High on my list of places to see in Corsica were les calanches de Piana and the Réserve naturelle de Scandola, both on the west central coast.
If you locate Porto on a map of Corsica, and use the finger to trace the coast to the south, that is where the calanches de Piana are located. They do not extend far from Porto. Assume they stop around the village of Piana.
Note: on the main land of France, the word for calanches is calanques. On Corsica en langue corse, the word calanches is used.
Move the finger back to Porto and walk them in a northern direction to a large peninsula where the Île de Gargali is located. There you will find the coast of the Réserve naturelle de Scandola. It is the peninsula that is about half way between Calvi and Porto.
Before arriving on Corsica, I had heard, and I was told by my French Corsican tutor, that the Calanches and the Réserve were stunning and should not be missed. I was using the Michelin Guide Vert (book, French version) to help plan the voyage. It gave both locations a three star rating, a must for visitors to Corsica
How do you visit the calanches de Piana and the Réserve naturelle de Scandola? You can drive through the calanches de Piana. They are half way between Porto and Cargèse. Or, from Porto, Calvi, and Cargèse, you can join a boat tour and go out for 1 ½ hours or up to five to six hours, depending on how much you want to see and your time restraints. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!
The route through Les calanches de Piana above Porto, Corsica.
No one is prepared for the surprise. The road climbs and winds narrowly from Porto toward Piana, a small village set against a mountain side above Porto, and toward the calanches de Piana. The road seems like other serpentine roads on the west coast of Corsica.
Then it happens. Around a corner, unexpectedly the world has changed. It drops off. The walls of stone loom and jut up on the left, and the foot high rock barriers on the right that would never help immobilize a car and help keep it from dropping over the edge give little comfort. Instinctively one slows immediately to a crawl.
One takes a deep breath and drives a bit further, wondering what might happen around the next corner.
One has arrived at the upper reaches of the calanches de Piana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site above the Gulf of Porto on the west coast of Corsica.
The small restaurant Les Roches Bleues on the route from Porto to Piana in the calanches de Porto.
A short distance into some twists and turns, one sees Les Roches Bleues, a small café restaurant built on the edge of the road. It is a wonderful place for a pause and some relief from the tension of driving. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!
No question that Nonza should be at the top of the list, high on the list.
I wanted to visit Nonza for two reasons: it is a village perched on the side of a mountain, and it has a well-known restaurant La Sassa that has no walls, only a terrace. Even the kitchen is open and on the terrace. I had read that the views were beautiful.
I had planned to stop in Nonza while driving from Centuri to Saint-Florent. When I arrived around 10:30, I could not find a place to park. It is a small village, the road with no shoulder cuts through it, cars park along the edge of the road but extend into it, the two lane road really is one lane, and there is no place to turn around and try another pass. A separate parking area does not exist. I kept driving to Saint-Florent.
I did go back. I left Saint-Florent early and arrived in Nonza at 8:45. I had my pick of several parking spots. Between 9:30 and 10:00 most of the remaining parking spots had been taken. Cars had already parked along the edges, and traffic through the village had slowed to a crawl.
Looking north from La Sassa
Most visitors will make the pilgrimage to the tower above the village, where one can see a spectacular panoramic view to the north and to the south. To the north one can see the gray sands on the beach below and the large and sometimes artful announcements of love marked on the sand with white stones. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!