Published on: 13 March 2017 | Last updated: 25 December 2019
At a glance
Moderately challenging, although there are no big climbs - the biggest climb on this section is to 318m.
While the majority of the section is on quiet roads, there is a stretch of about 40 kilometres on the former N197 route nationale (now reclassified as the T30). This road isn’t especially busy, but the traffic is fast-moving.
The route is entirely on surfaced tarmac roads. For the most part the road surfaces are in good condition, however, the D81B between Calvi and Galéria has some sections where the surface is quite rough.
This follows the well-signed D81 and D81B roads as well as the main T30 (shown on most maps as the N197).
The section starts with a ride on a wild road through the Désert des Agriates and ends with a section of dramatic corniche road on the approach to Porto. In between there are the coastal towns of L’Île Rouse, Algajola and Calvi.
The section near Porto is one of the highlights of the route.
If you have an off-road capable bike you could make a side-trip to the beach at Saleccia. This is one of northern Corsica’s best beaches but getting to it involves riding 12 kilometres along a dirt road/track/. There’s a campsite at the beach as well.
The Plage de l’Ostriconi is also highly rated and is much more accessible.
Map and altitude profile
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|Saint-Florent to L’Île Rousse||45 kms|
|L’Île Rousse to Calvi||22 kms|
|Calvi to Galéria||40 kms|
|Galéria to Porto||51 kms|
Saint-Florent to Calvi
From Saint-Florent (San Fiurenzu) the D81 climbs to about 360m. At about the halfway point (altitude wise), there’s a viewpoint where you can take a breather and look back over the town and the bay.
Further on there are signs warning about the military firing range. There was no sign of any barriers for closing the road so I am assuming that it is safe to use the road when the range is in use, and the signs are there to warn people thinking of leaving the road and going for a walk.
About 20 kilometres from Saint-Florent, the road finally tops out at a little over 350m. Shortly after the top of the climb, there’s a dramatic change of perspective as you reach the Bocca di Vezzu and the view opens up of the mountains of central Corsica.
The D81 eventually comes out onto the main T30. At this point, there’s really no alternative but to take the main road. It’s quite a scenic road, but unfortunately, the traffic is fairly fast-moving, and at points, the road isn’t very wide.
The next stop is the port town and resort of L’Île Rousse (Isula Rossa). Even if you’re not planning to stay here. It’s worth taking a swing off the main road and into the main square. The village of Algajola along with the neighbouring Aregno beach is an attractive stop. Be sure to take a spin through the central square of the village (turn right through the archway by the La Forteresse bar-glacier, and continue on to the sea-front castle (U Castellu).
Algajola is a good place to take a break because after the village comes the main climb between L’Île Rousse and Calvi. You have to rejoin the main road although the section is more interesting, and traffic seems to be quieter.
There’s a lovely descent down into Calvi through the outskirts of the village of Liomo. There’s then a long straight stretch — look out for oncoming overtaking cars.
As you come into Calvi there’s a large military base: the Foreign Legion (the Second Regiment Étranger des Parachutistes) are based here.
The skyline of Calvi is dominated by the citadel built by Genovese. Across Italy successive waves of invaders built castles as a demonstration of their power, building them high up as a very visible reminder to the local population of who’s the boss. As demonstrations of power go, the citadel at Calvi is one of the most emphatic.
Calvi’s loyalty to the Republic of Genova is remembered in the city’s motto is Semper Fidelis - ever faithful. During the 18th century, Calvi was one of the few places to remain under the control of the Genovese as Corsican nationalists seized control of the island and established the Corsican Republic under PasqualePaoli.
The city suffered a long siege by the British in 1794, although by this time the Genovese had given up and effectively sold their interest in Corsica to the French who had seized control of the island.
The marina is lined with restaurants and bars and there’s also the Office du Tourisme. The road then skirts around the edge of the citadel before heading out of town. As you climb out of town you can see the lighthouse on the Pointe de la Revellata.
Calvi to Galéria
Beside the road there is a memorial: the inscription is so faded that it’s hard to read, but it commemorates the 400 men women and children who died when the steamship Balkan Courier was torpedoed and sunk off the coast on the night of 16 August 1918.
We are now on the D81B and, you will be pleased to hear, it is noticeably quieter than the main road. The D81B has sections that are rougher than anything you have encountered previously. In some places, it is worn away almost to the stones in the undersurface, whereas in other places the thin layer of tarmac that has been spread on the road has in turn worn away adding to the roughness. This is not to say that you have anything particularly to worry about, just keep an eye out for lumps and bumps.
The road takes you past the Pointe de La Revellata - a narrow, 2.5kilometre long peninsula with granite cliffs, with a lighthouse at the tip. From here there’s another stretch of stunning coastal road taking you to the Bocca Serria (146m). With its sandstone cliffs weathered into fantastic shapes, this section of the coast is a bit of a taster of what’s in store further on.
