My Guide: from Piana to Porto.
Beauty of nature.
The island of Corsica is a particularly special place in the Mediterranean. Deemed “often conquered, never subdued”, Corsica has experienced a rich history of rulers and adventurers. During the summer months, visitors flock to Corsica from around the world, but the off-season and winter months give way to open roads along the D81, arguably the island’s best driving experience. Famed for its beaches, outdoor activities and natural beauty, the island is host to a culture of warm hospitality and Mediterranean fusion. The atmosphere combines the best of Italy and France, in addition to native Corsican cuisine and influences.
The region of Piana Calanche, particularly the twelve kilometre stretch between the small villages of Piana and Porto, is a road enthusiast and landscape lover’s dream. To get there from Ajaccio, the regional capital, one traverses the coastal mountains through pictorial countryside, scattered with old stone ruins, eucalyptus trees, cacti and freshwater streams. As you head north through the sweeping landscape, one of the first significant towns is Sagone. Beaches adorn this seaside enclave and are accessible by car.
The red afternoons of Piana.
Onwards along the D81, standing 400 metre above the Gulf of Porto, you will find the picturesque village of Piana, founded in 1725. In addition to multiple restaurants and small hotels, Piana has houses that are made from red granite, which glow in the afternoon light. Just beyond Piana village is the restaurant and hotel “Les Roches Rouges”, perhaps the most striking and desirable stop in town for the passer-by. The rooms reflect, with character, the fact that this unique manor was built in the early 1900s, but if passing through on the way to Porto, the restaurant and outdoor terrace provide possibly the best settings to dine in the area, with exquisite cuisine and spectacular sunsets.
Views worth stopping for.
The stretch of road between Piana and Porto is where the D81 is the finest. Views transform from forested greenery into vast stretches of jagged red rock cliffs. Locals have noted different shapes that can be seen along the narrow, steep-walled inlet, the most notable being a heart-shaped formation that casts a beam of light onto the adjacent rocks during sundown. The ideal time of day to drive this portion of the D81 is at sunset, when the boulders turn an even deeper shade of red, casting dramatic shadows over the landscape.
There are small enclaves carved into the side of the road where travellers can park their vehicle and stop to enjoy the spectacular views, but be mindful of fast moving traffic along the narrow lane.
The final stop.
After several kilometres of snaking along the treacherous winding road with the C-Class, we descend again into the forest, ending up at the coastal town and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Porto, with its Genoese watchtower dating from 1549 and seaside ambiance. Contrasts such as these – between the mountain village of Piana, the D81 that meanders downwards through the desert-like cliffs and the small harbour village of Porto on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea – are what makes this particular part of Corsica such a stunning and impressive drive. Corsica’s largely uninhabited ruggedness facilitates a memorable road trip adventure, and visiting the island in any season is a must.