The rock formations visible from the road are not a patch on what you can see from the waymarked trails winding through the Calanches, which vary from easy ambles to strenuous stepped ascents. An excellent leaflet highlighting the pick of the routes is available free from tourist offices. Whichever one you choose, leave early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat in summer, and take plenty of water.
Walk one: The most popular walk is to the Château Fort (1hr), which begins at a sharp hairpin in the D81, 700m north of the Café Roches Rouges (look for the car park and signboard at the roadside). Passing the famous Tête de Chien, it snakes along a ridge lined by dramatic porphyry forms to a huge square chunk of granite resembling a ruined castle. Just before reaching it there’s an open platform from where the views of the gulf and Paglia Orba, Corsica’s third-highest mountain, are superb – one of the best sunset spots on the island – but bring a torch to help find the path back.
Walk two: For a more challenging extension to Walk one, begin instead at the Roches Rouges Café. On the opposite side of the road, two paths strike up the hill: follow the one on your left (nearest the stream, as you face away from the café), which zigzags steeply up the rocks, over a pass and down the other side to rejoin the D81 in around 1hr 15min. About 150m west of the spot where you meet the road is the trailhead for the Château Fort walk, with more superb views.
Walk three: A small oratory niche in the cliff by the roadside, 500m south of Café Roches Rouges, contains a Madonna statue, Santa Maria, from where the wonderful sentier muletier (1hr) climbs into the rocks above. Before the road was blasted through the Calanches in 1850, this old paved path, an extraordinary feat of workmanship supported in places by dry-stone banks and walls, formed the main artery between the villages of Piana and Ota. After a very steep start, the route contours through the rocks and pine woods above the restored mill at Pont de Gavallaghiu, emerging after one hour back on the D81, roughly 1.5km south of the starting point. Return by the same path.