Classified by the Unesco, the Calanques de Piana Corsica are one of the highlights of any road trip around the island. The steep red cliffs offer magnificent landscapes that you can enjoy by car, on foot or by boat. Below is my complete guide to help you plan your visit.
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About the Calanques Corsica
What are the Calanques de Piana?
The Calanques (also called calanches de Piana) are creeks and high cliffs of an intense orange / red color. They are located in the Gulf of Porto.
They are a geological formation made of red porphyry which is a magmatic rock (the origin of Corsica is volcanic).
This hard rock has been sculpted by the wind and sea to create a natural work of art.
Why are they so fascinating?
This is due to the color and the shapes.
The rocks has intense nuances of pink, orange and red. This intensifies at sunset when the light is hitting low.
Plus, since it is a hard rock, it stands straight with fractures. Erosion has created large shapes that can remind us of mystical animals.
This is quite mesmerizing to watch!
Calanques de Piana Corsica - Video
First of all, just in case you need convincing to visit this amazing Unesco site, here is my short video about exploring the Corsican Calanques.
And if you are already convinced, this will help you daydream even more about it LOL.
I hope you understand now why it is one of the best places to visit in Corsica, the jewel of Corsica Tourism!
How to visit the calanques
I am sharing many pictures of each way of admiring the calanques fr Corsica below in the article, but first I am explaining how you can organise your visit:
Where are the Calanques de Piana Located?
- On the Central West coast of Corsica
- Northern part of the Gulf of Porto
- The whole area is only accessible by smaller road so driving times are quite long
- Road D81 goes through them
- Ajaccio to Piana - 1h45 drive
- Calvi to Piana - 2h15 drive
- Bastia to Piana - 3h30 drive
How to get there?
The best way is to stop in the region on a road trip around Corsica. Exploring with your own car is really the best option.
However if you are only for a short time in Corsica and staying in Ajaccio, you can book a full day boat tour departing directly from the Ajaccio marina - Check out program
Back to driving.
You can find all the locations, planning tips and GPS coordinates in my 3 ebooks:
Best way to see the Calanques de Piana
You have 3 options to visit them:
- Just drive the main road through the cliffs
- Stop and complete one of the hikes to see the formations up-close
- Take a 1h30 min boat tour from Porto Ota all the way to under the tower of Capo Rosso
I enjoyed all 3 and will introduce each with pictures further in the article, but the boat is how you actually realize how to landscape is shaped and how big the area is.
I think you should not miss the occasion to take such a boat tour.
I opted for a large boat to feel comfortable moving around and taking pictures. It was fantastic! Book your seat here
And if you really really love rock formations I recommend you combine it with a Scandola Reserve tour - Book Scandola at the same time here
Timing to explore the region - Where to stay
- I recommend 2 to 4 days to explore the region. It is really worth it.
- The easiest is to stay at Piana or Porto, but Cargèse is also a good option if you want to also enjoy nice beaches. The drive will be a little longer each day.
- If you want to really enjoy the view Hotel Capo Rosso is very well located within Piana - Check out pictures
- Otherwise check out the accommodations in Piana and the accommodations in Porto ota
- More suggestions at the end of my article
Calanques de Piana Boat Tour
Let's start with the fantastic tour that takes you on a boat from Porto Ota along the cliffs all the way to Capo Rosso
About the Boat
The tour departs from the marina at Porto Ota.
Several companies propose tours. But I opted for a larger hybrid boat (and paid entirely for my tour).
This is way more comfortable that the small speedboats and you can move around, front, back and top deck to take pictures. Plus there is a protected section if it rains.
You can book the same tour as mine here for just the Calanques or get combined tour with Piana and Scandola by booking here (suggested combination after clicking show availability)
My planning tips
- Pick a tour late afternoon so that the colors are more intense
- Bring binoculars to see the details and spot the birdlife - see my buying guide
- Go even if the weather is not good - the sea might be calmer and the clouds are better to see all the details in the cliffs
- For this tour, both sides of the boat are good, but we spend more time on the way to Capo Rosso, so we saw more, sitting on the left side of the boat
About the views of the Calanques in photos
The boat first takes you out of Porto Ota. You can see the famous square tower, a rare occurence on the island.
And soon after you get up close and personal with the cliffs. Some sections have a mix of pink and grey rocks.
You can clearly see the strates in the rocks.
Inside the cracks grow many plants. One of them is the rare Dianthus gyspergerae.
The very straight and steep shapes of those cliffs is due to the fact that the granite rock is very hard. So erosion is not making it break so easily and it remains huge and sound.
The calanques are creating like a mini mountain range with a V shape. The highest point reaches 698m. So you can imagine how impressive these straight cliffs are as you approach the bottom of them with the boat.
Rare birds are enjoying this environment as much as we do. With saw large nests set up on top of peaks and spotted this one little bird on the picture below (which is why I am advising to bring binoculars...)
Sometimes a few seastacks appear near the cliffs. They are made of the same colorful rock.
The erosion by the sea has created some cavities and cracks. It makes the experience even more fun looking through them.
The boat goes all the way to the cliffs under Capo Rosso. This is the last summit on the picture below. It reaches 330m (1080ft) in elevation. It is the highest cliffs in Corsica.
At the top is the Tower of Turghju but because of the cloud we can't see it. There is a nice hike that gets you there (more info later in the article).
Definitively one of the best things to do in Corsica (see my list)
Piana Calanques Road
The classic way to experience the Calanques is through the only road cut in the rock. Anyway if you are coming from Ajaccio to Porto Ota, you have no choice but to take that road (unless you detour via the mountains through Vico and Evisa).
