The great summer ride guide – (Part 1/4)

Published: 02 June 2016

Unbelievable roads and destinations to escape to now

Welcome to part one of MCN’s holiday special, your guide to escaping to the finest tarmac in Britain and Europe and coming home sated for another year. In this four part special we show you some of the most accessible and stunning areas and roads you can explore, how to get there and how much to spend. Every road has been hand-picked for MCN readers by biking travel expert Simon Weir, a touring addict who spends his working life pounding the highways of Britain and Europe in search of roads that move the dial. Bonnes vacances!

1. Corsica 

Wild mountains, beautiful coastline and amazing roads – Corsica will blow your mind

The best riding in France? C’est en Corse,” François shrugged, as if it was obvious – why didn’t the English fool know this? After 20-odd years of exploring it, I’d thought I knew Europe’s largest country pretty well. Checking with a colleague on France’s Moto Magazine revealed my mistake: I’d missed out Corsica. At more than 3000 square miles, it’s the fourth biggest island in the Mediterranean – only slightly smaller than Yorkshire. But where Yorkshire has a population of nearly six million, only 350,000 people live on France’s largest island, mostly in the coastal towns. This means the roads of the interior are blissfully quiet – and as two-thirds of the island is mountains, it means those roads are super-twisty too.

From the west coast of the island, climbing back across the spine of Corsica on the N193 – a kind of high altitude, souped-up Route Napoleon – I headed up the east coast to Porto. The views from the D81 were staggering – blue water, distant headlands, the road ahead snaking round another corner. And then I got to Piana and entered another world – giant red-rock spires rising beside the road, the sapphire sea sparkling far below in the setting sun. It was magical. I genuinely thought I’d just ridden the best that Corsica could offer – the best that France could offer. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Next day’s destination was  Bastia, for an overnight boat back to the mainland. The route was around Cap Corse – the raised thumb at the top of Corsica’s clenched fist. By the time I reached the first sleepy seaside village, Farinole, I already knew this was one of the very best roads I’d ever ridden. Hugging the cliffs, rising and falling from sea level to soaring seagull level, corners coming thick and fast – the D80 was epic. True, one or two sections had a terrible surface, but the views are always stunning. I got to the port, devastated to be leaving and desperate to plan a return trip for as soon as possible. Never mind the best riding in France, Corsica has some of the best riding in Europe.  

Planning

When to go: April to October, but August will be busy with holidaymakers
Where to stay: Bonifacio in the south, Porto on the east coast, St Florent in the north
How to get there: Ferry to Ajaccio or Bastia from Toulon or Nice
How long: 6-9 days (2-3 days on Corsica itself)
Budget: Budget £100-£130 a day (it’s pricier than the mainland) plus ferry costs

2. French Alps

France’s Route des Grandes Alpes joins up 17 passes for the ultimate mountain ride

From Lake Geneva in the north to Menton on the Med, France’s Route des Grandes Alpes bills itself as the ultimate mountainriding route. Over France’s highest pass, through beautiful valleys and sleepy out-of-season ski towns, it’s more than 400 miles of hairpins and breathtaking views. If you’ve never ridden in the mountains, it’s a real challenge and it’s easy to misjudge it. After all, 420 miles? That’s just a long day on the motorway… From the starting point at Thonon les Bains it takes two full days – or three relaxed ones – to reach the southern end of the Route des Grandes Alpes. The route was created to attract visitors to the mountains and it was started in 1909 but didn’t finish until the road over Col de l’Iseran was completed in 1937. The classic version links 17 great passes together – though many riders swap the Col de la Cayolle and Col de la Couillole for the more famous Col de la Bonnette – riding the loop above the pass that is France’s highest paved road. The landscape changes along the final stretch – from Alpine to Mediterranean, crossing the epic Col de Turini and working its way down to the sea. This really is the ultimate mountain-riding adventure. 

Planning

When to go: Late-June to mid-October
Where to stay: Thononles- Bains, Val d’Isere, Barcelonette and Menton for a three-day trip or Thonon-les-Bains, Briançon and Menton for a more demanding two-day ride
How to get there: It’s 1-2 days from Calais to Thonon
How long: 6-9 days
Budget: Slightly cheaper than touring in the UK.

For the full details on these routes and to download the GPX files for your Garmin or BMW SatNav visit our good friends at Ride magazine www.ride.co.uk/mcnroutes

Words: Simon Weir Photos: Mark Manning