Calvi, Corsica

Friendly, compact old town town, a dramatic citadel, gorgeous sweep of sandy beach, stunning mountainous backdrop, plus French sophistication and Italian flair — and still hot in September.

First impressions
Calvi impresses at lots of different levels, whether it’s the turquoise and blue sea; the long sweep of the fine sandy beach with beach bar/restaurants ending with charming rocky inlets looking straight across the bay to the dramatic citadel; the marina with it’s impressive array of superyachts; the Quai Landry with sophisticated dining and drinking options at the bars and restaurants that line the harbour; the charming metre gauge railway that toots and chugs along the back of the beach to L’Ile Rousse all day in summer, with links to Bastia or Ajaccio twice a day all year round; the old town focussing on Rue Clemenceau and adjacent narrow streets and alleyways with shops and yet more dining opportunities; the huge imposing walls of the citadel made more dramatic with four and five story buildings adding to it’s height and finally the backdrop of the green hills and grey jagged peaks of the mountains which seem to attract the clouds leaving the bay cloudless for days on end.

Getting there and around
With it’s own small airport, or a fast [fast for Corsica] road from Bastia [Easyjet flights from Bristol, Gatwick and Manchester], car ferries to Nice and Marseille, Calvi is pretty easy to get to. At the port you can hire motorboats to visit the more remote bays, or book for trips to the marine reserves at Scandola and Girlolata or even get to Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica by sea. Popular with windsurfers and kite-surfers too, you can hire equipment for these sports on the beach in Calvi in high season or venture into the hills on the Route des Artisans de Balagne, an ‘itinerary wich [sic] helps you meet the men and women in their studios and workshops, who have chosen to use their hands to express their personal production, over a glass and to the strains of the pirula (Corsican flute) or the cetere (local “sitar”). More information is available at the Tourist office.

Great beaches and bargain wine
We’re here in September and although the temperatures are still high, the offshore breeze keeps the humidity down to a balmy level. We ventured round the bay to Lumio and the Plage de l’Arinella. Head out along the main N197, past the Foreign Legion base [2nd Parachute Regiment who practice drops in the bay] down a longish, winding road past villas and gardens to die for, across the train track and there is a car park shaded with tamarisk trees, a charming beach bar [breakfast and lunch only in September] and the most beautiful beach worthy of the Maldives or Seychelles, but a lot closer to home. Sunbathing and snorkelling seem to be the main occupations here and it’s more protected from the wind than the main beach. We spotted it from the Tramway de Balange as the train that shuttles from Calvi to L’Ile Rousse until November is called. Apart from the charming market and main square — Place Paoli, the highlight of our visit L’Ile Rousse was the discovery of two vineyard outlets selling draught Corsican wine at very modest prices as well as their top quality bottled vintages. Go to www.vinsdecorse.com for a full listing of growers and outlets.

Charming hotel and good value eating
For self-catering visitors, apartments are available in the citadel and the town. Villas range from the modest to the luxurious — an indoor and outdoor swimming pool? — but a number of the hotels in the town tend towards the bland. One exception is the Hostellerie de l’Abbaye, BP 18 – Route de Santore, 20261 [www.hostellerie-Abbaye.com] popular with couples and small groups, some rooms overlook a charming garden and the thick, thick walls, double glazed French windows and air conditioning ensured us of very peaceful nights after an evening of dining al fresco. The reception staff resolved our hire car problem with several phone calls without charge.

There’s a surfeit of eating options in Calvi, from Michelin starred establishments [L’Alivu at La Villa, www.hotel-lavilla.com] to moules frites by the kilo at the harbour, in addition to rustic restaurants in the hill villages. Great pizzas from a wood fired oven, Corsican charcuterie and good fresh salads make Via Marina [18, Rue Clemenceau, no reservations] a good bet, with carafes of rose on the small balcony terrace overlooking the harbour, it’s both romantic and very good value for money. For a more formal meal, a short walk out of town towards Punta Revellata brings you to U Fanale [Place Galetta, 04 95 65 18 82, www.ufanale.com, reservations for terrace advisable at weekends]. Beautifully prepared and presented, the a-la carte or set menus show real flair in the kitchen and with wine by the pichet or well priced bottles, the friendly staff make an evening meal on the terrace a real event — well work making a reservation for.


Travels with a donkey
If hiking and walking is your thing, the long distance ‘Grand Randonee’ GR 20 starts at Calenzana a few miles from Calvi. It traverses Corsica diagonally from north to south and terminates at Conca a bit north of Porto Veccio on the south east coast of the island. It's 180km long with a halfway point at Vizzavona accessible by rail. But if you don’t want to carry your own pack for nearly three weeks, join a tour with donkeys to take the weight. There are also coast- to-coast walks in the north and south of the island. You do see a lot of people with backpacks striding out along the coast and on the roads too. The mountainous backbone of the island is stunning and well worth investigating by foot, by car or on the train. As we overheard: ‘Corsica is like Wales on steroids’.