France seduces with beauty and diversity – it’s regions abundant with natural wonders and iconic landmarks known the world over. From rolling vineyards and epic mountain ranges all the way to sprawling art, architecture and fashion hubs and glitzy, sun drenched playgrounds for the wealthy – France and its islands offer visitors much to discover and experience within its borders. From classic sights to modern monuments France weaves magic into our souls with its breathtaking scenery, changing landscapes, classic roads and culture that is unmistakable. 

With all the big hitters lined up, Magellan’s Grand Tour sees the absolute best of what France, Corsica and the Italian island of Sardinia has on offer. Arriving in Calais we travel around the entire country clockwise taking in rural farmlands, famous battlefields and war memorials before heading northeast to the softly rounded Vosges mountains with their distinctive lush forests and lakes. After a play on the sublime roads the mountains harbour, we travel down the eastern border through the snow capped Alps to follow in Napoleon Bonapart’s footsteps on the super dramatic Route Napoleon. In a tour that gets better with each mile, we skirt around one of the finest sights in the whole country in the shape of the mighty Gorge du Verdon with its limestone canyons and beautifully clear turquoise waters, and after a hair raising loop around this natural wonder on more hairpins than you can shake a stick at, we take to the sea to go back in time on the beautiful islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Spending several days on each, you have the choice of many fun things to do and see on or off the bike, before cruising back over to the mainland. Once back on dry land we ride through the heart of France through vast national parks, over or under the almighty Millau Bridge and stay in the classic cathedral city of Chartres. 

With the new touring season racing towards us at full speed, why not add France, Corsica and Sardinia to the list of destinations you take your bike to this year! As always, we’ve picked out some of our favourite highlights to seal the deal….

Gorges du Verdon  

France isn’t just about rolling hills and vineyards, the region of Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur contains some of the best scenery you are likely to find anywhere. Travelling east from Avignon or north from Nice you soon find yourself thrust into the land of limestone massifs. Over millions of years the rivers that cross this area have carved deep valleys in the limestone resulting in truly breathtaking natural wonders- none more impressive than the Gorges du Verdon.  

The river Verdon runs from its source near the italian border to Castellane, then west to join the Durance. While all of the valley is beautiful, it is the section between Castellane and Manosque that the river has left its most spectacular mark. Described as the ‘Grand Canyon of Europe’ and widely regarded to be one of Europe’s most beautiful river canyons, few sights in France can rival that of the Gorges du Verdon. At 25 kilometres long and in some places 700 metres high – twice the height of the Eiffel Tower- the gorges are the deepest in the country and one of the must see natural wonders of central Provence. Carved out over millions of years by the Verdon River they form the impressive centrepiece of the Parc Naturel Regional du Verdon with their distinguishing features of deep limestone canyons, high rocky peaks and impossibly bright turquoise rivers and lakes. 

This area not only has jaw dropping views, it is also armed with some of the best roads for bikes in the country – the loop around the gorge being very well known for its hairpins that throw you right around the rim for about 90 km. Magellan obviously takes this route, a little under two hours of scraping the footpegs along the floor and incredible scenery makes for one of the best days across this tour. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the views and of course give the bike a rest for a few moments.

Sardinia 

Framed by nearly 2,000km of pristine white beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters, the second largest island in the meditterranean sea – Sardinia, is undoubtedly chosen by many as a summer and beach destination, its varied coastline being awarded time after time for outstanding beauty. Within its sandy shores though, Sardinia is very mysterious, with an aura of legend that lives on in its ancient sculptures. In one of the most remarkable discoveries of the 20th century, archaeological finds dating from the 8th century BC were discovered in the 1970’s- containing ancient stone sculptures created by the Nuragic civilization. There are over 7,000 stone structures scattered around the island and some of the statues are over eight feet tall, breeding the notion that Sardinia was once the ‘Land of Giants’. 

Magellan ride in to one of Sardinia’s most beautiful medieval cities – Alghero, encircled by ancient walls for a 3 night stay where there are plenty of options on and off the bike to discover this beautiful island. The old town of Alghero is well worth walking around, fringed by pine forests and long sandy beaches, its origins can be traced back to the 13th century. The imposing town walls, narrow cobbled streets, historical palaces and beautiful churches coupled with the lively restaurants and bars make for a very satisfying, relaxed day off the bike. 

Neptune’s Grotto is one of the largest marine caves in Italy and definitely one of the most captivating, it truly is unforgettable. Upon entering you find yourself in a jungle of stalactites and stalagmites reflected in still pools of water, that were formed 2 million years ago. Walking around the maze of these incredible formations, each room becoming more magical than the last, it really is as though the forces of Neptune have been at work to create something so intricate and beautiful. Despite being more than a kilometre in length, only the first hundred metres are accessible – due to it only being a metre above sea level and is only reachable by boat or a rather thrilling steep, winding rock staircase with 654 steps called the escala del cabirol (goats steps) which is accessible at the top of the cliff. The boat only costs 15 euros and is definitely less tiring… 

As ever there are plenty of rideouts to choose from if it’s more bike time you’re craving, we’ve only gone and picked out the best biking roads on the island for you to have some fun on. The SP49 from Alghero to Bosa is particularly pretty, this road will take you past stunning landscapes, some of which are dotted with stone built Nuraghe. The origin and purpose of these megalithic domes, towers and giant beehives is unknown, but the effort and organisation needed to construct them, some of which are 25 metres high, 3,000 years ago, is breathtaking!

