The cheeky gite owner tried to charge us €48 instead of €36, claiming when challenged that he thought there were four of us – unlikely as he saw us arrive, showed us where to leave our bikes and saw us in the common room, and we were the only cyclists staying there. He went back inside for the missing €12 and thrust it scowling into my hand with a sarcastic “merci”. Having no tent to pack, we achieved the desired early start to beat the heat for the climb to the Col de Vergio, at 1467m the highest point of our trip. This is more than 100m higher than Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Great Britain and we’d reached it from sea level at Porto the previous morning on fully laden bikes. The cheating Czechs overtook us as we neared the summit and we watched them unload their bikes, pose for photographs and set off to freewheel down the other side!
We followed them, a lovely run through forest and on past open countryside to Calacuccia where we stopped for our picnic lunch facing the snowy Mte Cinto to the north west. It was very hot, so we cooled down in the shade of a café before continuing on down the Scala di Santa Regina, a spectacular narrow gorge, before having to work hard in the heat along 10 km of adverse gradient to the Col d’Ominanda. We were rewarded by marvellous views of the snow capped mountains and a downhill run to Corte.
Corte is said to epitomize l’âme corse (the soul of Corsica) and has been associated with Corsican nationalism since the 18th century, the scene of battles with the occupying French forces. Pascal Paoli established the island’s university here and after decades of neglect this institution has returned to prominence with a mandate to re-establish Corsican cultural values and language. The Corsican language is closer to Italian than French.
We found a campsite on the edge of town. It was small and quite busy but within walking distance of the centre and with great views of the citadelle. We toured this fascinating old town, ancient bullet holes being still visible in General Gaffori’s former house from a siege in 1750. We dined out before returning to our tent.