I’m 40 hours into my week-long motorcycle loop around southern Corsica when it hits me: two wheels are way better than four. It’s at Sartène, 50km north of Figari airport, when this eureka moment arrives. The medieval hill town tumbles into the valley in my bike’s rear-view mirror, and far ahead 20km of empty asphalt ribbons down to the sea.
Every time I take a corner the bike rears up slightly and I can glimpse further open road ahead. Invariably, it’s a clear shot past low fields, as snowcapped mountains frame the horizon. I gun the motor and dip into the opposing lane as the bike springs slowly back to vertical and catapults out of the corner. As a 125cc scooter virgin I’m only doing 60km/h, but this honestly feels like flying.
The best (and cheapest) way to enjoy Corsica’s miles of stunning coastline is on a scooter.
Corsica is ideal for motorbikes of all calibres, but you need no special training to hire a scooter, only a driving licence. The island boasts the same amount of coastline as Spain’s Balearic Islands, yet receives just 20% of the visitors – and only a handful of them outside July and August. Locals ply their empty roads in pick-up trucks, tractors or on two wheels themselves. In a land with an average of just 16 rainy days between May and September it’s easy to see the attraction.
On a bike the island’s scenery is scarily intense. Inland, over 20 mountains soar above 2,000m. Their snowmelt is funnelled into raging rivers, which are criss-crossed by ancient stone bridges. In the west lie the Calanques, where the coast road threads through cavernous rock formations that glow red in the setting sun. And in the south-east – where I’ve planned my lazy loop (see map, right) – are gentle palm-lined shores, as well as a clutch of what are regularly voted the world’s greatest beaches.
On day three, in Bonifacio, the island’s prettiest seaside resort, I receive a lesson in biker camaraderie. In almost every Corsican town motorcycles may park up on the main square for free. The bigger the vehicle the bigger the posing rights, and the Harley-Davidsons – thoroughbred stallions to my donkey of a moped – have taken centre stage. But bikers of all persuasions then sit and sip espressos together, from Italians on speedy Kawasakis to Germans touring on Honda Gold Wings. It’s a free-living fraternity, albeit one involving lots of leather, and I feel like I belong. Then we all leave, the riders on their beast bikes revving and roaring, me with a quieter ‘putt putt’ sound.
It’s said that every road in Corsica leads to a beach. My guidebook lists 100 great ones, but there are over 100 more that remain unmarked on the highway and many more that remain unnamed. A case in point is Pianottoli-Caldarello Plage, which I discover by pointing the scooter coastward off the main Bonifacio road.
After 5km of tree-lined tarmac I glide the scooter through a minefield of rutted dirt road. Patches of sand mark a tricky final passage – bikers must speed into them, push straight ahead and hold on tight – before I spot a Yamaha silhouetted against a wide arc of beach. Its two riders are swimming naked off a rocky outcrop at one end and seem oblivious to my presence. I walk the other way and slip into a blue watery paradise of my own. Little wonder it’s not been tagged on Google Maps.
For a taste of the interior, I point my scooter towards Propriano in the south-west of the island. This region is a tranquil meadowland traversed by slow country roads and is consequently off the main biker trail. The magical beauty that places Corsica in a different league to other Mediterranean islands is visible at every turn.
The scooter’s revs are low enough to hear the twitter of birdsong. Lizards and the odd snake squiggle out of my path. Near the village of Orasi, two eagles soar overhead then dip down to 20m, wheeling around in a circular patrol over a field of ripening corn. Though it’s summer I don’t see another vehicle for a good half-hour.
The liberty that a motorbike offers you to tour at both high and low speeds – or to stop off at will – becomes apparent as the days pass. The cafés that line the road between Sartène and Figari make for unscheduled breaks, as do countryside stalls selling island jam and honey. The weekly fruit market in the fortress town of Porto-Vecchio is a particularly colourful place to stock up. By day five the scooter is less a mode of transport, more a mobile larder, as Corsican figatelli salami, tomme sheep’s cheese, heirloom tomatoes (aged varieties from years past) and local cucumbers are stuffed into every crevice.
Rounding Corsica’s southernmost tip again on day six I pull over at the distant sight of kitesurfers. The Italian island of Sardinia lies clear across the strait and the wind whips between the two islands. Four surfers ride the waves a kilometre out in the ocean, their red sails carving through the air like courting butterflies. Passports in hand they could be eating prosciutto after a 10-minute race across the water. However, I gun the scooter’s motor, keen to spend my final full day on the famed beaches of the south-east coast.
Little prepares you for the ice-white sands of Palombaggia and Rondinara, Corsica’s two finest beaches. Palombaggia is a triple-bayed delight fringed by palms and the odd hippy- chic beach bar. Rondinara is so beautiful it looks like it’s been created using Photoshop. What may be the planet’s most perfect arc of sand is shaded by Aleppo pines and lapped by half a metre of turquoise blue water. I glide past the rows of cars to the edge of the sand.
On my morning of departure I run the scooter up to Porto-Vecchio, which lies close to Figari airport. The scooter feels like an extension of my body as I weave up the winding highway heading north. Such scenic rhythmic silence encourages quiet contemplation. In the classic biker book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the lead character achieves inner peace amid the constant hum of rubber on open tarmac. It’s a feeling I know I’ll miss.
Figari airport is located 25km from Porto- Vecchio and 20km from Bonifacio. A daily bus service operates between the two towns, where you can pick up scooters. Taxis to Bonifacio cost about €39, and €48 to Porto- Vecchio. Alternatively, Hertz (www.hertz.com) is Ryanair’s exclusive rental partner and provides special rates for passengers.
WHERE TO STAY
About 1km outside Bonifacio, the great-value Hôtel des Étrangers (doubles from €45, tel: +33 0 4 9573 0109, www.hoteldesetrangers.fr) has tidy guestrooms, free wi-fiand secure parking. In Porto-Vecchio, Hôtel le Goéland (doubles from €180, tel: +33 0 4 9570 1415, www.hotelgoeland.com) has hip, comfy rooms, and a waterfront location that’s great for families. They also welcome bike and scooter enthusiasts too. Just outside Sartène – with an infinity pool that looks over the mountains – is the Hôtel Fior di Ribba (doubles from €76, tel: +33 0 4 9577 0180, www.hotelfiordiribba.com). On the west coast, in the sleepy town of Porto-Pollo, sits the Hôtel Les Eucalyptus (doubles from €93, tel: +33 0 4 9574 0152, www.hoteleucalyptus.com).
It offers tennis courts, free wi-fi, a beachfront location and private parking for scooters.