Natural wonders of Corsica, a site of ecological interest and a Unesco World Heritage Site, the Calanques de Piana are a small paradise of almost hidden treasures. Do you want to visit them? So 3...2...1 go with our guide to visit this unmissable site.
There are many natural places that are well worth a visit to contemplate and appreciate what Mother Nature is capable of creating. Corsica is the jewel of the Mediterranean. The beauty of its landscapes, the warmth of its lands that invite you to travel and discover and this irresistible desire to return.
A visit to the Calanques de Piana is a step not to be missed during a stay on the island. It is a geological nugget of South Corsica with unexpected shapes, where everyone can let their imagination wander and see what they want to see according to their wanderings and thoughts.
So here we are, discovering this little paradise on earth!
The calanques of Piana: what are they?
The calanques of Piana (or Calanche) are the southern part of the Gulf of Porto which, together with the Gulf of Girolata and the Scandola nature reserve, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the land side, it is a narrow and tortuous road which clings to superb granite walls which fall steeply into the sea... Quite impressive for people not used to vertiginous landscapes.
Torn and chiselled by erosion, the calanques give the impression of a museum of immense fantastic sculptures in which lives a whole world of forms, each more plausible or implausible than the next.
Thus, the blocks dug and sculpted on these impressive heights plunge into an intensely blue sea and compose a fabulous bestiary which draws unexpected silhouettes according to the disposition of the Tafoni, the anfractuosities formed in the stone by erosion.
The walker can therefore imagine all sorts of characters on the many signposted walks which allow the visitor to appreciate the grandeur of these rocks with their particular forms of erosion, at the origin of this chaotic landscape.
A little extra: the spelling: Calanques? Calanches or Calanche?
Calanques is the word in the beautiful language of Molière.
Calanche is in Corsican and is already written in the plural: "che"is the plural in Corsican so there is no need to add an S.
So Calanches does not exist: neither in French nor in Corsican.
Both spellings, however, are pronounced the same, [k].
The calanques of Piana, where is it?
Between Porto and Piana, they are located on the coast of western central Corsica, halfway between Calvi and Ajaccio. The area extends from the tip of Capo Rosso to the beach of Ficajola.
Visiting the Calanques de Piana is not like visiting a park... It has to be earned!
It takes just over an hour to drive from Ajaccio on the D81 road and your trip to Piana will take in the beautiful scenery of Tiuccia, Sagone and Cargèse along the way. On arrival in Piana, continue your journey towards Porto, Ota.
It is right here that the road crosses this small mountain range, between cliffs and bushy scrub. This road, which links Cargèse to Porto, offers you one of the most fabulous views of the island.
A little secret that we are happy to share with you is that the shapes in the rocks are more easily seen and discovered when you travel in the direction of Piana towards Porto. But you should know that the Calanques of Piana can be visited in many other ways...
How to get to the Calanques de Piana? (on foot, by car, by bus, by sea, ...)
The calanques can be reached by car via the D81 road which links Ajaccio to Calvi. Be careful, this road is very winding but the view is spectacular.
By bus, you will have a possibility all year round from Ajaccio, on the Ajaccio-Porto-Ota line.
On foot, if you are already in the village of Piana, you will have to follow the D81 road towards Porto about 2 km after the end of the village. You will also have the possibility to reach the calanche by a path from the village of Piana.
When to go to the calanques of Piana? (advice on seasons, days/months/times...)
This site is extremely popular with visitors to Corsica and is very popular during the summer months. The hours of sunset are particularly appreciated and therefore very frequented. At this period, the landscape is intense and very sunny (not always ideal for photos depending on the time of day). Admiring the view of the sea from the calanques is to feel the holiday deep inside.
In spring, the maquis in bloom contrasts with the orange-red of the rocks. All the surrounding nature is reborn and the days grow longer.
In winter, the site is much more intimate, almost only there for you, so few cars pass by. The sunsets are very early (around 5.30 pm). An exceptional fact that could happen to you: the creeks under the snow! Yes, it can happen! It is then as if the creeks were sprinkled with icing sugar... almost unreal, magical.
But our favourite time is in the autumn. The site is not very busy then, even if there is still some traffic. It offers a more varied palette of colours than in summer. The rock takes on amazing colours depending on the weather: an intense orange on sunny days, a slightly greyish ochre on rainy days, and a purplish pink on rainy days when the rain has stopped to make way for the setting sun. The sunsets on these days are spectacular.
