Four amazing routes for anyone who wants to tour Corsica on a motorcycle. The French island has a unique charm also because of the juxtaposition between mountains and sea, and the parallel feelings of intimacy and grandiosity. Crossing the island on an on-the-road motorcycle holiday is the best way to see these diverse, unforgettable landscapes.
Corsica Holidays, explore the island between mountains and sea
Rock-hard, wild, dazzling, amazing heights and steep descents, curvy, proud and independent, welcoming but cautious, ancient, untamable, catching! This is Corsica, l’Île de Beauté (the Beautiful Island), a Paradise on Earth for us bikers! And island that is in fact just a massive rock in the middle of the sea. An amazing place where – from one second to the other – we pass from the mountains to the sea, driving on challenging roads that bring out the best in us!
One third of the island is a Protected National Park, and most of the coast is unspoiled. be ready to live a unique experience! The variety of landscapes, the amazing mixture of intimacy and grandiosity, the wild – sometimes savage-looking – rocks, the gentle valleys, secular forests and golden shores: all this stunning beauty will stay with you forever.
How to get to Corsica
Corsica can be reached by ferry from Genova, Savona or Livorno. Arrivals are either in Bastia, on the eastern side of the island, or in L’ile Rousse, on the northern coast. Corsica is also well connected via Sardinia, so if you have any extra holiday-days it might be an idea to hop over to the beautiful Italian island and ride a few kilometers there too.
Corsica Motorcycle routes: 4 unforgettable routes
I personally think that Corsica is like a small encyclopedia of “great rides”. What follows is a short list of some unforgettable routes to be done on a motorcycle.
First of all, when in Corsica, I prefer riding always keeping the sea to my right, travelling counterclockwise. The reason I love this direction is because it is truly exhilarating to have the sea just below me. Even at sea-level the roads continuously go up and down. There’s nothing better than going up towards the sky, and just when you think you are about to touch it, you take a left turn and the uncontaminated blue sea is bang in front of you!
Cap Corse (D80 – D253 – D153), the island within the island
Cap Corse, also known as the “island within the island”, is an amazing place, distinguished by 60 Genoese towers that were built to defend the island from enemy invaders; the beaches, called “marquis”, are sandy fingers of land that plunge into the sea; the whole area is full of charming hamlets and tiny fishing villages.
So, if you are coming from Bastia, the first thing to do is ride route D80 which runs round the whole of the Cap Corse region.
On the eastern side, route D80 climbs up to the top of the finger (sorry, I forgot to mention that the shape of this French island is like a clenched fist with the index finger pointing outward!).
To reach the northermost point of the island, you leave the D80 and take route D253 to Barcaggio. Once you have seen the finger first-hand (excuse the pun!), route D153 will then lead you back to the main road, heading for Saint Florence.
Just before reaching the tip of the island, I like to stop in Macinaggio. A quick pause, without getting coffee. Being Italian, I must confess that the people of Corsica don’t know how to make a proper espresso coffee. So I order an “Orangina”, a great French soft-drink made with real orange pulp. Much better than their coffee!
If you are on a motorcycle the western side of the D80, on the coast that faces Spain, is certainly more tricky than the eastern side. Here the road is narrower, and there are several blind curves where the sea appears and disappears like magic. Before getting to Nonza you pass by Canari and its disused asbestos mines: the sight is spectral and a little unsettling, but at the same time rather exciting.
Stopping on the side of the road in Nonza, the view of the beach below is surreal. It’s black stones disappear into the blue water creating an incredible sight! The black color comes from the asbestos waste that used to be thrown into the sea. The wind and the currents have pushed back to land the remains of this silicate mineral, turning the beach black. Please note that it is not dangerous to bathe here as the millions of stones that make up the beach no longer contain any asbestos. The only problem is that the beach is a 30-minute hike away, and you need to take your own food and drink as there are no amenities on the beach. All in all a real slog!
The circumnavigation of Cap Corse ends in Saint-Florent. From Nonza there are about 20 kms of road that occasionally veers inland, revealing beautiful landscapes dotted with vineyards and wild, ancient olive-trees.
