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Sardinia and Corsica - a must-ride hidden jewels of Mediterranean

There are many places in the World a person would call amazing, beautiful, stunning, interesting and dozens of other words that would describe the fascinating beauty of our planet. But, some of them are truly special in many aspects. And when we speak about riding experience, sceneries, historic heritage and natural landscapes these amazing Mediterranean islands are on top of the bucket list of must do in a lifetime or more precise in our motorcycle language - “must ride”. 

Geographical position of the islands is the heart of Mediterranean, not too far from the shores of Italy and easily reachable from several ports on the Italian mainland. Sardinia is a large Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea. It has nearly 2,000km of coastline, sandy beaches and a mountainous interior crossed with hiking trails. Its rugged landscape is dotted with thousands of nuraghe – mysterious Bronze Age stone ruins shaped like beehives (we will say a bit about them later in the blog).   

Some of the most important ports to reach Sardinia or Corsica by ferry are Livorno, Piombino and of course Civitavecchia near Rome.  In case arriving by airplane, Olbia airport is the place to choose.  

Sardinia belongs to Italy and Corsica to France. Both of the islands have had an interesting and turbulent history over the centuries. 

Our guided motorcycle tours cover both Sardinia and Corsica in option from Rome (a chance to have a visit of this glorious historic city and capital of Italy), passing by ferry night ride to Olbia, Sardinia, coming back via ferry from Bastia, Corsica to the port of Livorno and entering a part of Tuscan inlands on the way back to Rome. Another tour departs from Venice covering the complete Tuscany and reaching Livorno and again Olbia, Sardinia and coming back from Bastia again to Livorno and back to Venice.  

Reaching Olbia in an overnight ferry (sleeping cabins are of course mandatory and included in the tour package) is an exciting experience as you land the completely different Italy from the one you have ever experienced and seen. It is the journey to the past and it varies from the near past to the very distant past from thousands of years ago. Originating as the Greek colony of Olbia, it later passed to the Romans and was the scene in 259 BC of a Roman victory over the Carthaginian general Hanno. Largely rebuilt in 1198 by Pisan colonists. There are traces of Phoenician and Roman tombs, and the Pisan Romanesque Church of San Simplicio is notable.  

Shortly after leaving Olbia that is the starting point of our Sardinia and Corsica guided motorcycle tour, after disembarking the ferry early in the morning and after crossing the Tyrrhenian Sea, we are after few curves already in between the beautiful hills on one side and the Tyrrhenian Sea on the other. Exchanging the sceneries in between, turns us incredibly fast into real motorcycle riding zen as suddenly you feel like you are in a big playground and truly it is so! Incredible roads all the way the coasts and inlands of Sardinia offer the ultimate motorcycle ride and experience proving the name of these islands riders' heavens. As there are not so many places where you can experience at the very same time and all the way you go the wilderness, safety, rare road traffic, breath taking sceneries and, in a way, an alternative Mediterranean from the one you would expect and see across the shores of the Mediterranean and Adriatic sea.  

This is a distant Mediterranean that will leave you amazed and making you feel you have experienced another planet, yet every place we go and every mile we ride will make you feel completely safe and in a large playground. Enjoying the meals and authenticity of the areas (amazing homemade sheep and goat cheese is a must when in inlands of Sardinia, we will have a chance to pass through villages that produce the best of the best) is a must on every tour we make and of course as our moto says “Expand your horizons”, we will make sure you experience it and reach beyond the horizon. That’s what we do!  

Inlands of Sardinia is particularly stunning and as one of our company tour leaders once said – even if you ride blind you can't miss the good road on Sardinia. It truly is so. The only thing you need to take care of is that the day has 24 hours and the sleep would be needed as otherwise you would not wish to jump off the motorcycle but continue the endless ride. I have experienced this myself several times leaving me sleeping at the sandy beaches of Corsica as I didn’t care of reaching the accommodation but just riding until there was the light that helped me with exploring the sights and beauty of these islands (even if it was moonlight ?). 