Where to sleep near the Calanques de Piana? (camping, hotels, camping-car, wild camping, gîte, etc...)
Piana or Porto? The choice is yours! But in terms of distance, the nearest campsites will be in Porto while the nearest hotels will be in Piana. The range of campsites goes from 1 to 4 stars for the campsites and from unclassified to 4* for the hotels, with therefore, a very varied range of prices. In short, there is something for every taste and every budget.
As for gîtes, there is a large offer in both villages. You will also find a rental offer in a tourist residence in Porto.
Please note that no wild camping is allowed on the site and motorhomes are welcome to stay overnight.
What can you see in the calanques of Piana? (rocks, fauna, flora, towers, curiosities...)
The geological formation of the calanques is exceptional: magmatic rock, the red porphyry is highlighted by the turquoise waters and the bottle-green maquis. Corsica is a volcanic island. The red porphyry of the rocks of the calanques has been sculpted by hundreds of years of sea winds, storms and erosion. It is nature itself that is at the origin of this geological work that we know today. The calanques are part of a volcanic complex situated almost 300 m above sea level at its highest altitude, resulting in a landscape of rocks in shades of red and pink granite that is absolutely stunning.
Unesco World Heritage
An integral part of the Gulf of Porto, the Calanques de Piana, along with the Gulf of Girolata and the Scandola reserve further north, have been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1983.
In addition to this World Heritage listing, the calanques have been a type 1 Natural Zone of Ecological, Faunistic and Floristic Interest since 1985 (ZNIEFF).
The Turghju Tower in Capo Rosso
It was built in 1608, at the beginning of the 17th century, when most of the Genoese towers on the western side of Corsica were built. At that time, the region was frequently subjected to barbarian raids to plunder the coasts and collect men, women and children for the slave trade, especially for the Ottoman Empire.
It communicated with three other towers: the tower of Orchinu, the tower of Omigna and the tower of Paomia (today Cargese).
Nestled at 331 m above sea level, it offers a spectacular 360° view of Cargèse and the Gulf of Sagone, but above all of the Gulf of Porto and the Scandola nature reserve. On the mountain side, the Paglia Orba can be seen on the heights.
The top of the tower can be reached by a staircase on the outside leading to a large room. Then another staircase inside, very narrow, in poor condition and dark, is needed to reach the platform at the top of the tower.
How to see the heart in the calanques?
Leaving Piana, it is the first massif on the left, to help you to locate it you have on your right a recess and on the left on the wall a milestone.
This heart in the rock visible from the road is one of the most photographed spots in the region.
In search of other forms...
Get into the game!
Go on a treasure hunt and try to find all the shapes shaped by nature in the heart of the Calanche rock to see, among others
- the heart or rock of lovers
- the bishop
- the pious
- the turtle
- the court
- the Indian
- the gargoyles...
Don't forget to share your best photos with us on social networks!
And if you want some help, download our dedicated brochure.
What is the history of the Calanques de Piana?
The calanques of Piana are a rocky formation of red alkaline granite resulting from a distant volcanic activity (ring complex) of which the calanques mark the high part of a ring vein delimiting a ring complex of which all the aerial parts have disappeared.
In the 15th century, the territory of the Calanques de Piana was part of the Salogna Trap, the territory of the Lords of Leca, which extended from Propriano to Calvi. Because of the opposition of the Lords of Leca against the Genoese domination, they were massacred. Their castle was destroyed to put an end to the population's attachment to their lords and the Genoese forbade all the inhabitants to settle on these lands, forcing them into exile.
Thus the lands of Piana were deserted for almost two centuries. And it was only with the resurgence of barbarian attacks and the decline of Genoa that, thanks to the construction of watchtowers on the coast communicating by fire, and thus that of Turghju, the land was gradually repopulated.
But it was not until 1713 that the village was recognised as a parish.
What other activities are available near the Calanques de Piana? (hiking, boating, horse riding, cycling, craftsmen, producers...)
Canyoning in the calanques of Piana
It is in the incredible Dardu canyon, located in the heart of the Calanques de Piana, that you can practice canyoning during a very sportive and supervised canyoning excursion (to be seen with professionals). It is one of the most famous canyons on the island due to its beauty, its rich biodiversity and the plurality of its obstacles.
