If there is a Corsican stopover that is not to be missed at sea, it is the visit to the Scandola nature reserve.
Created on 9 December 1975, Scandola was the first reserve in France with a dual vocation: marine and terrestrial.
Its surface area is 900 ha on land and 1000 ha at sea.
This peninsula of volcanic origin closes off the Gulf of Porto to the north, the first French natural site to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The site is above all remarkable for its geology. It occupies the Scandola peninsula, an impressive porphyry massif with tormented shapes. Its vegetation is a remarkable example of maquis.
In our complete guide to the Scandola nature reserve, you will find the keys to an extraordinary journey to the heart of nature!
Table of contents
What is the Scandola nature reserve?
The Scandola nature reserve is the first site in France dedicated to the preservation of both terrestrial and marine natural heritage. This double vocation makes it a unique and fiercely preserved place.
Created on 9 December 1975, its state of conservation is unique after more than 30 years as a nature reserve.
A real geological showcase, the Scandola site corresponds to the emerged part of an ancient volcanic complex that has partially collapsed into the sea and closes off the northern part of the Gulf of Porto, the first French natural site to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
In its classified area of 900 ha on land and 1000 ha in the sea, there is a great diversity of volcanic rocks as well as formations linked to eruptions: lahars, pyroclastites, rhyolitic organs... Its vegetation is a remarkable example of maquis.
Where is the Scandola nature reserve located?
It is in Corsica, on the west coast in the heart of the destination West Corsica that a real natural jewel of exception is nestled: the Scandola Nature Reserve.
It is located in the commune of Osani. Doesn't this village mean anything to you? However, it is on this small commune that the Gulf of Girolata, its famous fishing village and the Gradelle beach are located. Gradelle beach, the last coastal place accessible by car before the Gulf of Girolata and the nature reserve.
Scandola extends from the northern shore of the Gulf of Girolata to the Elbo marina south of Galéria, on a peninsula formed by volcanic rocks rising from the sea.
On a map, you can locate it between Galéria in the north and Porto in the south on the western side of Corsica.
It is a 2 hour drive from Ajaccio, Calvi and Corte to get close to it but not to go there. Indeed, Scandola has no road access and the terrestrial part of the reserve itself is forbidden to access and has no hiking trails to preserve it.
How to get to Scandola? (on foot, by car, by bus, by sea, ...)
The only way to discover the Scandola nature reserve is by sea.
There is no access by car to the Scandola nature reserve and it is difficult, if not impossible, to get there on foot.
In practice, the only way to enjoy the splendours of this coastline without getting too tired and in total serenity is to take a boat.
And honestly, it's worth it to go out to sea, we can tell you that! Some tips are detailed in the following paragraphs to avoid taking the boat but without much conviction...
Want to discover Scandola and its surroundings? Follow our guides!
Visit Scandola by boat
Visit the Scandola nature reserve by boat
The only way to visit the Scandola nature reserve is by boat: many companies offer their services to embark on boats of different size, power and motorisation and thus leave to contemplate the incredible landscapes and geological formations of the reserve. Navigate the waters of the reserve on board an ecological and silent hybrid boat, or in search of sensations, go on an adventure on a fast boat. The traditional boat is still popular, with its more comfortable seating and covered area, while the semi-rigid boat is becoming more modern. The size of the boat remains on a human scale and ranges from 12 seats to 80 seats with of course intermediaries such as the 30-seater. Under the sun of the west coast of Corsica, at sea and on holiday, letting go and admiring the Scandola reserve will remain an unforgettable experience whatever the type of boat you choose, so zen and no stress; the scent of the sea spray, the colours, the enchanting landscapes will make you forget the daily worries for the space of a trip. Our professionals are there to help you discover the beauties of the coastline, the visit of caves and faults, the little hidden treasures known to sailors. An explanation with a careful commentary on the protected sites of the Scandola maritime and land reserve, swimming stops in translucent waters with heavenly colours, you are tempted? ready to embark? ...Now you need to know where you are going to start your adventure and there the choice is not so complicated, on the west coast many ports allow you to visit the Scandola natural reserve. And don't worry, the beauty of the coastline is such that, whatever your point of departure, your excursion will become an incredible and unforgettable memory.