Arbatax and red rocks 

From Olbia, through the hills and shores our route takes us towards Arbatax. The origin of the name Arbatax is uncertain; according to tradition it derived from the Arabic for "14th Tower" and refers, probably, to the nearby watchtower built by the Spaniards to protect the territory from the incursion of Arab pirates. Today, the economy is focused on tourism and industry. Arbatax is home to a factory dedicated to the building of oil platforms, controlled by the Italian oil and gas industry contractor Saipem. Mussels are farmed in the nearby lagoon and fresh fish are on sale from the fishing cooperative. The famous red rocks emerging from the sea are a tourist attraction and a definite must visit places when in Sardinia. Of course, a swim near the rocks is a must, usually it is possible as the climate during our tours is mild and sea is warm and it is one of the exciting experiences on our guided motorcycle tour of Sardinia and Corsica.  

In case of waves, you should take care as the rocks are as well present in the shallow waters so you should be very careful in case the sea is not calm in order not to hurt yourself being thrown by the sea to one of the rocks. Otherwise, it is amazing experience. Arbatax is I nice small fisherman town, surrounded by several beautiful resorts and we stay in one of them to enjoy the sea, the sandy beaches and views and walks alongside the rocky shores of the area. 

However, on our way from Olbia to Arbatax there are few exciting things to see. One of them is Cala Gonone. Due to its natural environment (the territory is included in the Gennargentu National Park) and to the quality of its waters, Cala Gonone is a popular tourist venue. A small town on Close to the village, and reachable by the sea, is the show cave of Bue Marino. Many boats from small speedboats to large tourist boats dock in at the Bue Marino or travel further down the coast to Cala Luna to let the passengers bath in the turquoise water or explore the caves that have been hollowed out by the sea. Almost everyone that goes to the small caves writes their name in charcoal, from a small fire, on the wall, creating a huge mass of writing across several meters of the cave wall. 

 

Orgosolo 

Another very interesting town lays in the inlands on the hills and it is named Orgosolo. The municipality is famous for its murals and it is UNESCO World Heritage Site. These political paintings can be found on walls all over Orgosolo. Since about 1969, the murals reflect different aspects of Sardinia's political struggles but also deal with international issues. 

Vittorio De Seta's movie Banditi a Orgosolo (1961) focuses on the past way of life in central Sardinia and on the phenomenon of "Banditry" in the region. At one time Orgosolo was known as the "village of the murderers" due to its high crime rate. Bandits of the surrounding mountains used the church door to post notices of death sentence passed on their enemies. 

It is a definite must visit when in Sardinia and the walk through the main street is stunning as you can't pass without taking a closer look of murals that are present on every single building passing the message that is related to some of the historic or present events that happen throughout the World related to global politics, movements, events in history or present times.  

The ride through the street is possible, though locals watch you with a bit of “hello stranger” mood. It is a thrilling experience and do it once you reach Orgosolo. The inhabitants are nice and friendly, there are few B&B and small local bars and restaurants where you can taste some of the food such as vegetable pies with cheese or similar food of hard-working farmers of the Sardinian inlands. A taste of a famous Sardinian Ichnusa beer is a must taste (this is one of my absolute favourites when talking about beer, if combined with ice cooled glass its It is simply amazing after a whole riding day in a warm Sardinia).  

 

Nuraghe in Losa 

Heading deeper into inlands on our way to the other, western shore, the ride becomes even more exciting as the excellent curvy roads combined with a stunning scenery of hilly inlands take us to the ancient history that reveals the glory of these islands.  

The next stop on our way to Oristano is the stunning archaeological area of Nuraghe in Losa. The ‘nuraghi’ represent Sardinia’s greatest – and most mysterious -  archaeological treasure: 8,000 ancient megalithic buildings found nowhere else in the world.    

The Nuragic civilization began in the Bronze Age (1800 BC), as the evolution of pre-existing cultures present on the island of Sardinia since Neolithic times. The Nuragic civilization takes its name from the nuraghe, circular defensive towers-fortresses in the form of truncated cones built of dressed stone for which no parallel exists anywhere else in the world. Most of them were built on high ground, near the villages, and had defensive and military functions. Some reach a height of 22 meters, such as the nuraghe Santu Antine Torralba; others were structured as interconnected towers, making them imposing fortresses. 

The nuraghe were discovered in the 1930s and were recognized a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. 