From Saint-Florent to Calvi (D81 – N197), the road in the desert
You start on route D81, a road that literally cuts the Désert des Agriates in two. This is an uncontaminated area, distinguished by the “Gariga”, a typically Mediterranean vegetation that dries out in the summer months, giving the landscape a dream-like quality.
The desert bays and gulfs can only be reached by sea or along long dirt roads. The most famous beach is Saleccia. To get here you need to follow a 12km-long track that is part sandy and part rocky.
Once you leave the desert, the D81 joins route N197. The road opens up and becomes easier to ride. You can finally go into 6th gear J! Keeping the sea to your right, you will cross the village of L’Ile Rousse, and then reach Calvi, a small town on the north-western coast of the island.
From Calvi to Sagone (D81B – D81), passing through Les Calanche
This route is about 120kms long, and the navigator tells you it will take two and a half hours, more or less, to reach Sagone. Don’t you believe this! The road is so beautiful that you will find yourself slowing down every now and then: it is truly worth it!
The first thing you need to do is open your map, and from Calvi take route D81B until you meet the D80 again, near Galéria. The D18B is a narrow, fussy road, full of holes. You’ll be doing a lot of dancing! But if you find yourself on this road at sunset, with the sun gently sinking into the sea and the red light of its rays painting the rugged rocks that plunge into the turquoise water, you might believe you are in a dream. The sea can be seen from several points; in others the road curves inland running through the wild Mediterranean vegetation which at times opens up onto small vineyards planted by wise men who have tamed this apparently harsh land.
When I’m on my Corsica Tour, just before getting back onto the D81, I sleep in the small Hotel Ferayola. This hotel is owned by a welcoming host with a great sense of humour; it has a terrace where I can sip a chilled, delicious Corsican beer before ordering the best wild boar in the world; and a few simple but comfortable bedrooms where I can fall asleep and dream of curves, rocks, cliffs, the sea and the mountains. To cut it short: I think this place, lost in the Corsican hills between sea and mountains, is the perfect place to end a day spent on my motorcycle!
After the Ferayola detour you get back onto the D81, driving along curves carved into the rock. Here you need to be careful and alert, and above all you mustn’t rush, also because you’ll want to enjoy more stunning landscapes.
The highlight in this area are the spectacular Les Calanche, a UNESCO heritage site, that you will see just before reaching the small town of Piana. From this amazing place, high above the sea, you will see the most incredible, surreal scenery. Some of the rocks here have recognizable shapes, like the head of a dog, a heart, or a bishop. Stopping to take pictures is mandatory, even though at times, and especially during the summer months, this might be a little difficult. This is why I advise anyone wanting to visit Corsica and fully enjoy its true splendor, to travel in May, June or September.
From Sagone to Corte (D70 – D84 – D18), a triumph of curves
In Sagone we have a dilemma: should we continue South on the D81 toward Ajaccio – birth-town of Napoleon – and then on to Bonifacio? Or should we head inland to climb the steep roads that go to Corte? It depends on how much time you have.
I personally prefer the second option: exploring the heart of Corsica will certainly give you new, unexpected experiences.
The D70, D84 e D18 are all roads that have no straights: it’s a triumph of sharp curves that truly challenge both the motorcycle and its pilot. Cross the Foret D’Aitone all in one breath; ride round the shores of the artificial lake of Calamuccia; let yourselves be “terrified” by the arduous road that runs parallel with the Golo torrent, which crosses the Scala di Santa Regina – an incredible canyon where massive granite rocks are precariously heaped one on top of another – and, finally – you’ve reached Corte. Great job, guys!
Take-off to discover Corsica!
I’m going to stop here. But there is still so much I could talk about. Like the road that goes from Corte to Bonifacio. Or route D268, which from Zonza heads back to the sea, climbing through the Col de Bavella and its majestic granite pinnacles. Not to mention the challenging D71 that takes you from the sea to Morosaglia, the birth-town of Pascal Paoli, the famous Corsican hero.
These are just a few guidelines for you to follow if you are thinking of an adventure in Corsica. Above all, get hold of the great Michelin map of this amazing French island, and let yourselves be led by you motorcyclist instinct. Ride safe my friends!