After the Bocca Serria, the road then swings inland and makes a long descent. Unfortunately, this stretch of road is pretty worn – even the patches have patches, so it’s difficult to go at full tilt. The road descends to the bay and a hamlet called Argentella. As you can guess from the name, there was once a silver mine here.
From here the road starts to climb again to the Bocca Bassa (122m). This is the last climb before Galéria.
There was a noticeable improvement in the condition of the road surface after Argentella, but just as I was thinking ‘good thing they resurfaced the road I can blast down into Galéria’ the resurfaced section ran out, and gave way to the old patched and mended road surface – although it did seem to be a bit better here. It is a glorious descent: so stop mithering about the road surface, it’s time to shake rattle and roll.
The road comes down to the bridge which takes you over the estuary of the Fangu river. At the end of the bridge is a junction and the Galéria tourist office (opening hours 9:30-16:30 from Monday to Friday). There are some places to stay a little further on from the bridge, and in Galéria itself, but otherwise there aren’t many places to break your journey until you get to Porto.
Galéria to Porto
As you return to the junction by the bridge look out for the roadside road sign on the right-hand side of the road. The signs on the roads in Corsica have a hard life: apart from the French versions of the place names being painted out, it’s not uncommon to see road signs have been used for target practice, and are been peppered with shotgun pellets holes, but this one looks like someone has taken a bazooka to it.
After the bridge over the river Fangu the route turns inland for a while, following the course of the river. The road surface from here to Porto is fine. This section of the coast (the Scandola nature reserve) is only reachable by boat or by footpath.
The road starts to climb out of the Vallée du Fango. It’s an enjoyable climb with the contrast between the lush green of the maquis and the golden sandstone. The top of the climb is the Bocca di Palmerella (altitude: 405m). There’s an amazing viewpoint here. In the distance you can see the village of Girolata and beyond it the rich red rocks of the Punta Rossa in the Scandola nature reserve. On the left, as you look out to sea, is Monte Senino which dominates the views of the next stretch of coastline. It’s also worth taking a moment to check the view looking back away chains of mountains of the Balagne (Balagna) region in the distance
After the bocca the road continues to maintain its altitude at around 250m for a little further. We are now heading towards the Gulf of Porto. The road comes to a junction with the D424 which descends to the village of Osani. There is a beach at the bottom, the Plage de Gradelle, 4 kms from the junction, with restaurants a campsite and hotel.
The road maintains altitude at a little bit over 200m for several kilometres as it follows the contours of the land winding in and out, twisting and turning. Another bend in the road brings you to another viewpoint. From this viewpoint onwards there’s a stretch with wonderful views over the Monte Senino and the Scandola reserve.
Gradually, bit by bit, the road climbs to its high point at around 269m and the Bocca a Croce. There’s a bar here – the first services on this route after the junction with the D351.
This is also the start of the Sentier du Facteur (The Postman’s Path) which leads down to the village of Girolata. The only other way to reach the village is by boat. This was the daily route taken by Guy Le Facteur (real name Guy Ceccaldi) — 7kilometres each way with 269 metres of altitude gain on the way back. The signs say that he walk takes 90 minutes, but Guy Le Factor used to do it in 40 minutes.
You can buy a postcard of him, pictured with his big bushy white beard, from the bar. Guy Le Facteur retired in 2006 and I don’t know whether he was ever replaced, or how the mail is delivered to Girolata today. The postcard is a memory of another time when postmen were postmen, and beards were beards.
A little way down the road comes to the village of Curzu, where there is where there’s a bar and gîte d’étape (Gîte d’Étape di Curzu) — you can also camp there. From there it’s a short distance to the village of Partinellu. As you approach you’ll hear the sound of running water, but, before you get too excited, the water from the fountain isn’t drinkable. There is however just further on an alimentation (food shop) and a bar-pizzeria (although it wasn’t open when I passed by.)
The road continues to hold its altitude at around 200 m. This really is a glorious ride. The road makes its long-awaited descent down to a bridge over a river where there’s a water fountain —and this time no warning signs that the water isn’t drinkable. You might want to take a breather here before the final climb to about 140 metres and then the descent into Porto.
If like me, you do this stretch with the late afternoon sun on the golden sandstone, you will be blown away. The attitude is only about 140m but with the cliffs falling away sheer below you, it is by by far the most dramatic. The road is pretty narrow here but fortunately there are places you can safely pull over to admire the view.
As you make the descent into Porto keep an eye out for its famous square defensive tower.
The road between L’Île Rousse and Calvi really isn’t particularly interesting. If you fancy a more interesting alternative, and you don’t mind a bit of climbing, you could detour via the villages of the Balagne.
You could also follow the signs for the Nôtre Dame de la Sierra near Calvi for a memorable view over the port.