You can find your captain for a boat tour from :
Visit the Scandola nature reserve by boat rental
You can visit exceptional sites such as the Scandola nature reserve by hiring a boat yourself, even without a licence! Renting a boat allows you to experience an unusual visit. You will be able to sail autonomously (and freedom of movement is important too) towards the Scandola nature reserve, taking time for swimming stops, picnics in the wild creeks and finally taking the time to appreciate the grandeur of the landscapes
When to go to Scandola? (advice on seasons, days/months/times...)
The island of beauty, and more particularly the south of the island, has a fairly sunny Mediterranean climate. It is therefore mild in winter and hot in summer!
The summer season is the busiest time for tourists to visit the site.
Many people in Corsica want to visit the Scandola reserve during the summer and, of course, we understand them.
If you have a choice of dates, it would be quieter and less expensive outside the summer period.
To get the most out of your stay, we can advise you to opt for a stay in spring or autumn: the temperatures remain mild and the number of visitors on site is divided by 3 (especially in October).
To make matters worse, this will save you a lot of money on your transport and accommodation budget. Plus, air and ferry tickets are much cheaper!
When to visit the Scandola nature reserve?
Lovers of beautiful photos will prefer to take this boat trip at the end of the day, in order to take advantage of the golden hours, you know those moments that follow or precede the sunrises and sunsets.
But yes, come on! You may have noticed that the light was magnificent. During the golden hours, the colours are beautiful, the contrasts too and the landscapes of the Scandola nature reserve are sublimated.
The light of the golden hours is magical. It caresses the landscapes, envelops them in an almost mystical atmosphere, and makes the people beautiful.
Some companies also offer sunset and aperitif outings, the perfect combo.
Others will prefer to enjoy the cooler mornings and lighter sea traffic with the feeling of solitude and calm in the blue immensity and bonus in season of less warm temperatures and less exposed landscapes to photograph.
But if you don't have a choice of times, the show will be there no matter what.
Where to sleep near Scandola? (camping, hotels, camping-car, wilderness camping, gîte, etc...)
Visiting the Scandola reserve is easy!
Departures are daily from the west coast ports, weather permitting of course.
This region is located in the north-west of the island, between Calvi and Ajaccio and several types of accommodation are available in the area to spend your holidays and be as close as possible to the sea departures for the Scandola nature reserve.
From hotel rooms to self-catering cottages, hotels, camping sites and mountain chalets, there is a wide range of accommodation on offer on the West Coast.
Your choice will of course depend on your desires and interests but it may also be influenced by the region of Corsica you are going to visit.
Depending on your itinerary, why not combine several types of accommodation to keep your whole tribe happy and your budget in check.
You will find accommodation in West Corsica that will meet your expectations and do not hesitate to ask for advice in our different offices. Our agents know the structures well and will be delighted to guide you to the type of accommodation that will combine all your selection criteria.
What is the history of the Scandola reserve?
There are traces of every era proving the human presence in the Scandola region.
Sharp objects reminiscent of early Neolithic island armatures were found.
In ancient times, the Capu Tafunatu was believed to be a representation of the Cyclops, portending the evil or good "eye" as the case may be.
However, it is mainly the underwater discoveries that provide evidence of human activity in this area.
Ancient anchors, fragments of Greek-Italian amphorae, but also Gallic and Spanish amphorae (3rd century BC) and fragments of oriental amphorae can be found, illustrating the port activities of the Scandola region.
But it is the Genoese period that has left its mark the most, notably with the construction of the two guard towers, still present today in Elbo and Gargalo, dating from the 17th century.
From the end of the 18th century, rudimentary habitats and wheat fields can be found, evidence of the transhumance carried out by the shepherds of Evisa, Ota, but above all of Niolu.
It would seem that in the 19th century, Scandola was used for the cultivation of various cereals (wheat, barley).
Apart from cereals, vines will be the only crop
grown in the Girolata-Scandola area.
In 1929 the exploitation of the maquis for charcoal in Scandola was born and lasted for three years, until the Spanish export was completely stopped during the civil war.
But the most negative impact of man on Scandola lies in his responsibility for the disappearance of two species: the deer and the monk seal.
It seems that the deer was hunted down, while the monk seal was the subject of a real 'witch hunt'.
