The island Corsica has many attractions - there is a reason why it is called Ile de Beauté (island of beauty). Among the most striking of these attractions are the bizarre granite rock formations which you can find in two areas. One is located in the south of the island close to Bavella Pass while the other can be found close to the coastal town of Porto in the north-west of Corscica. This last region, named Calenche de Piana after a village in its midst, has become one of the major tourist attractions of the island.
The Calenche de Piana starts at (even below) sea level and runs up to two summits, Capo d'Orto (1294m) and Capu di u Vitullu (1331m). The former one is the more popular of the two, thanks to its wonderful view across the Golfe de Porto and its very scenic ascent routes. Capu di u Vitullu, however, is the highern and more important of the two mountains. Both share a common ascent route until you reach Foce d'Orto, the saddle which separates the mountains. From here the Capu d'Orto Route heads up a steep saddle, while the longer but much easier Capu di u Vitullu Route heads up the north-east ridge of the mountain.
Capu di u Vitullu is made up from red granite like the rest of the Calenche de Piana. Its Summit is located on a broad block the north face of which drops several hundred metres into an amphitheatre which is formed by the mountain's north-east and west ridges. While the route across the north-east ridge is not exactly difficult the final steps onto the summit block require some handwork. Also, the triangulation tent on top of the mountain is located in a rather exposed location.
Capu di u Vitullu commands good views towards many of the 2000ers on the northern backbone of Corsica as well as of the fjord-like north-west coast of the island. On the other hand - thanks to its height of 1331m above the coastline - it stands out above the Calenche de Piana when seen from any of the higher peaks of the island.
One last note: the Calenche de Piana is one of the major attractions on Corsica all for tourists, hikers and for serious climbers. Reaching it, though generally easy, turns difficult by the very narrow roads on which you find lots of coaches. Most visitors stay near the road (between Piana and Porto), enjoying the short easy hikes there. However, there are also a multitude of climbing routes in the area (also most of them close to the road) and very interesting long hikes like the one to Capo d'Ortu or its brother Capo di u Vitullu. The best place to park for longer activities is the lot for the abandoned sports field of Piana, from where hiking paths take you to all the desirable destinations. The sports field is close to the road, in a bend, where it enters the Calenche from the north.
Calenche de Piana
As said above, the Calenche de Piana is THE major attraction in the west of Corsica. The attractions of the region are the bizarre rocks that compose the Calenche. The longer you look the more you wonder how this whole area has been formed (see section below). There is the obvious legend that some human challenged the Devil - and won. The Devil - being very angry - tortured the country instead - and this is how the Calenche came into being.
The Calenche de Piana continues down to sea level - and below. I've been told that it is very worthwhile to ask one of the local fishermen to show the gorges, bays and grottos to you that upen up just above and below the surface of the sea. I haven't been on one of these cruises but know people who have...
Be sure to step a little aside! Along the road RD81 - where most of the tourists go - you won't find any rest. The coaches which meet on the narrow road will always draw you back into real life by their honking horns. But after some 2km you are on your own and can explore or even climb the fascinating rocks.
Tafoni - the typical erosion structures of Corsica and Sardinia
The Calenche de Piana is composed of a large variety of strange looking rock formations, all having been formed by ages of erosion. Similar structures can be seen on Sardinia and in different parts of the world as well. In Corsica this kind of erosion is called Tafoni, derived from the Corsican word tafonare for "perforate". In most of the cases Tafoni have been hollowed out in a semi circular fashion.
The actual process is a combination of physical and chemical erosion forms. Through capillary forces moisture within the rock is allowed to climb to the surface of the rock. Since the fluids dissolve part or the inner rock structure they can deposit these minerals on the surface which form a very hard but also very thin outside crust. In the course of time the effect weakens (or softens) the inner rock structure while the outside crust gets harder and harder.
Once the crust (mainly iron and manganese oxide) is broken and wind and rain can erode the inner and softer rock, the latter is eaten away rapidly (at least on a geological scale) like the innards of your regular breakfast egg. Since moisture will stay longer and since Evaporation is occurring less on the shadowy northern parts of the rocks the crusts there remain very thin and can get broken much more easily.
The whole Tafoni process takes very long and today's Tafonis have been being created since the last ice ages.
Corsica can be reached by ferry or by plane. Major gateways are Ajaccio in the west and Bastia in the north. Usually both ferries and planes start from Marseille or Nice on the Côte d'Azur.
Capu d'Orto is located a little south of Porto, the main town in the northwest of Corsica. You'll reach Porto from Ajaccio via the coastal highway D81. It is not very far but the highway winds around and over a lot of bays and passes. Shortly before Porto you have to go through the Calenche. The road is VERY narrow, and since the Calenche is a major tourist attraction lots of coaches use it. So it can take up to an hour to drive the 5km between Piana and Porto! Again, you might want to start early. The various trailheads are all on this road.
From Bastia you need to take RN 193. At Francardo you turn right onto D84 which will lead you through the famous gorge of Scala Sta. Regina. On your right hand side you will soon see Monte Cinto and Paglia Orba before you head upwards to the pass of Col de Vergio (1477m). From here you can already see Porto as well as Capo d'Orto though the actual drive will take you about an hour due to the winding narrow road.
Red TapeThere are no limitations within the area. Hiking and parking is free. Around the trailheads in the Calenche there are only a few parking places so you might want to start from the village of Piana. The sports field to the northeast of Piana is the best starting point due to a couple of parking places.
When To ClimbCapu di u Vitullu can be climbed all year round. You'll encounter snow in winter but the ascent is rather easy so it shouldn't pose any problem. The best season is spring, however. The blossoming machia is a sight to see and smell. You'll find quite a lot of spices, mainly sage and thyme.
AccommodationAccommodation has changed a lot during the last ten years. Today it is possible to book holiday homes, hotel rooms or apartments from any travel office. Also, there are a number of sites on the internet dedicated to Corsica accommodation. You can get apartments and holiday homes in any of the villages along the coasts.
There's a campground at sea level at the beach of Porto. Other accomodation can be found in Porto, Piana or Evisa (or any of the smaller villages). Most appartments and hotels are closed out of season, however. I am not aware that free camping is restricted. But due to the proximity of Porto it is not really neccessary.
Maps & Books
- Porto / Calenche de Piana
1 : 25.000
Carte de Randonnée 4150 OT
There are quite naturally quite a number of guidebooks, most of them in French. I found the following as good as could be expected:
- Corsica (Corse / Korsika)
ISBN: 978-3-7633-4819-0 (English)
ISBN: 978-3-7633-4907-4 (French)
ISBN: 978-3-7633-4280-8 (German)