Millau Bridge 

Opened in 2004 the true feat of engineering that is the Millau Bridge has established itself as one of the must see modern attractions in France today. The bridge has consistently ranked as one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time and rightly so, at 1,125 feet above the ground it’s the tallest bridge in the world. It spans 2.4 kilometres across the Gorge du Tarn only touching the bottom in nine places. The design for the viaduct began with Michel Virlogeux in 1991, and construction started in October 2001. Remarkably the bridge was completed by the 14th of December 2004 and officially opened to traffic two days later- exceptional for such a large, complicated project. The bridge has been described as beautiful, breathtaking, spectacular and awe-inspiring. 

Magellan provides two routes to take in the best of viaduct, you can stay down on planet earth and go under it through the valley or right over the top on the autoroute reaching the dizzy heights of 900 feet at its highest point above the valley floor. The two routes then meet up at the exhibition centre, which describes the construction of this marvel of engineering- the pylons of which are higher than the Eiffel Tower. 

Route Napoleon

Route Napoleon is easily one of France’s if not Europe’s finest roads. The 325km stretch runs from the coastal town of Golfe-Juan on the Cote d’Azur and winds its way through the spectacular mountains of Provence, passing dramatic rock formations, lavender and jasmine fields, rolling hills, pine forests and quintessential french towns and villages. 

The road follows the last epic journey taken by Napoleon Bonaparte and his army after he escaped from exile in 1815. The emperor had been exiled on the Italian island of Elba for less than a year when he decided to return to France and force out the monarchy under Louis XVIII. To reach Paris, he avoided the quickest route along the valley of the Rhone and instead hatched a plan to take the rougher roads through the mountains. It took Napoleon and his army of a thousand men seven days to walk the road and it began the hundred days that ended with his defeat at the battle of Waterloo. 

The route that Napoleon followed from the French Riviera to the southern Pre-Alps in his 1815 comeback has become legendary. Magellan join the famous road leaving Grenoble and we travel for 100km on sweeping bend after sweeping bend through stunning alpine scenery to arrive in Laye. 

Corsica 

Located southeast from the French mainland and west of the Italian peninsula, the beautiful island of Corsica basks in all of its glory under the mediterranian sun. Dubbed by the french as the I’lle de Beaute (isle of beauty), Corsica’s diversity is apparent with every mile you pass. From the 1000 kilometres of indented coastline with pink cliffs diving into glittering bays, vibrant coastal cities and alluring long white sandy beaches to what the island harbours inland with its jagged, granite peaks, dense forests, luscious valleys and time forgotten hilltop villages – Corsica is a paradise that looks untouched by the 21st century. Lush and wild, and totally uncorrupted by motorways, industrial parks or any of the urban clog that spoils other Mediterranean isles. 

Magellan arrive on the south coast which is very popular with beach lovers, huddling around the ritzy bays with sandy beaches and yachts bobbing away on glistening waters. While it is stunning, the true beauty lies to the west and to the north- this is the charmed part, the insiders secret, little explored and much less developed, where national parks spread for miles, and peaks give way to small fishing villages and perfect bays of powdery white sand lapped by turquoise waters. This is prime Magellan stomping ground. 

After riding off the ferry we journey to the more remote west coast and prepare for a two night stay in the beautiful town of Porto cocooned by flame red cliffs. The UNESCO World heritage Site facing the gorgeous Golfe de Porto couldn’t be more magnificent and is ideally situated for exploring the many highlights this dramatically beautiful region of Corsica has to offer, including the magnificent Calanques de Piana – where you are afforded some of the best coastal scenery in the meditteranian and visits to the picturesque villages of Ota, Evisa and Piana – arguably some of the most beautiful villages in France. 

With two whole days to explore you have the best of both worlds, you can explore some of the most beautiful sites in France or there’s something to be said for just finding a secluded cove with your favourite book and soaking up the peace and quiet under the glorious meditteranian sun. 

Not convinced? Head on over to the website for a daily itinerary break down or give us a shout and speak to one of our friendly office team members, who can help with any inquiries you may have. In the meantime ride safe and we hope to see you on a Magellan tour very soon. 

‘Fantastic group, scenery was mind blowing, good food and great hotels: what more could you want? Well organised, detailed routes and maps, full itinerary, guide always there to help, nothing is too much trouble. The list of good points is endless!’  Nigel & Yvonne 

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