There is no consensus on the function of the nuraghes: they could have been rulers' residences, military strongholds, meeting halls, religious temples, ordinary dwellings or a combination of any of these things. Some of the nuraghes are, however, located in strategic places – such as hills – from which important passages could be easily controlled. They might have been something between a "status symbol" and a "passive defence" building, meant to be a deterrent for possible enemies. 

Nuraghes could also have been the "national" symbol of the Nuragic peoples.  Nuraghes may have just connoted wealth or power, or they may have been an indication that a site had its owners. Recent unconfirmed theories tend to suggest that Sardinian towns were independent entities (such as the city-states, although in a geographical sense they were not cities) that formed federations and that the building of these monuments might have depended on agreed-on distributions of territory among federated unities. 

In 2002, Juan Belmonte and Mauro Zedda measured the entrance orientations (declinations and azimuths) of 272 simple nuraghes and of the central towers of 180 complex ones. The data revealed clear peaks corresponding to orientations pointing to the sunrise at winter solstice and to the Moon at its southernmost rising position. These alignments remained constant throughout the history of nuraghe. The most common declinations revealed were of around −43° for the earlier nuraghes, shifting to just −45½° for the later. Zedda has suggested that the target is likely a star, quite possibly Alpha Centauri. 

 

Tharros and San Salvador 

Another must visit site and stunning site on our Sardinia and Corsica guided motorcycle tour is Tharros. As well an archaeological area on the western shore of Sardinia, near Oristano. A Nuragic settlement, a Phoenician centre of commerce, a Carthaginian fortress, a Roman urbs, a Byzantine administrative centre and capital of Arborea: in Tharros, you will find more than two thousand years of history. The ruins of the ancient city, founded in the 8th century BC and abandoned in the 11th century AD, are located on the southern extremity of the Sinis peninsula, in the territory of Cabras. The ‘outdoor museum’ is a natural amphitheatre overlooking the sea. On its borders, there is the isthmus of Capo San Marco as well as the hills of the village of San Giovanni di Sinis and su Murru Mannu (big face), on top of which you will find the oldest historical evidence: the remains of the Nuragic village, abandoned before the arrival of the Phoenicians. There are also the remains of two nuraghe on the promontory of San Marco and another is thought to be at the base of the Tower of San Giovanni, one of the three – in addition to the ‘Old Tower’ and Turr’e Seu – built to defend the Gulf from the Spanish Crown. 

Close to Tharros on our way north alongside the amazing western coast we will be reaching the so called Sardinian “Far West”, the small town of San Salvador; village inhabited only a few days in September, during the Corsa degli Scalzi – a barefoot-running event. San Salvatore di Sinis, a fraction of Cabras, along a nine-kilometre stretch of road leading to the beautiful beach Is Arutas and the ancient city of Tharros, is a small village built in an area that has been sacred since the Nuragic age. It was transformed for over two decades (1967-1990), into a set for filming ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, due to the resemblance to the landscapes of the American frontier. It was thus used by film producers to become a village of Arizona or New Mexico (saloon included) in films such as ‘Garter Colt’ (1968). 

A scenography in the 20th century, after having been a place of worship for thousands of years. The medieval village, whose current appearance dates back to the Spanish domain, owes its name to the Church of San Salvatore, constructed in the second half of the 17th century, built on a prehistoric sanctuary carved into the rock.  

Our exciting guided motorcycle tour continues in a ride alongside the stunning Sardinian western shores, passing the amazing curvy roads, in a combination of hills and rocks on our right side and endless Mediterranean sea on our left. The views are so amazing that we do not miss the chance to stop at every occasion after amazing ride to have an awesome photos of the rocky shores, sandy shores and beaches and coastal towns we pass along our way to the north and our destination of Santa Theresa Gallura. We stop by in beautiful colorful hilly town of Bosa known as one of Italy's most picturesque villages, Bosa is set with its multi-coloured houses along the mouth of the river Temo, which divides it into two with its soft contours.  

The next stop on our way is the town of Alghero, the island’s main harbour town, home to Fertilia airport and one of its best-loved cities for the popular walkway along the port’s bastions, the red roofs that touch the sky and the gorgeous natural bay that flows into the emerald sea. The shoreline is some 90 km long and known as the Coral Riviera, home to a major colony of the finest coral. 

