Stage 1: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia
PORTO-VECCHIO TODAY: THE PERFECT SEASIDE RESORT
The third largest town in Corsica, Porto-Vecchio, once thriving on the exploitation of salt, timber and cork, has turned into an attractive seaside resort. Sea and mountain are within reach and reveal extraordinary landscapes. It is impossible to overlook the beauty of the sandy beaches of Santa Giulia and Palombaggia and their quiet turquoise waters. It is equally difficult not to be charmed by the sparkling and contrasting colours and the exceptionally diverse wildlife of the Ospedale massif.
To boost and develop the appeal of the region, countless open-air activities are on offer. A wide range of water sports is available; scuba diving, cruises, kite-surf, water-skiing, windsurfing, jet-ski, kayaking, multi-hull sailing…
On the mountain side, trekking, via ferratas, canyoneering, donkey rides, mountain biking are a must. And for the ones looking for thrills, parachuting, helicopter treks, quad and horse rides lead to settings often impossible to reach otherwise. The town evolves constantly and welcomes more and more sporting and cultural events requiring investments in terms of infrastructures.
The experience of four editions of the Criterium International made Porto-Vecchio the obvious starting point for this 100th edition. The peloton is now familiar with the roads of the Ospedale massif, on which Pierrick Fedrigo has made it a specialty to win while the time trial drawn around the third Corsican city crowned excellent specialists such as Richie Porte (2013), Cadel Evans (2012), Andreas Kloeden (2011) and David Millar (2010). Nearly half a century ago, in 1964, Raymond Poulidor had won a stage of Paris-Nice finishing in town when the Race to the Sun had visited Corsica. The next day, “Poupou” had passed Jan Janssen in the GC when the Dutchman crashed in a time trial in the streets of Bastia and gave up. Since then, Porto-Vecchio hosted several stages of the Tour of Corsica.
In 1539, the senators of Genoa asked the San Giorgio Office, a wealthy Genoese bank, to build a fortress on a large rock of porphyry in order to exploit the riches of the valley and export them to their city. The Porto-Vecchio citadel saw the light of day but in spite of a fertile hinterland and a large gulf, the site remained infested with malaria and Moorish pirates. Between 1540 and 1589, the citadel was destroyed and rebuilt three times. The Genoa Republic eventually sold it to France in 1768. One year later, the troops of King Louis XV took over the spot which they renamed Bastion de France. The Bastion de France, in which are held every summer exhibitions, is the most famous of the five bastions in the citadel. The four other private bastions are Bastion Sant' Antonu, the Windmill Bastiion, the Palazzo Bastion and the Bastion Funtana Vechja.
The Ospeedale forest owes its name to an old hermitage (hospital) hosting since the XVth century travellers and shepherds making their way up the mountain. In the hamlet, the San Leonardo church was restored in 1996. In sunny weather, the Ospedale site provides a magnificent view on the Porto-Vecchio gulf. A little above the village, at an altitude of 948 metres, lies an artificial lake. The small villages of Agnaroru and Cartlavonu are other good starting points for mountain treks. The summit of the Vacca Morta is easily accessible and its panoramic view over the hamlet of Cartalavonu is a must in itself. Ospedale is a beautiful forest of pines and beech with plenty of paths for trekkers. It was the site of a stage finish in the Criterium International for the past four years.
Bouches de Bonifacio Nature Reserve
The French part of an international project for an international sea park between Sardinia and Corsica, the Bouche de Bonifacio nature reserve is the largest in metropolitan France with 80,000 ha. It is completed at sea and in the isles by the Ciarbicali Islands nature reserve. Wildlife is very diverse, and in the isles Western Mediterranean and African plants can be found.
Silene velutina is the most precious flower for scientists on the reserve while seabirds like cormorants, puffins, petrels or herring seagulls make the reputation of the International Sea Park.
South of the Porto-Vecchio Gulf, the beach of Palombaggia (Palumbaghja) and the bay of Santa Giulia (Santa Ghjulia) are reminiscent of Polynesian lagoons and are among Corsica’s most famous beaches
Bicycles will play a special part in the modernisation scheme of Bastia in its quest to become closer to nature and more respectful of the environment. When he announced the creation of a 5 kms “green way” along the coastline, Bastia mayor Emile Zuccarelli made it clear that the cycle lane would be the backbone of a new network of “light” alternative modes of transportation. A priority of the municipality, along with major urbanism developments to boost the city economically and socially – restoration of the old town, creation of a technological centre in the south – the green way will link Toga to Arinella then to Marana along the shoreline. Three metres wide and open to pedestrians as well, it will be linked to other cycle lanes going in every part of town, from the town centre to Fango, Montesoro, Lupino, the Old Port and the Citadel.
With this project the city turns to green. It is a very ambitious project making it possible to go to work by bike, or to simply stroll towards Arinella from the town centre or Lupino.
In the 1964 Paris-Nice, one day after winning the Porto-Vecchio stage, Raymond Poulidor took the overall lead away from Dutchman Jan Janssen in a time trial in the streets of Bastia. Janssen, who was to become the first Dutchman to win the Tour, had crashed in that final stage. Since then, Bastia logically hosted several stages of the Tour of Corsica. Before being dropped from the professional calendar to be revived in 2001 as an attractive amateur race, the Tour of Corsica crowned riders such as Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle in 1980, Stephen Roche in 1981 or Bernard Hinault in 1982. The badger kept emotional memories of the race and the island: “It’s going to be great. I rode the Tour of Corsica in the 80s. It was fabulous, especially in May. There were flowers and scents. It was 30 years ago and I can still remember it. Mountains, valleys, all the profiles are available and the weather is beautiful. The two departments will be involved. It’s just great that the Tour should start from a region it never visited before.”
Among the Bastia riders to have left their mark feature Marcel Subrero, a former team-mate of Francis Pelissier, who won the 1927 Tour of Corsica and gave his name to cycling track in Casatorra.
The ancient palace of the Genoese governors
The palace of the Governors was built from a tower erected in 1380 by a noble Genoese, Leonello Lomellino. The tower, la bastia, gave its name to the city and stood on a strategic position overlooking the Porto Cardo bay (now the Old Port) and it was soon turned into a fortified castle. It became the permanent residence of the Genoese governors of Corsica in the late 15th century.
It is now home to the municipal museum. A recent restoration rebuilt a quarter of the building destroyed in 1943 during the liberation of Corsica from the occupation of Italian troops. The new museum was inaugurated in June 2010.
It is one of the most famous monuments in town. Of neo-classical style, it is the largest church in Corsica. Built above the Old Port from 1583, it was constantly restored and modified along the years. Its noble and classical façade is partly hidden by neighbouring buildings, and inside the style is entirely 18th century baroque. The bell towers were added late in the history of the church. The one to the left was built in 1813 by Swiss mason Tomaso Quadri while the one to the right is the work of Bastia’s architect Paul Augustin Viale and dates rom 1864.
It is one of the rare churches in Christianity not granting the right of asylum. It was a condition imposed by the Genoese to allow its construction. Its imposing baroque façade tops a superb volley of stairs. Inside the nave looks even wider still thanks to the white walls and the pilasters. Only the superb altar is richly decorated.
Submarine Casabianca’s sail:
Launched in 1937, the submarine Casabianca was one of the rare French units not to be sunk with the rest of the French fleet in Toulon in November 1942. Instead it fled to Algiers. It was used for intelligence missions to help the liberation of Corsica in September 1943. Its sail is now on display on the St Nicolas square, one of the largest in Europe (300X90 metres).