Adventure is the order of the day in the Calanques de Piana thanks to this excursion reserved for sportsmen and canyoning pros (allow 7 hours all the same) along the ochre and pink granite walls of this spectacular setting.
The particularity of the Dardu Canyon and what makes it unique is that it ends in the water. We return by boat to the port of Porto.
Unfortunately, it is not practicable during the summer season, from July onwards and sometimes even before, as its watercourse no longer has enough flow for this activity.
Visit the calanques of Piana by boat
A visit to the calanques of Piana by boat is also possible from Porto, Cargèse, Sagone and Tiuccia. On board a boat and for a minimum of 1h30, you can explore these incredible rock formations and admire the endemic flora and fauna of the region. You can also make swimming stops, enter the faults and caves, a real enchantment and a total change of scene.
Many say that this is the most beautiful way to visit the calanques of Piana. Yes it's true, one of the most beautiful! The fact of being in a boat gives you the impression of being tiny in front of the immensity of the cliffs, the view on the creeks is all the more majestic as you are at their foot.
The Lovers' Cave, only accessible by boat, offers a sumptuous contrast between the blue of the sea and the volcanic red of the rock.
Hiking in the calanques of Piana
Numerous paths and hikes line the calanques of Piana. Here, our small selection...
The Capo d'Orto
For the more sporty, a path will take you to the summit of Capo d'Orto and from there, in the distance, the small villages of Evisa and Ota can be seen in a setting of maquis and rock.
Below, under the peaks, the Gulf of Porto stretches out with its majestic landscapes that stand out for their contrasting colours, which range from red to green to blue. Breathtaking.
The mule track
It offers you a family respite, a trip to the centre of the rock, easily accessible and well signposted. At the beginning of the trail, the cobblestones that were once trodden by pack animals can be seen.
This ancient path, which linked the villages of Ota and Piana, winds above the level of the D81 road. It ends up going downhill, by stairs, until it reaches the level of a statue of the Virgin Mary, nestled in the heart of the rock.
The advice we can give you is to start the walk at the municipal stadium of Piana at the very beginning of the Calanche. As soon as you start the descent towards the road, go back to your starting point, this will avoid you the road and the return between the cars, numerous in season.
The dog's head
This is the name of a rock by the roadside which, although it resembles the head of our familiar animal, is also the starting point of a path. The descent starts gently and then a little steeper towards a rocky esplanade, not far from the famous "château fort".
A belvedere which overhangs the sea and offers a clear view on the gulf of Porto, towards Capu Seninu and this famous assembly of rock, like a giant dolmen, which makes one think of a fortress. It is also visible when discovering the Calanche by sea.
And if you wish to discover even more shapes in the calanques of Piana and play the game of who can spot them the fastest, a specific leaflet describing the shapes and their location as well as the legend of the calanques is available from the West Corsica tourist office, which delivers it free of charge in its offices.
Is it free?
Yes, if you opt for the visit on the land side. You can then take one of the paths that wind through the creeks. And for those who are in a hurry or less athletic, you can enjoy the view by car, as the road passes through the very heart of the creeks. A short stop is possible as well as a stroll along the roadside. Be careful though, in summer the traffic is heavy so be careful!
By sea, you will need to hire a boat (with or without a licence) from Porto, or board a shuttle for a sea excursion from Porto, Cargèse, Sagone or Tiuccia.
Budget-wise, you can expect to pay from 75€ for a half-day rental, and from 25€/person for a sea excursion.
The free alternative by sea is to go by canoe or boat if you have one. Paddle boarding is also possible from Ficajola. But beware, only the sporty ones will be able to do this!
Where to park in the calanques of Piana?
This is where it gets tricky (no pun intended!).
The calanques are a real assault course by car depending on the season. Many vehicles park in areas inside the calanques that are not dedicated to this purpose, creating traffic difficulties that can lead to traffic jams. A traffic regulation system exists to avoid traffic jams caused by long vehicles (buses, campers, trucks...)
To park your car, we advise you to leave your car at the municipal stadium of Piana, at the entrance of the Calanche and indicated by a sign when coming from Piana. Coming from Porto, we advise you to stop at the "tête de chien" or 200 m further on, just at the entrance of the Calanche.
Afterwards, all you have to do is walk a little, while remaining extremely vigilant to the traffic on the road, to reach one of the hiking trails of the Calanche.
