You might think, with good reason, that the most famous son of Corsica was Napoleon Bonaparte. There is, however, a valid pretender for this title, a man of legendary status whose maritime peregrinations would change the world forever: Christopher Columbus. “But wasn’t he from Genoa?”, you might ask (again with good reason). Well, yes and no. According to many (including most Corsicans), Columbus was born in the town of Calvi, which, from the 13th to the 18th century, was an integral part of the Genoese Maritime Empire.
The best way to arrive in Calvi is as Columbus left: by boat. If this is not feasible, try to go out on a boat to see the town and its bay from the water. Only then will you be able to fully appreciate beauty of Calvi and its setting: the magnificent, impregnable citadel towering above the red-tiled roofs below, the arc of forested mountains rising in the background, the picturesque marina bobbing with fishing boats and pleasure craft, and the crescent moon of sandy beach running all the way around the bay.
In the summer months, locals and tourists alike head to Calvi’s lovely beach, whose great length - about 6km - ensures there’s room for everyone...
Once on shore, you’ll be delighted by the maze of streets, the numerous opportunities to stop of for a coffee, an ice-cream or an al fresco lunch. In the late afternoon, head up to the 15th century citadel, pop into the Cathédrale St-Jean-Baptiste, take in the breathtaking views, watch the sun melt into the western sea and retire to one of the bars or bistros for an aperitif or dinner. If you have a penchant for history, take yourself back to 1794 and the Siege of Calvi, when the fleet of Admiral Lord Nelson bombarded the town and the citadel. Nelson may have won the battle, but he lost an eye in doing so.
In the summer months, locals and tourists alike head to Calvi’s lovely beach, whose great length – about 6km - ensures there’s room for everyone. There are lidos renting out sunloungers and umbrellas, beach bars and lots of water sports to choose from.
If you’d prefer not to spend much time in a supine position working on your tan, there’s plenty to do in the area once you’ve explored the town. Nature lovers could take a boat trip down the coast to the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site of Scandola, a marine and land reserve known for its dramatic formations of red rhyolite cliffs and sea stacks, and its flourishing array of fauna, including dolphins, seals, gannets, ospreys and gulls.
Another possibility is a hike up to the little chapel of Notre Dame de la Serra, perched on a hill overlooking the town and the sea. The views from here are absolutely stunning. If, after all this, you still have time to spare, other excursions might include trips up the coast to the delightful towns and beaches of Algajola and L'Île-Rousse.
In the summer, Calvi comes alive to the sound of music, with a series of festivals and concerts in the citadel and around town. These include Calvi on the Rocks, an electronic music and beach party festival at the beginning of July, and Rencontres Polyphoniques de Calvi, a five-day festival in the middle of September that celebrates traditional Corsican choral music. Meanwhile, on the 15th August, there’s an impressive fireworks display in honour of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.