The monk seal, also known as the "sea calf", was hated by fishermen who considered it a competitor and a destroyer. Intelligent and cunning, the monk seal preferred to feed on fish already caught in the nets, which caused significant damage recognisable by all: a hole with the jaws and two holes with the flippers.
The bill was too high for the fishermen who, with the help of the shepherds, ensured that the breed disappeared from the Scandola area, until it was completely absent from Scandola in 1969.
Since then, man has redeemed himself, notably by creating the nature reserve in 1975.
What can you see in the Scandola nature reserve? (rocks, fauna, flora, towers, curiosities...)
Life on earth...
On land, birds are the undisputed kings of the reserve.
There are beautiful colonies of herring gulls on the islets, but also pairs of Desmaret's cormorants that breed on the cliffs.
Similarly, the high, inaccessible peaks provide refuge for pairs of ospreys and peregrine falcons.
In the maquis, bluebirds and Mediterranean warblers can be found.
Sometimes golden eagles and bearded vultures venture out, attracted by the few wild goats and gull chicks.
Other families of animals also inhabit the reserve: mammals, rodents, reptiles and amphibians all share this exceptional site, sheltered from humans.
Numerous endemic plant species specific to Corsica and Sardinia can be found here from the seashore to the summit of the reserve, Capo Purcile, at 560 metres.
...and at sea
Its transparent waters, with inaccessible islets and caves, are home to a rich marine life.
There are more than 450 species of algae. For some of them, Corsica is the only Mediterranean area of predilection.
The abundance of vertebrates is remarkable, with 125 species inventoried, in particular those that have become rare in the Grande Bleue: the grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), the badêche (Epinephelus alexandrinus) and the denti (Dentex dente).
The edible sea urchin and the black sea urchin like soft algae and calcareous algae respectively. There are also blue limpets, schools of saupe, red mullet and bladderwrack.
In the infralittoral zone, which is the most suitable for life in the marine environment, temperature changes and saline variations are moderate. Life develops harmoniously here.
Nothing hinders the photosynthesis of plants and animals, they find their food there and the food chain, however complex, can be established.
Much lower down, from a depth of thirty metres, is the circalittoral stage. Here the coralligenous, one of the most extraordinary landscapes in the Mediterranean, unfolds.
The ledges and mineral draperies are covered with gorgonians. Then it is the turn of red coral, sponges, ascidians and a green alga called Halimeda tuna.
Its king fish, the grouper, appears in the dark along with the lobsters and the barber.
A refuge for protected species, it is one of the last sites to house the Patelle Ferrugineuse. An endangered species on the Mediterranean coast, it is classified as a protected species in the same way as the large cicada, the diadem sea urchin and the large mother-of-pearl, all of which are present in the reserve.
This exceptional nature reserve is subject to very strict regulations.
What other activities are available near Scandola? (hiking, boating, horse riding, cycling, craftsmen, producers...)
- Visit the Scandola Nature Reserve by canoe or sea kayak
Yes, it is possible and ecologically speaking adapted to the site but still reserved for a seasoned public.
It will take you about 8 hours of rowing from Porto to reach the Scandola nature reserve, that's a pain in the arm, isn't it?
The Gradelle beach, the last beach accessible by car before Girolata, will bring you close to it if you have your kayak, but it is still sporty.
If you're still up for it, many organisations offer itinerant tours with picnics and bivouacs. But don't forget that the speed of progress in a kayak is about 3 knots (about 6 km/h), without taking into account stops.
This mode of navigation is very dependent on the external environment, even more so than the boat, and therefore on the weather conditions, the swell, the wind, the current and the most important factor to take into consideration: your physical fitness.
- Short hikes near the Scandola reserve
For those who are not at all sea-faring or who like walking, you also have the possibility of going on a few hikes to discover the Scandola nature reserve but to get as close as possible to its authorized limit.
The preserved and endemic flora of this region of Corsica is adorned with different colours and smells depending on the season. However, be careful to respect the preservation instructions indicated, which are :
- do not touch,
- not to be picked,
- not to disturb the inhabitants,
- do not trample,
- stay on the authorized marked trails.
The very heart of the reserve has no hiking trails, and this is understandable.
Your steps will lead you to Girolata, on the edge of the Scandola nature reserve and on the trail of Guyle facteur (3h30 return) from the Col de la Croix.
