Mediterranean Tour 2007
From Pavarotti to Tino Rossi.
All TV screens were full of Pavarotti when we boarded on Thursday September 6th the Grimaldi ferry to Civitavecchia. At the start of this Mediterranean Tour were some 15 bikes from every European origin, manned with Belgian, Swiss, Spanish, English and French riders. I felt the universal language would go through hard times, but did not bother that much: we were going to Italy, where people speak with their hands !!
One night on the ferry on a glassy sea, and here we are, on the Italian boot. No question to rally Rome and its crowds, the plan was to ride full east to the Abruzze-mountains. Just for the tone of the trip we shook off our first rider after 20 km. Jean-Paul, a happy vacationer on his bike had chosen the 4-lane road, just to visit the roman suburbs. As to the rest of the group, we had our first plate of pasta at Bracciano Lake. In the meantime we could appreciate the strange way Italians use their cars: the most used feature is the horn, Mini Coopers are driven only with controlled slide, and the red bikes wear their rear tyre only !! After the meal, supposedly frugal but finally pantagruelian (due to waiting for Jean Paul !!) up to we go up the mountains. Sumptuous landscapes, twisty roads, temperature initially perfect at the end invigorating, snow on the peaks and as a spice in the story, cows mimicking their surroundings thus visible in the last minute !! We arrived at the Gran Sasso Park late afternoon. The hotel showed the right name: Eagle's Nest. A superb journey, with only one regret, the low temperature.
The second day starts under a clear sky. The route was going to be fearful, as we had not only to cross the larger part of the Abruzzi, but also reach Naples and its infernal traffic in order to board the ferry to Sicily. A marvellous site as we cross two national parks in the middle of herds of cows, wild horses and flocks of sheep guarded by superb white 'patous', the only dogs capable of resisting wolves, and who are still present in this region. The roads are first class, and riding them makes you understand why number of bike makers come here to make pictures for their ads. However, finding food was not easy at all. Around 02.00 we found a small trattoria … the only one in Italy with a broken down coffee machine !! After that came the nightmare … We had decided to ride in a single file to meet the ferry, but in the suburbs of Naples, notwithstanding the use of our GPS, we all got lost … Apocalyptic highways for some of us, visit downtown for the others, mingling with the port traffic for the next, I do not know how all managed to arrive in front of the ferry … The biker's divinity must have been with us, and I admit at times I suffered some stress. Finally the group embarked in good time, Sicily here we are.
The bay of Naples in the middle of the night, a decent temperature, a faultless ship, all excellent souvenirs of this trip from Naples to Catania, decorated with an erupting Stromboli and its crown of flames.
Catania makes us plough, and we climb the slopes of erupting mount Etna in dispersed order. Today is Sunday and we must believe the whole lot of Sicilian bikes have made an appointment to join us. Breathtaking landscapes and GP-circuit-like roads to reach Agrigento. The hostel there was superb and all of us were happy to get some relief in the swimming pool.
Departure in the morning with a visit to the roman temples, then we climb the mountains towards Corleone, a village with a worldwide reputation. In order to reach Marinella we cross a landscape of vineyards, ending up along the coast racing against scooters driven by makings of Valentino Rossi. After arrival at the hotel each of us wanted to try the waves, and this first aperitif in a swimming suit ended the second Sicilian day. Soothed by the noise of the waves, we enjoyed a repairing night.
5th day: the morning is spent visiting the archaeological site of Selinunte. These lying columns shaken down by a gigantic earthquake still seem to remember the screams of people surprised in their sleep.
The journey to Trapani was short, and we took advantage of this too get lost in the middle of salt marshes and mills, in a décor of serenity and sweet life. An improvised meal on the shore, sea bath in 24° water, and compulsory siesta.
I prefer not to mention the sea route from Trapani to Cagliari as the ferry was an ugly and uncomfortable vessel (the only minus of the whole trip) where we slept in a kind of cupboards. Their meal was quite acceptable, if not we would have had awful thoughts about a company unworthy of servicing one of the most demanded lines in the Mediterranean.
