Sharply defined against a hazy backdrop of snow-capped mountains, Calvi's situation atop a promontory at the western end of a half-moon-shaped bay is a spectacular sight. Below, a finely drawn strip of red-roofed houses and spidery palm trees delineate the Basse-Ville (lower city) with its yacht-crammed marina. The town beach sweeps in a graceful semi-circle around the bay.
From its beginning as a fishing village, Calvi was victim to relentless raids. It wasn't until the arrival of the Genoese in 1268 that the town became a stronghold. A Corsican nobleman built a huge citadel on the windswept rock overlooking the port and named it Calvi. The Republic of Genoa granted Calvi special privileges, such as free trading and tax exemptions, in order to ensure the loyalty of the population.
Calvi suffered a terrible siege by the Turks and French in 1553. In 1794, Admiral Horatio Nelson's fleet launched a devastating attack which ended in surrender. During World War II, the town served as a military base from where arms were smuggled to mainland France. Calvi has been home to the Foreign Legion since 1962.
Perched above the marina is the Citadelle. The views are magnificent from its bastions. Below the Citadelle extends the elegant Quai Landry, lined with attractive restaurants and cafes. This is the focus of Calvi's social life and the best place to get a feel of the town. Take time to visit the splendid 13th-century church of St. Jean Baptiste. It contains an ebony statue that was paraded through town in 1553, shortly before the besieging Turkish forces fell back. Credited with saving Calvi from the Saracens, it has since been the object of great veneration.
A hangout for European glitterati in the 1950s, Calvi today has the ambiance of an old-fashioned English resort. Add to its visual beauty a perpetually mild climate and a very friendly atmosphere, and you will understand why Calvi has been attracting year-round visitors for quite some time.