration of Independence 21 years later. This strong independent spirit carried on through WWII when the ‘Maquis’, name used to call the Corsican freedom fighters, became synonymous with ‘La Resistance’ in mainland France.  Also, the word “vendetta” was born in Corsica from the long-standing family feuds when law was maintained through social codes and family honor.  It’s such a unique place that it’s hard to just pick one!
  • What’s the number one reason to join our bicycle tour of Corsica? For the incredible variety of terrain from coastal riding to thick forests and hidden hilltop villages in just a few hours. The island is blessed with such a variety of beauty I’ve often compared it to a mini-New Zealand (it even has a few ski areas!). Mix that with the distinctive Corsican character that pervades all aspects of the island and you’ve got a bike tour that should be on the top of your list!

Read more about Cycling Corsica.

Sardinia:

  • How does the Sardinia tour compare to our other ExperiencePlus! bicycling tours in Italy? Sardinia is unique because it is such a mountainous island; our itinerary features several scenic coastal rides that mix nicely with more challenging rides in the interior. Sardinia offers unspoiled landscapes and is less populated than mainland Italy, which mean there is less traffic, and fewer villages. The history is reminiscent of Spain or Sicily with more Arab and Spanish influence and occupation than Italian. In terms of historic places to visit, Sardinia is similar to Sicily with sites that feature sea-faring civilizations like the Phoenicians or the Greeks. Sardinians like all Italians are very friendly and hospitable and, away from the traditional coastal resort areas, you’ll find that there have been very few international visitors.
  • What are your favorite highlights of the Bicycling Sardinia tour? There is nothing like traveling through remote villages like Tonara or Flussìo, where the entire village might turn out to aid your sight seeing efforts — since tourists are rare everyone wants to help you. Bicycling along spectacular coastal roads like the Day 2 ride from Alghero toward Bosa. The hotel Su Gologone, which was one of the first “boutique” hotels in Italy and continues to delight—we stay there 2 nights so you can thoroughly enjoy its simple elegance. Our second day there features a hike and a wonderful lunch with shepherds where everything is eaten on the traditional “carta musica” or paper music bread!
  • What are the rides like in Sardinia? They are magnificent rides with rolling hills along the coast, and some longer mountain climbs when we are in the interior, crossing the island from west to east. Most days have at least 5-15 kilometers (3 to 10 miles) of climbing, either on shorter hills or on longer passes. Further distances between towns means that there are also some longer days of approximately 80-90 kilometers (50-55 miles) each. This is the perfect tour for cyclists who enjoy varied terrain and enjoy a challenge. If you are new to cycling, or prefer to take it a little easy, you can work with tour leaders to shuttle over difficult stretches if necessary. If you can comfortably ride 50-60 miles over varied terrain (not necessarily mountain climbs), then you can do this tour.
  • If you have a few days before or after the tour, what would you suggest doing? I highly recommend arriving early to spend at least one extra night in Alghero, where the tour begins. It’s a great city, heavily influenced by the Catalan colonists who arrived in the 14th century and whose traces are still very present in the Alghero dialect and in the city’s architecture (especially in the center with its small and winding alleyways). Cagliari at the end of the tour is completely different from Alghero. A “grander” city, Cagliari was the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the 14th-18th centuries and again briefly in the 19th century. With impressive Art Nouveau buildings, Cagliari is worth an extra night to visit its museums and larger center. If you want to experience one of Europe’s glitziest beaches check out the “Costa Smeralda” or Emerald Coast where you may be hobnobbing with European elite and international film stars.
  • What is the food like in Sardinia? Very good! Of course there is a lot of fish in the coastal areas, but the interior features grilled meats. One of the most famous Sardinian dishes is suckling pig or “porceddu” which is traditionally slowly roasted whole over an open fire which makes the meat incredibly tender! Sardinian pecorino (or sheep) cheese is famous world-wide, so vegetarians can delight in different varieties of this cheese as well as vegetables cooked in all manner of ways. The crunchy, extremely thin cracker type bread, “carta musica” or “pane carrasau” is highly addictive. Desserts are traditionally simple, often featuring local honey as in the typical dessert called “seada” similar to a sopapilla but filled with melted cheese with warm honey on top ….yum!
  • What are some unique things about Sardinia that most people may not know? Sardinia has the highest percentage of people over the age of 100 in the world which some believe is because of their Mediterranean diet. Sardonic grin in English comes from a local herb which causes convulsive laughter in its victims. The language is based on Latin but bears influences from its many invaders Catalan, Corsican, Arabic, Phonecian and Genoese.
  • What’s the number one reason to join our bicycle tour of Sardinia? Sardinia is unique in Italy for its language and cultural traditions.  Like the West of Ireland, which has preserved the Irish language so well, the Sardinian languages (there are two) are the living languages most closely related to Latin.  Bicycling in Sardinia is like bicycling through a different era, with hermit-like shepherds who may see people only once every few weeks to widows dressed in traditional black costumes to traditional handicraft makers. Our excellent cycling routes are the best way imaginable to explore and experience all the Sardinia has to offer.

Read more about Bicycling Sardinia. Or click on the photos above to see a gallery or check out the article from the March 2011 Adventure Cycling magazine.

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