About the Calanques Road
Road D81 cut through the red cliffs. North of Piana the sinuous drive for 2 to 3 kilometers is quite impressive.
In some section it is not large enough to cross path with larger vehicles. This is why there are passing places regularly cut in the rock. Those are not parking spots! I have seen people leave their car unattended there and then it blocks traffic.
Tips to visit the Calanques by road
- Best to go really early to avoid having any traffic and to have time to enjoy the drive
- The best colors are late afternoon / Sunset, but the road is still quite busy because everyone has the same idea (especially with the Summer crowds)
- Towards the end of the road is the panorama café of Les Roches Bleus. It is a great place to stop (if the carpark is not full...)
- I recommend to drive it in Both direction to see different views. On the way North you will better see the cuts and cliffs. On the way South you can better see how the Calanques spread below the road
Pictures of the Piana Calanques Road
It is really difficult to find words to describe the area and the views. So better to show you in pictures:
And sometimes you can see the gulf of Porto with the Scandola Reserve in the background:
It is great by any weather. Even in the fog!
The little building in the picture below is the café les Roches Bleues with a panorama terrace:
Walking - Castle of Piana (Chateau de Piana)
About the Castle of Piana Walk + Tips
The most famous walk in the are is ' château de Piana' (Castle of Piana) or the walk 'tête du chien' (Dog's head). It starts in a lower section near the calanques with 3 carparks. The "Château" is not a castle, don't expect much. It just refers to a square rock... But it offers beautiful views!
Officially the tour is rated as Easy and last 1h. Well nobody who did it at the same time as us agreed with that assessment.
I would plan 1h30 and consider it a moderate hike, especially after rain. The narrow rocky path can get quite slippery!
My recommendations are:
- Do this walk early or late in Summer. It gets busy and the carparks fill up quickly - Plus the path is not large and having to cross path with people every 30 seconds is annoying
- Wear proper hiking shoes and bring water
- If you don't feel like doing the whole path, you can walk the first section under the trees to the very impressive rock I call the 'Eagle' (see further below). This is easy and takes only 10min.
The walk in pictures
The walk starts in the forest of Piana where you can find some large boulders. There is even one that looks like a hand.
I really enjoyed seeing such a different aspect of the area. The place looks almost mystical.
The forest is mostly composed of maritime pines which can live up to 150 years and reach 20 to 30m in height.
My favorite rock formation in the calanques is what I call the 'Eagle' because I first thought about this animal when seeing it. But now that I look at it more and I am not sure why... But it is fun to have everyone imagine their own animals or fantasy creatures in those rocks.
See the size of my dad next to the rock. It is a really tall cut out!
A little after you can see the valley between the peaks.
The path is simple at the beginning but then it goes down steep with a big rocks making the path:
I had a sprain at my ankle so it was really too difficult for me to keep going. But my brother did the whole hike and took a picture of the view at the end for me:
More hikes around Piana - Map
As I said this is the main hike in the area. But ere are a few more around. The map is visible at the Tête de Chien carpark. The light green line is the path I just shared with you, the one that gets closer to the water.
Calanches de Piana - Capo Rosso Hike
Another very famous hike in the area is Capo Rosso.
About the Capo Rosso hike
It is a longer hike of moderate level. It takes 4 hours return to complete (even though it is indicated 3hours - everybody should be ironmen to stick with their timing!).
The path allows you to get all the way to the tower of Capo Rosso (built in 1608) which you can see on the picture below (on the highest point).
You can see the landscape in that same picture which shows you that the path is rarely flat. It keeps going up and down.
And the last part to get up to the tower at 330m is rocky, slippery and a little difficult.
For that view from Capo Rosso Tower
But the end view is worth the effort. On clear days, you can see the steep cliffs and the chains of mountains that make Corsica so famous!
The Piana Village
You can also stop at the Piana village to explore is charming streets with old houses. It has the red rocks of the Calanques in the background and is facing the Gulf of Porto and the Scandola reserve.
I must admit it is not the most charming villages I have seen in Corsica but its location makes it really special.
Its baroque church as a square belle tower and inside you can see some typical Corsican frescoes.
Ficajola - Beach inside the Calanques of Piana
Inside the calanques, you can only find one beach. It is called Ficajola.
It is a very small creek with not much sand but quite unique with the high pink cliffs around.
To get there, you have to take the road towards Arone and make a right turn into a narrow sinuous road for 4 kilometers hoping not to cross path with anyone.
And then you must walk for 10 to 15min to get to the beach.
Despite the difficult access, it is very crowded in Summer....
Where to stay to explore the calanques of Piana
3 main options to stay in the region
Staying in Piana
- Perfect location for everything about the Calanques and to access Arone beach
- Several accommodations with great views of the rocks and gulf.
- Small village - not much to do otherwise
- Systematic difficult return to hotel with winding roads
- Hotel Capo Rosso with a swimming pool and views you will never forget - Check out photos and availability
- The historical Hotel Les Roches Rouges (from 1912) - a large building facing the ocean. Fantastic views all around and delicious food - Check out photos and availability
- or check out all accommodations in Piana
Staying in Porto Ota
- Perfect location for the boat trip and to explore around: North to Scandola, South to Piana and inland towards Evisa!
- Lots of restaurants to enjoy
- Because it is down at sea level, the views are limited
- Touristic only, no charm
Staying in Cargèse
- Close to several nice sandy beaches such as Stagnoli
- Quieter, more relax beach holiday ambience
- 25min extra drive to reach Piana
- Nice water views but no sunset over the calanques from the room
Planning a road trip in Corsica?
Check out my ebooks with maps and all the best locations to facilitate the planning of your trip!
Want to see more of CORSICA?
How are you going to explore them?
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