Day 6: Sardinia, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, here we are! Welcomed by Cagliari and its ponds of rose flamingos. As always Sardinian roads are perfect with their perfect tarmac. Through these breathtaking landscapes we have an intense pleasure joining a first class hotel resort. The only fault of the place it was like some kind of Club Med … with all the qualities thereof (large rooms, faultless welcome, excellent and abundant food) and also its defaults (animations, ever present music, and other auditory nuisances). He beach is only 50 m away from the rooms, and the latter are not too close to places of animation. We were going to spend three nights in this special place at Arbatax, on the east coast of Sardinia. Time to leave our luggage and ride the light way. Sardinia embraced us and we should enjoy as much as we could … in the three following days.
Knowing well Sardinia and its context, I had decided to turn this quite short stay into a kind of alliance between our favoured sport, the bike, and the discovery of the country for those who didn't know it.
Sardinia is first of all roads … they are superb, look like GP-circuits and have not a single trap … It is great to ride there. Sardinia – I can't stop repeating it – is the biker's paradise !!
Sardinia also is a land of traditions. Sardinian bandits are a pretext to ceremonies and meditation. Extraordinary places of which we visited one, Orgosolo and its wall paintings that reflect what happens at Lanusei and its abandoned cursed village. Sardinia also is the birthplace of the Nuragic civilisation, an extraordinary story, people that were able to build villages looking like tombs, and that conceal secrets. A civilisation that always feared the others, but which we met.
Sardinia mainly is the sea … bathe in creeks that have no cause to be jealous of the Polynesian lagoons, and find rose and white cobbles in places near the roads.
Sardinia is the paradise to free animals. Here they are, on the side of the road, watching you without any fear. In the middle of Gennargentu high up a pass at 1800 m we see herds of cows, horses and even some wild mouflons. The nicest was they did not show any fear!!
End of the third day, we follow the west coast to make sure we feel for coming back.
The Moby Line vessel expects us at Santa Theresa. We are on the verge of leaving a contrasted Italy and return to France … in other words to an other France, a France that sings and eats broccio, a France that drinks Patrimonio and smells like myrtle … the island of Beauty … Corsica.
Hotel Belvedere at Coti-Chiavari and its gastronomy welcomes us in a super décor overlooking the bay of Ajaccio. Starting with a typical aperitif and ending with various desserts we received as usual a panel of specialties making some of us heavier than at the start of the trip !!
Corsican roads of course are not the quality of the Sardinese but the permanent contrast between the sea and the mountains makes us forget the bumps and the gravelled areas. A flash of light, a misty atmosphere, a ray of sunshine on a porphyry rock makes a renewed discovery. We hit the roads taken by the Rally de France and everybody could ascertain the pilot's temerity when running these specials at an incredible speed.
To make it short, Corsica half September, under the sunshine, it is a permanent 25°, just a few people on the roads … but an awful lot of cows, pigs and other cattle !! A fabulous light and the opportunity for sea bathing in a 24° water.
From the bay of Ajaccio to the rocky inlets at Piana through the inland marvels, the gulf of Bonifacio, the forests of Verde and Zicavo, the lake of Opsedale, the beaches of Porto Vecchio, the villages of Ota, Sta Maria Sicche and Sta Lucia de Tallano, all these beautiful sights offered by the magic island bend after bend are mere names of places visited in the course of the voyage.
These three days on Corsica were times of pleasure concluding a trip full of discoveries.
But now its time to return home. MS Girolata owned by la Méridionale expects us at Ajaccio port.
Even the gale during our last night did not spoil the pleasure.
At Marseille, we all felt some nostalgia. We made it short there, and went swiftly, each one his own way.
The Med Tour was over, a full success. I am not telling you, you ask the participants.
Thanks to all involved, CMN for the welcome, the quality of their service, and for the nice souvenirs that pleased to all, to Sonia at Isolegemelle for realising the journey and her appreciated interventions, and to Pierrot Revoltier from Château de Falgueirol for his sponsorship.