Calvi and Around
112km (70 miles) W of Bastia
Few destinations in France boast such an awesome emplacement. Calvi’s 15th century citadel pokes proudly into the Mediterranean, and offers sweeping views across the Corsica’s northern coast. And what a view it is. A dozen of the island’s famous beaches taper eastwards like a quicksilver necklace. Down below the scene is similarly timeless. Fresh fruit is unloaded from the Bastia train, and fishing boats haul in the daily catch, even if they are dwarfed by the occasional Corsica Ferry that putters across from the mainland.
Like most Corsican towns there’s no “must-see” in Calvi; it’s more a place to simply be. Sipping espressos on the quay, snorkeling beneath the citadel, or sunbathing on the endless beach sum up the town’s sunny charms.
Heading westwards to Bastia the scene becomes even more relaxing. Visitors may drive, cycle, ride the train, or even walk to the secret sandy stretches of Plage de l'Arinella and Plage Restitude. One of the final stops before the Désert des Agriates is Algajola. A cute walled town with an impossibly sandy beach, it is one of the train stops on the Calvi-Bastia line: Simply alight in your swimming trunks and walk into the sea. Beach restaurants, lazy hotels, and an additional small naturist beach make up the fun.
Those visitors craving a cultural break may drive up to the artsy village of Pigna high above Algajola. Looking out to sea from 500m (1,650ft) on high, its leafy pedestrian-only streets offer a bucolic break from the coastal heat. It’s also the place to nibble Corsica’s inland delights, including Calenzana goat’s cheese, chestnut beer, and cured pork and liver figatellu sausage.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Corsica (www.bestwestern.fr; tel. 04-95-65-03-64), is the pick of Calvi's hotels. It has free shuttle bus to cover the mile-long walk to the citadel and town center. Double rooms cost from 149€ to 349€. As accommodation is limited in town, many visitors source a homestay using Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). Down the coast in Algajola, the Hotel Stella Mare (www.stellamarehotel.com; tel. 04-95-60-71-18), is a luxurious 16-room villa set amid tropical flower-strewn grounds. Double rooms range from 70€ to 140€.
UNESCO-Protected Scandola Nature Reserve
It takes a lot for UNESCO to inscribe a natural region to its prestigious World Heritage List. That’s why the Scandola Nature Reserve, just south of Calvi, really does astound. UNESCO claims that: “The site includes a coastline of astonishing beauty studded with offshore islets and sea pillars rising out of translucent waters.” We’d certainly agree with that.
A local law prohibiting environmental destruction from 1930 predates the UNESCO listing by over 40 years. Since then, the Nature Reserve has slowly returned to its feral state. Osprey and Peregrine falcons circle above, as Cory's shearwaters and Audouin's gulls bob on the waves. A colossal amount of wildlife enjoys the serenity under the surface, including spiny lobsters and giant groupers, all safe from human intrusion. There are 450 varieties of seaweed alone. The real star is the coastline itself. Blood red cliffs rise for 900m (2,952 feet), cracking open to reveal sandy beaches, basalt pillars, and tiny islands of pure porphyry volcanic stone.
Lucky are those visitors with their own private boat. The rest of us may indulge on a boat trip with Colombo Line (www.colombo-line.com; tel. 04-95-65-32-10), in Calvi Port. But make sure you book their full 5-hour trip, which includes a stop at Girolata, in order to get as far into the Nature Reserve as possible. Otherwise take a less expensive tour from Porto, a resort due south of Calvi, on the good ship Explorateur (www.promenade-en-mer-porto.com; tel. 07-77-81-50-14). Tours cost 42€ per person, and some voyages stop for snorkeling trips en-route. Passengers may even spot a pod of dolphins on the trip home.
Bastia and around
112km (70 miles) E of Calvi
Bastia is Corsica at its most elegant, cosmopolitan, and classy. As the capital of the Northern Corsica (or Haute-Corse) region it’s blessed with vast piazzas, countless churches, and over 100 pavement cafés. Like Calvi, it’s immersed in year-round sunshine. Yet it adds boutiques, boat trips, and a fabulous weekend market to the mix. We dare you to drink a pastis on place Saint Nicolas at sundown and not wonder why the rest of Europe isn’t sitting at the adjoining table.
But Bastia is a tale of two cities, not one. Step through the winding lanes south of place Saint Nicolas and into the Vieux Port. This icon of Corsica’s past is stuffed with flamboyantly painted fishing boats of every size. Their daily catch is loaded onto the restaurant tables that occupy every spare inch around the quay. A kaleidoscope of towering townhouses forms an amphitheater of color around the harbor. It’s a postcard-perfect sight.
Corsica’s wild side is most assuredly Cap Corse. This spiny peninsula thrusts north from Bastia. It’s a land of wild herbs, empty beaches, and tough locals, who cling to traditional mountain life with seemingly no intention of ever leaving. One solitary coastal road rings this endless spit of land. It would be considered courageous to drive around it by car, brave by motorbike, and foolhardy by bicycle, but each journey will deliver memories to last a lifetime.
Where to Stay
Once again, holiday rental sites like Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) overcome Bastia’s general lack of good hotels. One exception is the charming Hotel Central (www.centralhotel.fr; tel. 04-95-31-69-72) near the main place Saint Nicolas. Double rooms feature period fittings and antique floors, and range from 77€ to 180€. On Cap Corse, the stunning Hotel Brando (www.castelbrando.com; tel. 04-95-30-10-30) should not be missed. Soak up the pool and Jacuzzi, or wander to the beach over the road. Double rooms cost from 99€ to 199€.
Corsica’s Lost World: Désert des Agriates
Some of the world’s best beaches skirt rugged moonscapes far removed from Europe’s more gentrified shores. The Désert des Agriates—15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of cactus, olives, wild figs, and even wilder donkeys—is one of them. The brave can hike the 3-day sentier littoral, or coastal trail, that runs along the northern Corsican coast. Less hardy visitors may sail into the park on day ferry Le Popeye from the resort of St-Florent (www.lepopeye.com; tel. 06-62-16-23-76) instead. Tickets cost 20€, or 12€ for children aged 10 and under. Launches deposit their spellbound passengers at the peerless Plage du Lodu. The heart-stoppingly beautiful beach of Plage Saleccia is a 45-minute hike from here.
But Plage Saleccia was nearly placed off-limits in the 1970s. The adjoining Désert des Agriates was once Corsica’s breadbasket, but over-intensive production over the centuries had reduced this grain producing area to wasteland. When mainland officials were searching for France’s next nuclear test site, they stumbled on this blank spot on the map. Fortunately, near atomic disaster was averted. The beach’s potential as a film set backdrop was proved by the filming of WWII movie “The Longest Day“ (although the actors no doubt had to bring their own water and parasols, as guests must still do today). With no commerce for miles around, the beach’s movie set looks remain intact today.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.