Corsica is best known for its beaches, and to a lesser extent its mountain scenery. For me one of the best ways of discovering the island is behind the wheel (in a convertible if possible) and hitting the secondary roads. Over a series of posts I’ll cover our road trip around the Cap Corse and the North Western coastline and interior of the island.
Day 3: St Florent to Piana
We waved goodbye to St Florent and hit the D81 again then on to the N197. We didn’t have time the day before to take everything in on our tour of the villages of Balagne and made a detour en route to Piana. We turned off on the D151 towards Calenzana. This is very much a hikers’ town as it serves as the starting point for the GR20, the 180 km trail that traverses the island North to South and is considered to be both one of the most beautiful and toughest long distance trails in Europe, however, we had for more relaxed plans in the form of lunch… On the recommendation of the Guide du Routard (the favourite guidebook of the French) we ate at the Le Calenzana (Chez Michel) restaurant and enjoyed our best lunch of the trip – a delightful ragout of sanglier (wild board) served on a bed of pasta. It was perfect comfort food, and I think we were so busy devouring it that we didn’t snap a shot!
From Calenzana (and only after briefly getting lost in an increasingly narrow back street that we barely managed to get out of with the car unscratched), we headed towards Zilia, a village famous for being the source of one of the top-selling bottled mineral waters on the water. We met this guy on the road:
We stopped briefly in the next few villages: Cassano, Lunghiano and Montemaggiore. I’m not quite sure which of the villages this picture below is, but it was taken as we looked back from the way we came:
My wife managed to find a nice vase in one of the local crafts shops as we explored the back streets of Montemaggiore (I think that was the village)! Off one of these little streets, I came across this chapel that almost seemed forgotten…
After Montemaggiore we took the D451 towards the N197 and Calvi. We drove through Calvi to connect with the D81B. The D81B is one of the those roads that our guidebook made out to be the road that time forgot and full of danger and full of blind corners hugging the edge of the cliff (it recommended the less scenic D81). Fortunately the guidebook’s description turned out to be hyperbole (or perhaps I’ve seen it all on the Corsica roads already)! I’ve certainly been on far scarier roads roads in South America and Asia…. If you’ve got time, it is worth a detour – although it can’t compare to what lay ahead…
We rejoined the D81 towards Galeria and made our way towards our hotel in Piana through Porto. I’d stayed in Porto about 10 years back. I didn’t think much of the place then… The town is a bit of a sprawl so it’s not very easy to get around on foot. Plus everything it just focused on tourism there – it seems to lack a certain intrinsic value. But that being said, it’s the place to go for trips to discover the Scandola nature reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage Site (although once again, we missed out on the boat trip this time around because of high winds and rough seas).
We were fortunate to be driving through Porto just as the sun was starting to set.
But the main attraction of this part of the island is the Calanques de Piana which is on the D81 between Porto and Piana. Here, granite rock formations sculpted by the wind and erosion go through some sensational colour changes from gold to pink to bright red depending on the time of the day. We were too busy taking it in as the sun was diving in to the ocean to stop and take snaps. I think that you really need at least a couple of evenings to really appreciate it, and not to mention spending time there during the day. Below are a few snaps from the following day. There a snack bar called Les Roches Bleues where we stopped for an early apéritif the next day, which I’m sure would make for one of the most fabulous places in the world for sundowners…
As I mentioned earlier, we chose to stay in Piana rather than Porto as we were looking for a place with more character and that was easy to get around by foot – and we made the right call. There’s plenty of restaurants with good food and character around the main village square. We had a dinner and lunch and both times were not disappointed. I’m sure that there is also a great view from many a hotel balcony. Here’s a shot from ours (Mare e Monti – good value for money, nicely refurbished rooms) the next morning:
There’s also some very nice beaches around Piana. A few kilometres away is Arone beach, which has a number of different beach restaurants that looked inviting enough for a lunch or dinner.