Places to stay
There are plenty of hotels in Saint-Florent, L’Île Rousse, Algajola, Calvi and Galéria. Outside the main centres, hotels are few and far between, and out-of-season you may find that a lot of them are closed.
One place that was open in April was the Auberge Ferayola near Argentella.
A special mention for the Ferme Auberge de la Monetta which is close to the junction with the main road. I stayed there many years ago and I had forgotten about it until I passed by. A lovely place, with friendly staff, and excellent value.
Porto, and the Marine de Porto, possibly have more hotels per square metre than anywhere else in Corsica. Note that Porto is part of the Ota local council area, so some hotels will give their address as Ota-Porto and others may simply say Ota. Most places to stay are in Porto, but there are a few that are in Ota so it’s worth checking the location.
Find and book places to stay with Booking.com
Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route:
- the Balagne area page
- LʼÎle-Rousse | Calvi | Galéria | Porto
About these links
If you use these links to book accommodation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.
I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirmation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.
I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the opportunity to let me know if there’s a problem.
Many properties offer free cancellation but it’s a good idea to check the conditions as these vary from property to property.
There’s a hostel in Calvi (the Relais International de la jeunesse U Carabellu.
There’s also gîte d’étape (the Étape Marine) at Galéria. Note that the gîte in Galéria is on the popular hiking route so it’s probably a good idea to book ahead (also if you want to eat at the gîte). (Unfortunately at the time of writing this website was offline, although the hostel is listed by Google and has reviews from 2018. The phone number (according to Google) is +33 4 95 62 00 46. You could also try contacting the Office de Tourisme (contact details).
There are a lot of campsites along this section of the coast, but if you are travelling outside of the main season you may find that many are not yet open. Travelling in April I stayed at the Camping Les Oliviers in L’Île Rousse, Les Castors in Calvi, and camped at the Étape Marine gîte d’étape in Galéria (although I would definitely advise checking with them that you can still camp there).
Camping-Village L’Ostriconi is worth considering if you want somewhere handy for the beach.
The campsite at the Plage de La Saleccia is the Camping U Paradisu, but to get to it you need to cycle on 12 kilometres of dirt road.
There are a couple of sites near to Lumiu: the Camping Monte Orto and the Le Panoramic.
Porto has a camping municipal (Camping Municipal d’Ota-Porto ) – a rarity in Corsica. It’s open from mid-June to the end of September. It’s the most convenient option for the beach. There are also three commercial sites: the Sole E Vista and Les Oliviers are next door to one another on the main road, while the Funtana a l’Ora is a short distance out of Porto on the D84.
Map of campsites along the route: corsica-campsites-map-show in overlay | corsica-campsites-map-show in new window
Transport and services
Services along the route
There were plenty of restaurants, bars, and cash machines in the main centres (L’Île Rousse, Calvi, Algajola, Galéria), but outside of the main season, you may find very few places along the route that are open.
There were a few water taps along the way, but some stretches were you could go for quite a long way without finding a shop a bar or water tap.
After a day of finding bars and restaurants were closed, finally found one that was open, and it was a treasure. The La Licciola (on the main road to L’Île Rousse is a small paillote on a headland with a glorious view —well worth a stop.
The campsite at Argentella has an épicerie and a snack bar which should be open during the summer. There’s also a hotel restaurant the Marina Argentella (open from mid-May to late September).
Bike shops on this section of the route
- Calvi: Intersport | Wild Machja | Lunatik (7 Boulevard Wilson)
- Ajaccio: Rout’Evasion
- Porto Pollo: Tex Racing
- Propriano: Intersport
- Bonifacio: Tam-Tam Windshop
If you know of other bike shops, or you spot a mistake, please let me know.
Île Rouse: Le Grillon. It happened to be the closest restaurant to the campsite, but it was still pretty good.
Calvi: Le Pas Pareil. On a runabout just before you get to Calvi. The restaurant has a nice garden terrace and it seems to be a popular choice with local people. At lunchtimes, they do an excellent fixed-price menu for 14€ or so, and €10 will get you a huge bowl of mussels. It’s an excellent place to stop, if, like me, you were feeling just a little bit grumpy after a dull stretch on the route nationale.
Porto: Le Moulin and La Cigale. La Cigale is on the main road as you coming to Porto. La Cigale serves probably what you would call ‘hearty fare’. The menu is a little bit dull, look for these specials on the blackboard for the best dishes. Le Moulin is in a converted watermill by the riverside. Turn left just as you come to the bridge over the river. It’s slightly fancier, but does an excellent value fixed-price menu of Corsican specialities, I definitely recommend the sanglier (wild boar) with polenta.
Articles in this series
- Corsica Coast: introduction
- Corsica Coast: Part 1: Cap Corse
- Corsica Coast: Part 2: The north-west coast from Saint-Florent to Porto
- Corsica Coast: Part 3: The Calanches de Piana and Cargèse
- Corsica Coast: Part 4: The south-west coast: Campomoro and Bonifacio
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