The shores of Sardinia are so stunning that it is hard to say which part is more beautiful. Passing along, we continue enjoying the ride and passing through Porto Torres, Castelsardo, Costa Paradiso. Wherever you look, the red rocks of western shores of Sardinia will amaze you with its formations, emerging from the sea or the hills that we pass alongside the shores on our way to Corsica. One of the funny attractions on this route is the famous Elephant rock, the rocky formation near the road forming a silhouette of an elephant and you truly get the impression the elephant intends to cross the road when noticing this beautiful creation of nature from the distance.  

Enjoying the shores, coastal rides and curves of Sardinia, we are reaching Santa Teresa Gallura, a famous touristic place full of beautiful resorts and beaches and this is our last stop point of our motorcycle tour before boarding the ship and crossing to France and a next exciting island - wild and beautiful Corsica! Here we spend the night and enjoy the beautiful shores of Santa Teresa. 

Corsica - Bonifacio 

The next morning we board the ferry and set our destination across the straight of Bonifacio, to breath taking cliffs of Corsica and the stunningly beautiful town of Bonifacio; positioned on the very cliffs. When approaching it from the sea on the way from Sardinia you get the feeling the houses and buildings are hanging from the cliff. That’s how close on the cliffs its built.   

Perched high up a white limestone cliff on the southern coast of Corsica lies the medieval town of Bonifacio. 

Known as the "Mediterranean's Sentinel," or simply, the "Citadel of Cliffs," it's arguably the best-kept secret in France. It's untroubled by summer crowds despite being in possession of beautiful cobblestone alleyways and a shoreline of sparkling waters. 

Bonifacio is on the southern coast of Corsica, separated from the Italian island of Sardinia by the 11-kilometer-long Strait of Bonifacio, which is named after the town. 

The two islands were once joined, but volcanic activity tore them apart, leaving huge shards of granite rock in the turquoise waters. The sea floor here is now dotted with wrecks of pirate ships and ancient vessels which crashed against the many crags, and has become a mecca for divers. 

During the harshest winds, fishermen boats can't get out of the harbour because of the high waves and strong currents. But the occasionally unforgiving sea has played a huge part in keeping this southernmost tip of Corsica so pristine. The crags, carved by the millinery joint action of sea and strong winds, are a natural fortress that has kept the village safe across centuries. Founded at around 830 A.D., Bonifacio is Corsica's oldest town and is believed to have been referenced in one of the most ancient -- and popular -- poems ever written. 

According to legend, it's the land in Homer's "Odyssey" where Greek hero Odysseus runs into a local tribe called the Laestrygonians, who are described as giant cannibals. Luckily, the cunning warrior manages to escape before being eaten. Nowadays Bonifaciens have decidedly different dietary preferences. Honey-roasted baby piglet covered, clams stuffed with grated sheep cheese and aubergines cooked the Bonifacio way are among the local specialties. Brocciu, fresh ricotta served with platters of strong-scented salami and hams that compose local "terroir" products, is also a favorite, as is Figatellu, a pork and liver sausage. Bonifacio is famous for its cuttlery and production of vast variety of shepherds knives you can buy in some of the artisans shops in the narrow streets of the town. Corsica was an early part of the Roman Empire so as soon as the Romans started to develop their own ways of creating and using knives, it’s easy to assume the Corsicans followed.  

Corsican knives 

Whilst Corsica has been an agropastoral society ever since the Corsican population adapted to a nomadic lifestyle in which they farmed and kept livestock. Over the centuries, the Corsicans learned to process local ore and make tools out of it. They used these tools to accommodate their nomadic lifestyle but also to protect themselves against intruders. In reality, this meant that everyone had his own knife! In the best situation, such knives were manufactured by “maestri di u focu” – blacksmiths who earned a high social status in Corsican villages. More often, shepherds crafted the tools themselves by hand. They mostly made them out of leftovers of wood, horn, or other materials. 

The look of the knives produced by the shepherds varied somewhat according to purpose, region, or adaptions brought along by sailors, foreign workers, or even enemies. The whole knife thing wasn’t an inconsiderable matter. For upgrowing boys, a knife was given as an initiation rite marking his ability to do agricultural work and thus marking his transition from boy to man. A knife could well be passed as part of the family patrimony. 

