And we’re off again, this time heading for Zonza. We start off going directly up hill and this will continue slowly but surely for 15 kilometres until we reach the col de la Vaccia at 1,193 metres altitude, while we are currently at 700. The pass is rolling and climbs progressively at low percentages (6 or 7% max).
Setting off again from Zicavo, we once again find ourselves on a small and shaded road from which we see pigs intheir enclosures and scattered across the roadside. They are generally calm but keep a look out all the same as they may start running in every direction in the event that something startles them.
At the end of the road we see a bend and a clear view opening out onto a panorama. From here we can see the full road up to the pass while also having an exceptional view over the mountains.
The pass is very pleasant to cycle on as you can freewheel due to its low percentage gradient.
We also see a herd of goats, with their beautiful white patous (sheep dogs).
They’re a little frightened and attempt to "scaper" (escape) even though we’re not going very fast given we’re still climbing a bit :).
Just before the pass, we pass the auberge du col de la Vaccia nearthe junction for Olivese (which you shouldn’t take, as you’ll regret having to climb back up the wall!).
The pass is very large with a long stretch of flat ground before the descent and you may see wild cows and pigs (although should you get any food out, you may find that one or two try to befriend you; they’re evidently not that wild!).
We’re here in the Parc Régional Naturel de Corse (Corsican Regional Natural Park), and the Taravo Valley and at the entrance to the Alta Rocca.
Then we pass over to a superb descent with wide bends, and as with the climb on the other side, the percentage gradient is relatively low making it possible to cycle without relying too heavily on the brakes, which is pleasant.
But we can see the road ahead and find ourselves muttering that we’d have been quicker using a zipline :).
The road was perfectly smooth over the whole pass but from Fozzaninco onwards, it gets narrower and is in quite poor condition, so watch out for potholes and, as always, animals
The road descends until it reaches Aullène and is hilly until it reaches Quenza then Zonza.
There are many villages on these mountain stages so plenty of choice as to where to eat and/or sleep.
We arrive in Quenza, a superb village perched in the heart of the Alta Rocca mountains at 800 metres altitude. Once a hot spot for island transhumance, the village has a strong culture with close ties to nature and to traditional forms of work. Excellent local specialities include the charcuterie and the most exceptional honey, taking its flavour from chestnut tree and scrubland flowers.
Detour via the plateau du Cuscionu:
A road leads up to the plateau du Cuscionu, which is around 30 minutes away and located at 1,500m altitude. But be careful if you choose to make this detour as the road, although nevertheless very pretty, is in very poor condition towards the end.You can also get there via Zicavo and the Bergeries de Bassetta.
The plateau is made up of a number of unique, green and rocky landscapes, dotted with a multitude of little water pools, known in Italian as “i pozzi” (or pozzines in French), where pigs, goats, cows and horses can be seen strolling peacefully. It’s splendid!
But up there, the weather changes very quickly, so bring a sweater if you can.
"Mi'!" (look!), coming out of Quenza, turn to your left for a fantastic view of the aiguilles.
After six more kilometres and one last little climb, we reach the stage’s end point at Zonza.
At the heart of the Parc naturel de Corse, at 900m altitude, the village offers a panoramic view over Bavella and Monte Incudine (2,134m), on of Corsica’s most beautiful summits and the highest point in Corse-du-Sud.
Granite houses built on boulders dominate the Asinao valley which, as a popular holiday destination, is also full of hotels and restaurants.
A little detour to the legendary Col de Bavella?
It’s possible to do a round trip from Zonza to the col (pass) in order to see the statue of the Notre-Dame des Neiges, then take the road to Levie on the way back down again. There is a little under 10 kilometres and 500 metres of climbing from Zonza onwards.
This road also takes us past the Viseo hippodrome, which, as the highest in Europe, holds horse races on Sundays in season. Something fun that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be passing.
Points of interest for tourists in this stage:
The Col de la Vaccia (a remarkable viewing point)
Quenza (pisan church and plateau du Cuscione access)
The Aiguilles de Bavella
Hôtel Le Tourisme ***
Denis Bertini and his family will welcome you to their hotel which has been fully renovated over the last two winters to give the Alta Rocca’s oldest stagecoach inn (1875) a new lease on life.
It is a magnificent mixture of authenticity and modernity, in wood and stone with a spectacular view over the mountains and valley.
With Jacques-Pierre Carli working front-of-house and Amanda in the kitchen, this adorable “Corsican-London” couple have created an original concept halfway between an inn and a coffee shop in what was once the village school (where Jacques-Pierre’s father was actually taught).
The business comprises a bar, restaurant and convenience store tastefully decorated and offering high-quality local produce.
You can choose from Corsican cold meats, vegetarian salad, croque-monsieur, homemade tartlet and Corsican soup - simple yet divine! And the homemade ice-creams from l’Art de la Glace in Porto-Vecchio, are just too good (“c'est toccu de bon!”) ;)