I’ll bet you’ve never heard of this amazing world heritage site, the Scandola Nature Reserve in France. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and is a must-do for families, boat lovers, and photographers.
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We love a boat ride. Wherever we go, we like to take boats or ferries, just to get a different perspective and take a ride on the water. We’ve ridden electric boats through canals, cruised down the river on a jungle safari, went puffin viewing in the Faroes, ferried around the Baltic, floated on a felluca down the Nile, really, we love the water.
So, getting on a boat for a half day tour of the Scandola Nature Reserve off the coast of Corsica was a no-brainer. In fact, it was one of the main reasons we were visiting this amazing island, and we couldn’t wait.
In this article:
What to Expect on a Scandola Boat Trip
We booked the first outing hoping that the morning light would still be golden. This is the problem with hiring tour boats, you are completely limited to the announced sailings and most tourists don’t want to be up and out of the hotel until after breakfast.
We headed down to the tiny dock in Porto Ota, just Porto for short, where you can pick a tour from a few companies with smaller boats or take a tour, of course. Our boat held ten passengers which gave everyone plenty of space for taking photos.
When the captain was ready for us to board, all ten of us clambered to be first in line. This is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of tours, but sometimes, like in this case, it’s what you have to do to see a spectacular sight.
Since the Scandola Nature Reserve was inscribed on France’s UNESCO World Heritage List, access to it has been strictly monitored. Only the controlled and approved boats may go into the reserve, and if you rent your own boat, you still cannot land or swim.
We found that going with the captain and his one mate was not only informative, but he knew all the caves, arches, and hidden gems that really made the ride that much more special. We didn’t see any of the rental boats in the harder to navigate areas, and I have to assume they are forbidden from them for safety reasons.
Once boarded, we sat back and relaxed for a few minutes as the boat traveled to the heart of the reserve. The light was wonderful bouncing golden off of the red pinnacles of rhyolite rock that we maneuvered around and through. The scrubland and dwarfed trees were bent and gnarled as you would expect from a windy, deserted island.
For the next couple of hours, we enjoyed the spectacular cliffs, sea birds, and even a fishing boat here and there. For lunch, the boat pulled into Girolata where we could climb to the ruined fortress, sit on the beach petting cows, or enjoy a bite to eat and a cool, icy drink. We chose the latter, but oh what a view!
We climbed back on the boat and headed off to the dock in Porto with still the majority of the afternoon ahead of us to enjoy more of Corsica’s fabulous beaches, cliffs, and views.
Where is the Scandola Nature Reserve?
The Scandola Nature Reserve is located on the western coast of the French island of Corsica. A magnificent land and water nature reserve, it has been inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List and is strictly maintained and overseen.
If you are traveling to Corsica by boat, you will undoubtedly want to explore the reserve on your own, but please take extra precautions, because there are a lot of rules and regulations. Most people will drive to the port of Porto Ota and catch a boat out to the amazing rock formations jutting from the sea.
How to Get To Scandola
Getting to Scandola (Porto Ota port) from various cities in Corsica can only be done by bus or car. We highly recommend that if you get to Corsica and do not have your own car, to go ahead and rent one. Buses go at least once a day, but they are slow.
Driving times from the larger cities in Corsica to Scandola:
From Ajaccio = 1.75 to 2 hours
From Bastia = a little over 3 hours
From Bonifacio = about 4 hours
The entire island is stunning, with plenty of places to stop and see old churches, quaint towns, museums, and of course lots of beaches. We loved our road trip around Corsica, and it made it very convenient when it came to getting to Porto first thing in the morning.
Of course, if you want to really relax and have someone else do all the driving and getting the tickets, you can take a number of tours which we talk about below.
Do you need reservations to explore the Scandola Nature Reserve?
Reservations are always a good idea when planning a boat trip into the Scandola Nature Reserve, but especially during August. August is a very busy vacation time in France, so there will be more local tourists as well as many foreign tourists.
What are the best tours to get the most out of the Scandola Nature Reserve?
The great thing about taking a tour from your hotel is simply the fact that you are taking the stress out of the experience. You cannot really enjoy the Scandola Nature Reserve without taking a boat, so why not take a tour that includes your transportation and tickets. It will be much more relaxing.
Here are a few tours that we recommend:
- From Ajaccio (all day tour) – Guided Scandola Nature Reserve Boat Tour
- From Sagone or Cargèse (6 – 7 hours) – Scandola Reserve Boat Tour
- Corsica Day Cruise to Scandola, Girolata, and Calanques Piana
Where to Stay
We highly suggest that you stay as close to Porto Ota as you can for your trip into the reserve. Here are a few hotels we found in Sagone, which is a great place to stay, especially if you are interested in doing the sunset tour above.
There’s one good hotel, Le California Hotel, which comes with a great pool and has studio apartments complete with kitchenettes. If you want to walk to a restaurant, it will be about a ten-minute walk. If you have your own car, there are plenty of villas in the town, as well, you might be interested in.
France – Easy Planning Tips
Flying into France, you’ll probably at least start in Paris, so spend a couple of days here before you move on. Here’s a few Paris tours that will ensure you’ve ticked off the most important sites:
– Hop On Hop Off Tour Of Paris ($40)
If you like doing it on your own, you may want to save money with the Paris Pass (good for transport and sightseeing for 2-6 days).
Where to Stay? There are so many great hotels in France and we love using Booking.com for the ease of comparison and finding exactly what we want.
Have you been to Corsica and the Scandola Nature Reserve?
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.