Boat Trip to Scandola, Girolata and Calanches de Piana

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All around Ajaccio and Porticcio are locations for booking boat trips to various sites up and down the western coast of Corsica, most of them consisting of visits to the Isles Sanguinaires, Calanches de Piana, Bonifacio, Girolata and the Scandola nature reserve. 

One of the ‘Nave Va’ tour boats that operate from Porticcio and Ajaccio

There’s a mixture of options – from large boats carrying 100+ passengers to smaller ones with perhaps 10 or 12, right down to completely private tours. 

On our summer holiday last year in Croatia we had a completely private boat trip, which was one of the best things we’ve ever done – but the costs here in Corsica were much higher so we chose one of the larger tours, which left from Porticcio and took a whole day visiting Scandola – an amazing nature reserve of impressive cliffs, caves and coves; Girolata – a small village accessible only by boat; and the Calanches de Piana, another impressive formation of cliffs. 

Porticcio disappearing behind us as we set off for the Scandola nature reserve. 8.30am and the temperature already close to 30-degrees!

There are several operators running similar trips, all of which are very popular, but we booked with ‘Naveva’, leaving from Porticcio at 8.30am and returning at 6pm. 

We got up early and headed for the jetty in Porticcio as early as possible, conscious of wanting to be first on the boat to get the best seats. We were glad we did, as by the time the boat arrived, a huge queue had formed, which we were right at the front of. 

As it happened though, it turned out the boat had already loaded up half its passengers over in Ajaccio, so all the best seats  were already taken! It’s definitely worth boarding in Ajaccio if you can if you want to get the prime seats with the best views (up at the front). 

As we set off, the drawbacks of these larger boat tours compared with the smaller private ones became clear. We were sat right at the back, crammed in with about 150 other passengers in a part of the boat with no shelter from the sun but no cooling sea breeze either. It was intensely hot even at 9am – and only getting hotter as the journey wore on and there was no escaping it as the rest of the boat was completely full. 

Both girls managing a smile despite sea sickness well and truly taking hold!

Being right at the back also seemed the worst part for sea-sickness and, although the water was really calm, the boat rocked around and started making several of us – and several other passengers feel pretty sick. 

After a while people started moving around the boat a bit and it was possible go and stand on the top deck where it was a bit breezier, but it was still pretty uncomfortable. 

The first leg of the journey was quite long and uneventful – almost two hours heading up the coast to Scandola and we were relieved to arrive here to get the chance to move about a bit, although you don’t get off the boat here. 

The western coast of Corsica is the most naturally beautiful side of the island – and is particularly spectacular viewed from the sea

We saw lots of other small private boat tours, which looked a lot more comfortable for the passengers, with more space and time to relax and spread out  compared with our completely full and packed boat, where there was a lot of jostling and shoving of elbows by everyone trying to get to the best positions for photos and seeing the sights. But of course the private boats cost much more, so you get what you pay for. 

Having said all this, once we arrived at Scandola, the uncomfortable first leg of the journey all became worthwhile. It’s a collection of small volcanic rock islands, huge, dramatic cliff faces all lined with caves and coves, some of which the smaller boats around were able to travel right in to – but which our large one hovered around outside. 

Some of the incredible scenery at the Scandola reserve. The people on the smaller boats definitely have the better deal in terms of comfort, where they can go and what they can do – but you pay a higher price

The crew of the boat provided a running commentary over the PA system, which sounded very lively and interesting and which often had all the other passengers laughing and clapping – but it was all in French so we couldn’t understand any of it! 

It was no problem though – the amazing sights of Scandola and its insanely clear blue water were entertainment enough for us. 

At one point everyone excitedly rushed over to one side of the boat, cameras clicking and pointing, and sure enough there was a large pod of Dolphins splashing and leaping around – albeit they were just a bit too far away from the boat to see and photograph properly. 

You can clearly see fish swimming beneath you in the clear blue water. Twice we saw dolphins splashing around – but a little too briefly and distant to get photos

After a while slowly drifting around Scandola, the boat headed off back down the coast to its next stop – Girolata. 

I have to say it was a massive relief to arrive here and get off the boat, recover on dry land from the sea sickness, get out of the sun and cool off in the sea. 

The boat stopped here for two hours – plenty of time to get lunch in one of several restaurants and to relax in what is a stunningly beautiful, quiet and peaceful setting. 

We got lunch in the beach-front restaurant before sitting on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear waters, relaxing, cooling down and enjoying the amazing surroundings. 

At one point, a small family of cows appeared on the beach, much to everyone’s delight, and just laid down on the sand with the rest of the tourists, happily sitting around for photos!

Friendly beach cows at the beautiful village of Girolata

We decided to head back to the boat early to try to get some better seats for the return leg, something lots of other passengers were doing too. This time though, we got lucky and got seats right up the front with much better views, a cooling breeze and no sea slickness this time. 

The cows certainly seemed very happy to pose for photos

As we boarded, a thunderstorm came in from over the mountains – and suddenly it clouded over and began to rain – something we’d not seen for our entire two weeks in Corsica. 

We headed from Girolata to the Calanches de Piana, the famous dramatic cliffs which, now it was cloudy, were a bit less impressive looking without the bright sun sparkling off the surrounding waters. 

After this, it was off back to Porticcio, via the Sanguinaire islands, with much of the journey spent sheltering inside the under-cover part of the boat away from the rain (which in the end cleared, with the usual sunshine restored by the time we arrived back at Porticcio). 

We climbed off the boat, tired from a full day at sea but glad we’d booked the trip. It was worth doing and Scandola and Girolata are definitely worth seeing – but the long stretches of the journey at sea on the way there and back got a bit boring and uncomfortable for the children. 

We’d been weighing up whether to do this boat trip or to do canyoning in the nearby mountains and, with hindsight, the canyoning would probably have been more fun for the whole family. 

If we’d had more money spare, one of the smaller, more private boat trips would’ve been considerably more comfortable and enjoyable. 

Even so, if you want a lower cost way to see some stunning natural scenery, with a good chance of seeing some dolphins on the way, and to spend time in the really unique village of Girolata, then we can definitely recommend this trip. 

Information you’ll need.

You can find more details and book online on the Nave Va website here:

We booked our trip – and departed from – the jetty at Porticcio beach, which you can find on Google Maps here: