Chances are you’ve heard of Corsica but might not be familiar with Calvi, a stunner of a town on the north-west coast of the island best known for its dreamy beaches, twinkly port and impressive medieval citadel, which sits proudly on the headland. Named after the calvus ‘bald’ rock that forms the foundations of the citadel, it’s a truly picturesque little spot that really comes alive in the summer, not least due to an array of cultural and music festivals.
Here are just five of many reasons to pay this undersung town a visit, asap.
For such a small place, Calvi sure has a colourful history. A busy port in Roman times, Calvi was just a chilled fishing village until the Citadel was built in 1268 following disputes between the island’s bigwigs, and was the site of many further feuds over the years. Locals claim that none other than Christopher Columbus was born right here during the Genoese occupation (you can still see the house in the Citadel). It’s also said that Admiral Lord Nelson lost an eye storming the Citadel during the Siege of Calvi in 1794.
Today, that same magnificent fortress still stands strong and is a must-visit, filled with atmospheric cobbled passages and steeped in history. Grab an audio tour from the tourist office to journey back in time as you stroll around, and be sure to head up to the Baroque Cathédrale Saint Jean-Baptiste, which stands at the highest point overlooking the town.
If you love exploring by foot, you’re in the right place, as Calvi has tons of routes and trails snaking through and around it. One of the most popular hikes is the circular walk around Revellata and the Revellata lighthouse. The peninsula just outside the town is a nature reserve that’s full of history – you can still see the ruins of the house of one Prince Pierre-Napoléon Bonaparte. Then there’s the walk up to the Notre Dame de la Serra chapel, a lovely 15th-century building on a hilltop with panoramic views down across the bay. For another eye-popping view, head up to the Capu di a Veta or the Cross of the Austrians. This seven-metre-high cross weighs-in at 400kg and overlooks the Gulf of Calvi.
If all that hiking sounds like too much hard work and you’d rather just flop on a beach, you’re still in the right place. The main shoreline of Calvi Beach is pretty special, boasting 6km of pristine, white powdery sand, clear blue water and views of the citadel. Even in the summer there’s plenty of space for everyone, and it’s a great spot for families thanks to warm water and a gentle gradient. If you’ve got a car, it’s worth the short trip to Alga Beach, a smaller stretch of sand with a different – but still gorgeous – view of the bay. Arrive early for this one as it’s only 100-meters-long, so prime spots go quickly. Further towards neighbouring Lumio is Sainte Restitude, a small sandy enclave where you can hire a deckchair and chillax. While you’re there, have a sift around in the sand to try and spot a lucky Eye of St Lucia shell. Further along still is Arinella, another small and perfectly formed spot housing a small seafood restaurant with tables on the sand. Finally, a 15-minute-drive from Calvi you’ll find Aregno Beach, another sandy favourite with all the usual facilities that’s often a little quieter than the town’s main sands.
If that’s not enough sand action for you, more stunners can be found just a boat ride away. Désert des Agriates is a 16,000-hectare natural haven and has some of the most eye-wateringly beautiful beaches in the area, including Saleccia, with white sand dunes and turquoise sea. You can take a five-hour round trip here from Calvi, which includes snorkelling time in the clear water. However, the most popular boat trip from Calvi has to be the journey to Scandola Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you can’t access by car or on foot. Many boat trips to Scandola also stop at the beautiful old fishing village of Girolata and nearby caves.
First-time visitors to Calvi are usually surprised to learn that the town has a thriving music scene and lots of fab events to plan a trip around. From June 30 to July 3 2023 there’s Calvi on the Rocks, a week-long dance marathon that’s been going for 20 years, featuring a stage under the spectacular citadel and secret beach parties. For something a bit more sedate, try Jazz in Calvi (June 22-25 2023), which has gigs taking place across various spectacular venues in the town. Finally, don’t miss the chance to investigate the much-lauded Polyphonic Song Festival, an annual event in September that celebrates singers from around the world.