“It is easy to be wise after the event.” ―
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’” ―
In the villages and towns of Upper Corsica, it is there where time as a tourist passes. More care, I think, should be given to the journey between those villages and towns.
During a recent trip through Haute-Corse, around Cap Corse, several long drives warranted more consideration on my part.
Part of the problem is finding places to stay. Secondly, only after driving through them did I know where I could have paused and breathed or where I would have wanted to spend a day or two.
Today, there are four routes where I wished I had paused: 1) on the east coast, the route between Bastia and Macinaggio; on the west coast, the routes 2) between Centuri and Saint-Florent; 3) between L’Île-Rousse and Calvi; and 4) between Calvi and Porto.
Between Saint-Florent and L’Île-Rousse is the desert des Agriates, for example. It is not a desert filled with sand but the maquis bush, which is common on Corsica.
The issue with taking advantage of the drives is what to do with them. You want to stop, but where? The roads are narrow and sometimes the turn-outs are not available. Stopping anyway is not possible; that is a given. Too many curves, and thinking that no car will come is foolish. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!
Porto, Haute-Corse is a port. Sometimes its name is associated with Ota (Porto, Ota, Corsica, France). It is small; and without tourism, it would simply be another small village with summer homes and the occasional fishing boats going out if they had already identified markets for their catches, maybe in Calvi to the north or Cargèse to the south.
Despite its size I spent three nights in Porto at a funky hotel called Hôtel Bon Accueil. I would return to Porto if I could again reserve a room there. It is not a hotel for those who want comfort and luxury. It reminded me of the low budget hotels where I used to stay when I was younger and hipper and when I looked for places where my parents would refuse to stay.
Porto is a former fishing village that now caters to tourists. It has restaurants, summer homes, and boats that take visitors to the Calanches de Piana and to the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola.
Porto has a tower on the port, la Tour Génoise de Porto à Ota. It is the major tourist destination. You can go to the top of the tower. Inside are historic displays, and climbing some steps further, you can have the panoramic view that the tower promises from a distance. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!
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!