Corsica: Agriates and Balagne
11.06.2009
Having crossed the bridge over the Aliso, we reached the desert region of Agriates. Now it is hard to imagine that a long time ago this used to be a lush green agricultural land. The asphalt road climbed up all the time. The worst thing was the lack of any shade whatsoever. A section of the road was under repair. "Hi – how's the ride", someone shouted from the roadside. There were some Polish road workers who told us that the heat had already subsided. What? More than thirty degrees did not seem like cooler weather! In Safone we decided to stop for lunch at the only restaurant in the town. Although it was the time of their siesta, the waitress offered us lasagne. The delightful meal was served with delicious salad and some dressing, along with ice-cold soft drinks.
Some 2 km outside of Baccialu a "cautious" downhill ride began. Spectacular serpentine road matched with comfortable recumbent bikes allowed us to fully enjoy the ride all the way down to the junction with the N197. We stayed overnight at a campsite in Ogliastro (www.village-ostriconi.com; EUR 6 per person plus Eur 2 for the tent). After such an exhausting day we really appreciated a nice hot shower.

12.06.2009
As I woke up in the morning, I already open my mouth to complain, but... moaning did not seem necessary. I rolled to my back, then to the other side – nothing. No pain! Unbelievable! I had cycled uphill all day long and now I feel like a newborn child! At that very moment I started to understand the greatness of the recumbent bicycle.
After finishing breakfast (a baguette with jam) next to a campsite grocery, we started to pedal uphill towards Ille Rousse, and eventually entered the town at full throttle. Ille Rousse is a modern holiday resort with narrow cobbled streets, market stalls, restaurant tables, as well as crowds of pedestrians and scooters rushing among them – typical scenery of the Mediterranean region. The town features a beautiful sandy beach and a bustling harbour. Unfortunately, the road out of the town lead uphill again. Well, at least we went slow enough to enjoy the magnificent beaches on the way to Calvi. Trying to avoid main roads, we turned off to the D151. I admit – we had to cycle uphill and the road surface was far from ideal, but what we experienced was beyond words! The charm of Corbara swept us off our feet. In our opinion Nonza – so eagerly recommended by most tourist guidebooks – is not even half as captivating as Corbara. Amazing narrow cobbled streets, porcelain plaques with street names, door knockers, wooden shutters, pots of geraniums, tiny alleys leading to metal gates hidden behind creepers or cacti, with "micro-courtyards" behind the gates. You can take a relaxing walk there, sighing deeply, delighting in this unusual view, enjoying the silence, and if you are lucky, you may take a nice picture of a lazy cat posing gracefully on top of a stone wall.
I had an impression that time stood still in that wonderful place. Now I know the difference between a main tourist route and a distant one, off the beaten track. This is why I did not complain at all – even when we cycled uphill!
Pedalling in constant heat, we reached Pigna. Quite a nice village, but not as atmospheric as the previous one. I should mention the noble effort of the Corsicada Association whose members initiated the restoration of local houses, revived old crafts and organised an info point. Thus the village has workshops relating to pottery, knife-making, violin-making, sculpture, etc. There is one "but" though: the place is purely commercial and tourism-oriented. We strolled along the streets, stopped by a restaurant, visited a workshop where a lady carved nice wooden toys, but the ambience was nothing like 3 km earlier, in Corbara.
A few kilometres outside of Pigna we spotted Sant’Antonio – Corsica's highest situated town. Viewed from afar, its buildings resemble a crown placed on a mountain peak. Admiring small towns scattered on the hillsides, we made quite a few breaks on our way. We decided to skip Cateri, intending to focus on the ride to the Bocca di Salvi pass (509 m above mean sea level). The road ran along the edge of a steep rock, giving us a nice view of the distant Calenzana. We were also rewarded with a spectacular downhill ride! As the road surface was uneven, I really appreciated the comprehensive shock absorption system. I was so happy that the grin on my face couldn't have been broader!
We passed Montegrosso, and then Montemaggiore. I felt both exhausted and overwhelmed by emotion. I don't think I had ever felt equally blissful, stunned by omnipresent beauty, and full of experiences! Just outside of Zilia, the road turned right over a bridge. However, we cycled straight ahead to a nearby restaurant. Our empty stomachs longed for some tasty pizza or pasta. OK. We stopped our bikes at the yard, next to a grill and a few plastic tables. But having noticed the owner's gestures, we understood that he wanted us to walk the bikes back to the gate. We did not know what was wrong – after all there were no other guests, and the bicycles by no means limited access to the tables. We tried to explain that we would take the bikes with us as soon as we had some pizza or pasta. However, the guy was relentless – the bikes had to go. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding, or maybe he was really so stubborn. Anyway, Igor got angry (gently speaking) and said that if cyclists were not welcome there, then we would neither impose nor beg. He stepped on the pedals so hard that I could smell burning tyre rubber! We cycled downhill fairly fast, passing olive groves, and eventually reaching Calenzana, where we found an outdoor pizzeria. The owner was very friendly, the pizza was delicious, and the ice-cold drinks made us sigh with delight, helping us quickly forget the recent incident.
Our tummies full, we bid the owner of La Prince Pierre farewell, and continued the downhill ride towards Calvi. We had never passed through roundabouts at such a breakneck speed – almost without breaking! Sheer joy! The first campsite that we reached greeted us with a locked gate. The reception closed at 7 pm in high season. We moved on. The next campsite, which we strongly recommend, was La Pinede (EUR 6.5 per person plus EUR 2.5 for the tent). The receptionist spoke good English, there was internet access, a restaurant, a small shop, laundries, a swimming pool and a beach just a few metres away. But what was the most important, we received a very nice welcome, even though it was well after 8 pm. The day concluded with the first major bike inspection, phone battery charging and a cold beer from a local restaurant.

13.06.2009
Leaving the campsite, we turned left to pass a nearby beach, which offered a beautiful view of the Calvi citadel situated on a rocky cliff. We were very close to the town centre, and thanks to accurate road signs we soon got to the citadel. After crossing the drawbridge leading to this structure, we felt as if we had travelled back in time. Massive walls surrounding the city tower over the harbour and the lower town area. Inside the townhouses crowded along steep, narrow, winding streets there are often incredibly long and steep stairs. From the citadel we admired a panoramic view of the bay with the harbour and the town itself. I dare say that Calvi is one of the most beautiful places in Corsica. The road out of the town lead uphill – as usual. We reached the route labelled D81b, which runs along the coast, and is marked green on maps to emphasise its special scenic character. I don't even know how to describe my impressions. The abundance of beauty was just ridiculous. How can a single island be so picturesque? People suffering from heart diseases should not be allowed in Corsica. From what I know, they must control the level of excitement, but in Corsica keeping emotions in balance is simply impossible!
In Argentella, we left our bicycles next to a campsite and walked a short distance to find out how much was left of an old gold mine. Not much, unfortunately: only a few collapsing buildings with parts of furnaces, a tall chimney and walls of an administrative building.
Afterwards we started a climb to the Bocca Bassa pass, followed by a pleasant downhill ride to the D81 road.