Calvi’s citadel gives you a soaring view of the sea and more than a glimpse of the rugged mountainous interior that helps to define the real character of Corsica
It’s high summer, and the lights of Calvi’s harbour are illuminating the night sky. Sounds of revellers drift from the Quai Landry, where the restaurants and bars are thronged with people strolling past the yachts docked in the marina. The heat of the day has become pleasant and the air is soft; it’s the perfect moment to open a bottle of Corsican rosé and sit on the narrow balcony on the back of the 18th-century apartment that is my temporary home for a week. Who needs a villa in the middle of nowhere when you can have a lofty perch in Calvi’s medieval citadel?
Not many visitors can stay in this part of Corsica’s northern port, as its 13th-century walls can contain only so many dwellings. Apartment Mamie is on the first floor of a 1794 house that was renovated exactly 200 years later. The back of the flat is higher than the front, giving wonderful views of the port and the mountains beyond. For once, there’s no need to choose between a mountain view or a sea view, as you’re spoilt by both. There are three spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen large enough for a dining table, and whoever carried out the renovations thoughtfully kept the vaulted ceilings intact.
Below Apartment Mamie is Chez Tao, an elegant piano bar that was founded by a Russian émigré in the 1920s. It has a gorgeous terrace as well as cosy interiors inside a 16th-century former bishop’s palace, and music wafts pleasantly upwards. As I’d rather not fork out €15 for a cocktail, I’m happy with my Corsican rosé and nearly identical view of the sea up here on my balcony.
I’d been watching the comings and goings of A Candella, the restaurant directly beneath the balcony where diners while away the evening on a small wooden terrace. There is only a handful of restaurants actually within the citadel, as well as a few bars. A couple of brasseries in front of the 13th-century Cathédrale St-Jean-Baptistse, in the piazza d’Armes, looked a bit too touristy, so I was eager to see what my nearest neighbour had to offer. A Candella didn’t disappoint; in fact, it provided some of the best fish I’d had on the island.
Corsica, in spite of being surrounded by water, doesn’t particularly excel at fish dishes, preferring to turn itself towards its rugged mountainous interior for culinary inspiration. The landscape is covered in the herbs of the maquis – fennel, rosemary, myrtle – which enrich the flavour of wild boar and other animals that end up in some of France’s best charcuterie. The same goes for the delicious cheeses, whether from goat’s, ewe’s or cow’s milk. You can check it out for yourself in Annie Traiteur, a fantastic deli in the Rue Clémenceau, a wonderfully chaotic pedestrianised street in the town centre.
Carry on walking through the port, and eventually you’ll come to a shady path that leads you directly to Calvi’s beach. You can see why it’s so popular with families: children have plenty of room to splash about in the shallow waters that stretch out for several dozen metres. As there are 4km of sand to enjoy, there’s plenty of room for everyone as well some very good facilities for watersports.
If you fancy a change of scenery, there are other places within the Balagne region that are only a short drive (or train ride) away. Fifteen minutes east is Algajola, where the beach makes an agreeable contrast to the smoothness of Calvi’s. Here the sand is more like crushed gravel; the water deepens quite quickly and huge waves buffet you about. Great fun for adults, not so much for very small children.
Further along the coast is the pleasant port of L’Ile Rousse, which has an attractive covered market and a pretty central square shaded by plane trees. On the way back to Calvi, you can explore the villages of the Route des Artisans, where old crafts have been revived and the ensuing trade is now reversing the trend of rural desertification. In the villages of Pigna, Calenzana, Corbara and Coteri, you can see the artisans at work as they make and sell ceramics, glassware, cheese, charcuterie, olive oil, honey and other foodstuffs. As in Calvi, the past is keeping the present from disappearing, guaranteeing a satisfying future.
Coriscan Places offers seven nights in Apartment Mamie from £492 per person including return flights.