The overwhelming proximity of the mountains, combined with the pervasive eucalyptus and spicy scent of the maquis, give Porto, 30km south of Calvi, a uniquely intense atmosphere that makes it one of the most interesting places to stay on the west coast. Except for a watchtower erected here by the Genoese in the second half of the sixteenth century, the site was only built upon with the onset of tourism since the 1950s; today the village is still so small that it can become claustrophobic in July and August, when overcrowding is no joke. Off season, the place becomes eerily deserted, so you’d do well to choose your times carefully; the best months are May, June and September.
The crowds and traffic jams tend to be most oppressive passing the famous Calanches, a huge mass of weirdly eroded pink rock just southwest of Porto, but you can easily sidestep the tourist deluge in picturesque Piana, which overlooks the gulf from its southern shore, or by heading inland from Porto through the Gorges de Spelunca. Forming a ravine running from the sea to the watershed of the island, this spectacular gorge gives access to the equally grandiose Forêt d’Aïtone, site of Corsica’s most ancient Laricio pine trees and a deservedly popular hiking area. Throughout the forest, the river and its tributaries are punctuated by strings of piscines naturelles (natural swimming pools) – a refreshing alternative to the beaches hereabouts. If you’re travelling between Porto and Ajaccio, a worthwhile place to break the journey is the clifftop village of Cargèse where the two main attractions are the Greek church and spectacular beach.Read More
The UNESCO-protected site of the Calanches, 5km southwest of Porto, takes its name from calanca, the Corsican word for creek or inlet, but the outstanding characteristics here are the vivid orange and pink rock masses and pinnacles which crumble into the dark blue sea. Liable to unusual patterns of erosion, these tormented rock formations and porphyry needles, some of which soar 300m above the waves, have long been associated with different animals and figures, of which the most famous is the Tête de Chien (Dog’s Head) at the north end of the stretch of cliffs. Other figures and creatures conjured up include a Moor’s head, a monocled bishop, a bear and a tortoise.
One way to see the fantastic cliffs of the Calanches is by boat from Porto. Alternatively, you could drive along the corniche road that weaves through the granite archways on its way to Piana. Eight kilometres along the road from Porto, the Roches Bleues café is a convenient landmark for walkers.
Picturesque Piana occupies a prime location overlooking the Calanches, but for some reason does not suffer the deluge of tourists that Porto endures. Retaining a sleepy feel, the village comprises a cluster of pink houses ranged around an eighteenth-century church and square, from the edge of which the panoramic views over the Golfe de Porto are sublime.
The Gorges de Spelunca
The Gorges de Spelunca
Spanning the 2km between the villages of Ota and Évisa, a few kilometres inland from Porto, the Gorges de Spelunca are a formidable sight, with bare orange granite walls, 1km deep in places, plunging into the foaming green torrent created by the confluence of the rivers Porto, Tavulella, Onca, Campi and Aïtone. The sunlight, ricocheting across the rock walls, creates a sinister effect that’s heightened by the dark jagged needles of the encircling peaks. The most dramatic part of the gorge can be seen from the road, which hugs the edge for much of its length.
Sitting high above a deep blue bay on a cliff scattered with olive trees, Cargèse, 20km southwest of Porto, exudes a lazy charm that attracts hundreds of well-heeled summer residents to its pretty white houses and hotels. The full-time locals, half of whom are descendants of Greek refugees who fled the Turkish occupation of the Peloponnese in the seventeenth century, seem to accept with nonchalance this inundation – and the proximity of a large Club Med complex – but the best times to visit are May and late September, when Cargèse is all but empty.