Where to eat in the calanques of Piana?
Only one establishment is located in the heart of the Calanche and it is a bar/restaurant/memorabilia shop. The view over the gulf is spectacular.
You can still easily reach Piana, which offers a more varied range of restaurants and food shops, with mouth-watering Corsican specialities.
We particularly recommend everything that revolves around brocciu, the famous cheese emblematic of Corsica, of which the one from Piana is reputed to be the best on the island.
Who can visit the calanques of Piana? (family, sportsmen, couple, contemplative, gourmets, friends...)
We can easily say that the calanques of Piana, there is something for everyone:
- Families can easily visit the calanche and play at finding the shapes of the rocks,
- sportsmen and women will go on long hikes and canyoning trips
- Contemplators will prefer to wait for the sunset to take breathtaking photos worthy of Instagram
- the lovers
Anecdotes about the calanques of Piana
The legend of the Calanche
"Satan, the fallen angel, fell madly in love with a shepherdess. He watched her for weeks from the depths of hell, falling more and more in love with her every day.
One morning he appeared on Earth and set out to conquer the beautiful woman. Instead of giving in to the Prince of Darkness, the young woman insulted him, hit him and called her husband. He came and was seized with rage. He armed himself with an oak stick and beat the poor devil, who had to run away with his tail between his legs.
The Devil did not even try to kill the husband and wife. He decided instead to make the place unlivable.
He decided instead to make the place uninhabitable. So he tapped, split, broke and overturned, in short, he turned the rock upside down, but with a clear artistic concern.
Saint Martin passed by and decided to bless the cliffs. Seeing that he could not cause the fury, he called for a wave that caressed the rock. Thus was born the Gulf of Porto...
The old Corsicans say that with a little imagination, one can see, among other things, the shepherd, the shepherdess and her dog carved into the cliffs.
Authors' words: they have written about the calanques of Piana
Prince Roland Bonaparte in the note to his travelogue Excursions to Corsica published in 1891
"The road which crosses this region called Calanques, clings, so to speak, to the walls of the rocks ...which connect all these narrow valleys falling into the sea in the midst of rock slides, which from a distance look like slag, so bloated and full of cavities are they.... As we entered the middle of this forest of purple granite, the sun had just disappeared behind the horizon... We were advancing in a chiaroscuro that made the jagged rocky ridges stand out even more, projected against the golden yellow background of the sky which, above our heads, went through all the shades of blue to reach black."
Guy de Maupassant "The monastery of Corbara"
"At first I was stunned by these astonishing rocks of pink granite, four hundred metres high, strange, tortured, bent, gnawed by time, bloody under the last lights of twilight and taking all the forms of a fantastic people of fairy tales, petrified by some supernatural power. I saw alternately two monks standing, of a gigantic size; a bishop seated, crook in hand, mitre on his head; prodigious figures, a lion crouching at the side of the road, a woman suckling her child, and an immense, horned, grimacing devil's head, guardian no doubt of this crowd imprisoned in bodies of stone.
The sunset in the calanques of Piana myth or reality?
On the land side: it really does set the rock on fire, and that's no legend. Depending on the season, you can try to catch the sun in the heart as it descends over the horizon.
Depending on where you are, the shapes are cut out with a gradient of red, orange, yellow, but also purple and pink in the background... It is simply breathtaking.
But better than describing it is to come and see it. So when are you coming?
On the sea side: it sets the cliffs on fire as they plunge into the sea. You will feel the grandeur of the site in the cool of the evening as the landscape changes from intense to gentle, from romantic to enigmatic with an almost dreamlike aura.
Remarkable sites near the calanques of Piana?
After your visit to the Calanche de Piana, here are a few tips on how to make the most of the West Corsica region and its exceptional sites, less than 35 km away.
- Heading south : Cargèse and its two churches (Latin and Greek rite) is undoubtedly a must-see in the area. A village populated by Greeks, it still retains some traces of this.
- Heading north : Porto and its Genoese tower, one of the few square towers on the island. The seaside resort of Ota, Porto is historically a small port marked by the Genoese presence and the barbarian invasions.
- Inland : Evisa, the natural pools and the Aïtone forest. A mountain village famous for its chestnut flour, of which it has a PDO, Evisa is the starting point leading to the Aïtone forest and its 1001 walks and hikes, including the very popular natural pools.