Still on the mare e monti, you can continue to Galeria following the orange markings but beware, it is more than 5 hours walk one way.
It is thanks to everyone's respect that this site can be preserved with dignity and that it remains accessible in part to visitors, so let us be prudent and civic-minded.
Is it free?
A visit to the Scandola nature reserve is not free.
The price varies according to the point of departure, the type of boat and the additional services associated with the trip, such as aperitifs, etc. Different operators take care of the crossing and most of them do the same route. In season, you will be spoilt for choice.
But to give you an idea of the price, the price will be between 40€ and 85€ for a touring boat or if you decide to go on an adventure with a rental boat, you will have to count from 85€ for half a day (without a licence).
We advise you to compare offers, to shop around and to talk to the hirers or boatmen directly or by telephone. You can then make your choice based on all this. Often the goodwill can bring you some surprises.
How long does a visit to Scandola last?
The visit to the Scandola reserve can last up to 5 hours if you leave from the Gulf of Liscia, but generally for this type of excursion, you should allow at least 2.5 hours.but in general for this type of excursion, you should allow at least 2h30.
Again, this will depend on the type of boat you choose and the port from which you plan to hire or make the trip to the Scandola nature reserve.
Other factors come into play for the duration, which can vary according to the stops: swimming stop, break at the small fishing village of Girolata...
As you can see, the best way to get a clear idea is to confirm with our experts on the spot, i.e. the boat rental companies.
Where to eat in the Scandola reserve?
It Obviously, in the Scandola reserve, you will not find a restaurant or a grocery shop. However, it is possible to eat nearby.
Indeed, you will find in Girolata, on the edge of the reserve, restaurants, a grocery shop... You will have to choose an excursion with a stop in the small fishermen's port, or go there by the postman's path which leaves from the col de la croix if you want to take advantage of the site to have lunch. Some companies offer aperitif dinners.
If you wish, you can also eat on the terrace at any of the departure ports, buy a small snack or pack a picnic.
Who can visit the Scandola nature reserve? (family, sportsmen, couple, contemplative, gourmets, friends...)
The visit of the Scandola nature reserve is not only reserved for scientists, it is open to all, depending on how you want to discover it, if you are more like... or like this... Whatever, follow the guide to discover the Scandola nature reserve
- The contemplatives :
To keep things easy, we recommend traditional boats in eco-friendly mode with the hybrids, or in hard, semi-rigid hulls with the others. If you are a little sensitive to wind, sea spray, sun and are afraid of getting sick, you should go for a large boat that has covered seating and allows you to move around on deck.
- Sportsmen and women :
If on the other hand you like the sporting side and are adept at strong sensations, no worries, the fast boats are there to satisfy you, hair in the wind and the scent of the sea spray in addition to guaranteed emotions.
- The families :
It is difficult to keep a child still during a crossing, depending of course on their age. But don't worry, your little ones will be well protected and very interested in this sea trip. Depending on your tribe, you can choose a covered and more spacious boat in order to let them stretch their legs while moving around nicely, or to be sheltered from the wind and water projections, always respecting the rules in force on board of course. If your teenagers are looking for a bit more fun, then you will have the choice, with semi-rigid, fast boats...
- The lovers
What a great idea, a walk to the Scandola nature reserve and back at sunset, so much beauty and sharing with your loved one, you can take a walk with or without an aperitif at the most romantic time of the day. You will be delighted, because if there is one romantic experience, universal and free, shared by all the couples of the world, wherever they are, it is certainly that of the sunset on the sea... A few words about the light and its emotional benefits, about the natural blooming, the contemplative pleasure...
Nature reserves in Corsica
Corsica currently has 7 nature reserves established over a total area of 86,624 hectares and managed by different structures.
The Regional Nature Park of Corsica administers the Scandola Nature Reserve, which you now know, while the Collectivité de Corse is in charge of the Etang de Biguglia Nature Reserve, in the Bastia region.
The Finocchiarola association of the natural spaces of the tip of Cape Corsica manages the Nature Reserve of the islands of Cape Corsica.
The Nature Reserve of the Bouches de Bonifacio, the Cerbicale Islands, the Tre Padule de Suartone and the Monte Rotondo massif are under the jurisdiction of the Corsican Environment Office.