As soon as the first tourists discovered Corsica as the “Island of Beauty” in the 19th century, the popularity of the Corsican shepherd’s knives as souvenirs took flight. Merchants from Ajaccio saw business in it and started to further develop the shepherd’s knives by adding ornaments, special handles, or engraving things on the blades. By doing this, they turned the Corsican shepherd’s knife into a symbol of the idea tourists had of Corsica, highly fuelled by novels of Merimee, Dumas, and Maupassant. Although the wide distribution of these kinds of knives, “Vendetta Corsa”, in all shapes and sizes had been a long and great success, it wasn’t appreciated by the original Corsican knife makers at all. 

At the end of the 20th century, the Vendetta knife was pardoned by some of Corsica’s cutlers. The Zuria brothers from Bonifacio took the lead in developing a new Corsican knife based on the characteristics of the ancient shepherd’s knife but adapting to modern standards on style and ergonomic. Through the production of this knife, the Corsican tradition of cutlery continues by combining tradition and modernity. 

Spending some time in this gorgeous town brings out a lot of thoughts of the historic and strategic importance of this town, and it truly symbolizes a gate to Corsica. The smells of Mediterranean food coming from the nice small restaurants in the streets of Bonifacio is a great welcome when coming off the boat from Sardinia and it’s a must stop for a lunch and a visit of this exciting historic town before moving on into the breat-taking wild beauty of Corsica that is ahead of us. 

Coastal ride of Corsica 

Corsica, a mountainous Mediterranean island, presents a mix of stylish coastal towns, dense forest and craggy peaks (Monte Cinto is the highest). Nearly half the island falls within a park with numerous hiking trails and over 200 beautiful beaches. It's been part of France since 1768, but retains a distinct Italian culture. The capital of Corsica is Ajaccio. A port city on the rugged isle's western coast, it was the birthplace of French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte in 1769. His ancestral home, Maison Bonaparte, is now a museum displaying family heirlooms. The baroque, 16th-century Notre-Dame Cathedral, where Napoléon was baptized, contains paintings by Delacroix and Tintoretto. On our way from Bonifacio we will be combining awesome inlands hilly rides but majority of our motorcycle tour will continue to take the coastal route for hundreds of kilometres north.  

We will pass few interesting typical inlands towns, extremely charming and even though in the middle of inlands and hills of Corsica, you can feel the typical French urban vibe and it is astonishing experience of combination of wilderness and urban culture that go along side by side in a perfect combination. Every mile of our route combines incredible natural beauty, wild nature all around, the smells of herbs and forests (sometimes we get noticed by wild pigs or cows as there is plenty of them on the island so you must take care in some of the non-populated areas while riding).  

Though we are in the middle of Mediterranean wilderness, the roads are amazing, the excellent tarmac, perfect curves and the sceneries getting so beautiful in a play of rocky mountains and cliffs on one side of the road and the seaside on the other, but now on even higher altitude versus the route through the shores of Sardinia. At the same time the roads are very safe, the curves are perfect and the route leaves many occasions for stopping and enjoying the view or some delicious meal during the route. The amazing red rocks of Corsican cliffs on the western shores is one more of the numerous unforgettable sceneries on our Sardinia and Corsica guided motorcycle tour. 

The towns of Ajaccio, Porto, Calvi will amaze us all the way to Saint Florent where we will spend the night full before the next highlight of this awesome motorcycle tour; the very peak of Corsica – famous Cap Corse. It is a definite must ride when on Corsica. From Saint Florent, along the coast of Cap Corse to Bastia. This is where our exciting Sardinia and Corsica guided motorcycle tour ends as far as these amazing islands are concerned and we depart from Bastia to Livorno in a 4 hour ferry ride that will take us to the beautiful Tuscany and cities of Pisa, Voterra and San Gimignano on our way back to Rome (in case of a tour departing from Rome; or back to Venice in our other awesome Tuscany, Sardinia and Corsica  guided motorcycle tour). 

More exciting blogs and tours to follow so stay tuned and enjoy the ride with us! 

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