A boat trip in the sparkling blue Mediterranean was at the top of our wish list while we were in Corsica recently. But with only three full days to explore the island, a tightly packed schedule, and an unpredictable weather pattern, there was uncertainty if we would realise such a wish on this trip. Our first plan – to take a boat to the secluded shores of Saleccia and Loto – was foiled by high seas. And with the mistral still whipping the water into a frenzy the following day, our chances were looking uncertain. Luckily for us, Corse Emotion came to the rescue!
It was with a sense of relief that we found out Corse Emotion had one boat braving the wet and windy weather on our final day in Corsica. But our relief was quickly replaced by a sense of urgency as we realised we had 2 hours to traverse the mountainous landscape between us and Porto – where our boat cruise would take us to the majestic Calanques de Piana.
Choosing Northern Corsica
A large majority of visitors to Corsica flock to its southern shores – around the glitzy coastlines of Porto-Vecchio, Bonaficio and Ajaccio. But we chose to camp out in the mountainous landscape of the inner Haute-Corse. Tucked between towering mountains, our renovated roulotte was located in a sleepy hamlet where the majority of passersby were of the hoofed variety. A trip to the sea meant driving up and over a landscape that was breathtaking in its diversity.
One minute we’d be driving through thick pine forest while floppy eared pigs trotted through the undergrowth next to us. The next I’d be gripping my seat as the car teetered on the edge of the hillside – the road falling away to reveal a deep ravine below.
Calanques of Piana
The jagged red volcanic rock that rises up to 400m over the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most impressive sights in all of Corsica. And I don’t say that lightly. In a land nicknamed (very appropriately) the Île de Beauté, impressive sights are readily available!
The Corsican Calanche de Piana are similar in a lot of ways to the calanques found on the Mediterranean coast of France. But the one striking difference is in the colour. Where the Calanques of Cassis are ash white and grey, the Calanques of Piana have undertones of molten lava. And not by chance either – the calanques are the direct result of volcanic activity in the area. Their current shape has come about through years of being pummelled by the sea, washed in rainfall, and lashed by strong winds.
An important heritage area, the calanques were officially named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. A title that has added to their allure and made them a popular attraction in the area. In order to see the calanques in all their glory, the best options are to walk through granite walking trails (although you can’t access the water this way), or to take to the seas on a boat excursion.
Cruising with Corse Emotion
Arriving in Porto with only minutes to spare, we hastily bought the last three tickets and followed our tour guide through cobbled lanes to the harbour. Despite the weather, which had eased up but was still sodden, the boat was at full capacity – all 12 seats occupied by people as foolhardy as us. We eagerly climbed aboard, straddled our padded jockey seats and clasped the handrail. With a brief word of safety, and a warning about the bumpy ride, we were off and out into the white-capped sea. A speedy and delightfully dry 15-minute ride later, we slowed to a steady crawl, ready to explore the calanques.
Our first stop was what our tour guide jokingly referred to as the “communal pool” because of how many boats park here in the summer months. On this day, we had the basin entirely to ourselves, although it was easy to see why it’d be a popular spot to swim on warmer days. The rocky cliffs surrounded us on three sides creating shelter from the wind, and the sea was so calm – and so crystal clear! I was almost tempted to dip a toe in myself, if only to check the temperature…
As we proceeded to weave our way through watery canyons and into caves, it was hard to know where to focus your attention. Below, where the clear water revealed colourful shells and sea urchins on the sea bed. Up above, where birds of prey and cormorants circled overhead. Or all around us at the rich colours of the volcanic rock and jagged cliffs that created a multi-faceted landscape from our unique vantage point.
Even with the veil of thick white fog that shrouded the tops of the cliffs, the scenery was outstanding. But on a good day – with the blue sky reflecting on the sea and the suns rays warming the orange tones in the earth – it must be all the more enchanting.
After roughly an hour of cruising it was time to head back to Porto. With a rev of the engine we sped back the 10 minutes to shore, our guide giving us a thrill with a few tight-turns on the way!
Things to know before you go
Corse Emotion offer three different options to explore this unique area of Corsica. Boat tours start from €29 and include:
- Calanche de Piana, 1.5 hours
- Scandola Reserve & Gulf of Girolata, 2.5 hours
- Scandola, Girolata, Piana & Capo Rosso, 4 hours
Tours are subject to weather conditions, so it’s best to call before you go if unsure. It’s also important to dress appropriately in bad weather to avoid the cold ruining your trip! Even when it’s not raining, a good jacket will keep you dry if the sea is turbulent. Likewise in summer, bringing a hat (hold on tightly when going fast!), sunglasses, and layering on the sunscreen before you go will save you from sunburn.
Cruising with Kids
I wasn’t sure if my 4-year-old was going to love the cruise, or hate it… Luckily, it was a total hit! With the fast ride out, the wind was battling our eyes and ears, but with my hand sheltering his eyes, he was actually giggling from the thrill of it all. He was mesmerised by the caves, and loved being out on the water.
Little ones can travel on the same jockey seat as you, so that you can keep a firm grip on them. Just be sure to place a hand on the rail in front to prevent any nasty knocks in case of bumps along the way. Once you’re near the calanques, the cruise slows right down, so you can get out of your seat and freely explore.
Cruising around the Calanques de Piana was one of the highlights of our trip to Corsica. Even with limited time on the island, a boat trip gives you the chance to see Corsica’s beauty from another angle. And what better way to explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site than by boat? Next time I’m in Corsica I hope to join Corse Emotion for a cruise to the Scandola Reserve & Gulf of Girolata!
P.S If you’re looking for other unique things to do in Corsica, be sure to read our experience with Saleccia Off-Road.