Together with the adjacent coastal acquisitions of the Conservatoire du Littoral, they form the French part of the Bouches de Bonifacio International Marine Park between Corsica and Sardinia, in collaboration with the Italian National Park of the Maddalena Archipelago.
Remarkable sites near Scandola?
A powerful blue sea, caves and cliffs that intertwine in a blood red to give us an extraordinary cameo. Scandola is a must-see at least once in a lifetime, but there are other places around this site that are not to be missed...
- Porto and its square tower. In its famous classified site, the village calls for a diversion in its setting between sea and mountain. Its gulf, its paved streets, its pebble beach, its red cliffs... a real haven of peace and a magnificent landscape make Porto a place not to be missed.
- The village of Ota and its rock balanced on the capu d'Ota. Its narrow streets and its beautiful stone houses, its Genoese bridges which are refreshing bathing points in summer will make you want to stroll quietly.
- Girolata by the postman's path or by boatA beautiful little fishing village in the Gulf of Girolata, which is not accessible by car, but only on foot or by boat.
- The calanques of Piana by road or by seaThe calanques of Piana, whether by road or by sea, can be discovered during a walk, in the middle of a preserved nature.
- The Gorges of Spelunca, the transhumance pathmare e monti, which has become an interpretation trail with its lecterns on the fauna and flora
- The Aïtone forest and its natural pools far from the coast and its beaches, its rich vegetation of laricio pines and its natural pools and waterfalls
- The chestnut grove trail Along the way, you will find information panels on the chestnut groves and life in the villages. As you walk through the forest, you will come across, for example, a fruit dryer or a chestnut tank.
World Heritage in Corsica
In Corsica, only one site is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the Gulf of Porto. It was the first natural site listed in France.
The ensemble classified in 1983 includes: the Scandola Nature Reserve, the Gulf of Girolata and the Calanche de Piana.
The site was chosen for its exceptional geological features, but also for its rich biodiversity. It has been classified under natural criteria VII, VIII and X established by UNESCO, which are detailed below.
Criterion of exceptional nature
VII. represent natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
The richness of the algal formations is incomparable on the Scandola site, due to the tormented character of the rocky bottoms which offer a very great ecological diversity to their implantation.
It is the Mediterranean coastal environment par excellence for :
Its "pavements" of calcareous algae, of which that of Punta Palazzu is one of the two most important "pavements" of the Mediterranean;
Its Posidonia meadow, a witness to the limpidity of the underlying waters, which has developed to a depth of 35 m;
Its "Coralligenous" which are spectacular concretionary structures that extend to the edge of the continental shelf;
The whole ensemble appears to be a reference site for the quality of its natural balance.
Geological representativeness criterion
VIII. be outstanding examples representative of major stages in the history of the Earth, including evidence of life, of ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or of significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
The general architecture of the site is formed by the three enormous overhangs of the mountain into the sea: the Elbo Peninsula, Capo Senino and Capo Rosso. Only the valley of the river Porto offers a narrow escape towards the mountain.
The great geological diversity of the rocks, the originality of their setting, their different resistance to erosion have given rise to spectacular geological formations:
Huge cliffs of red porphyry and storm-chiselled hyalite
Colonnades of basalt organs rising from the sea
Turrets and chaos of red granulite form exceptional mineral sculptures at an altitude of over 400 m in the Calanche de Piana
The wild grandeur combined with the power of the geomorphology, the vegetation and the light make the site a magical place.
X. contain the most representative and important natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
The most remarkable floral element is the very rich algal formations. The marine environment of the reserve (about a thousand hectares) illustrates in a complete and very representative way, in a state of relictual equilibrium, the range of living forms in the Mediterranean.
In the terrestrial environment, the most spectacular fauna element is the avifauna with :
Its beautiful colonies of herring gulls on the islands;
Its several dozen Desmaret cormorants that come to breed on the cliffs;
Its ospreys live on the rocky peaks. Today, only two other sites in the Mediterranean are refuges for these highly endangered birds of prey;
Its peregrine falcons
Its golden eagles which sometimes come to feed there to the detriment of the small herring gulls.
The Scandola nature reserve is quite extensive and contains the habitat elements essential for the survival of the main species.
Protection, management, authenticity and integrity of the assets are also important considerations.