Calvi is a destination not to be missed in Corsica, in large part thanks to its fortress. The citadel of Calvi is a unique place between sea and mountain, fortified on a small peninsula at the gates of the city.
Here is our guide to help you visit the citadel: access, practical advice, what to see…
This guide is completely independent, based on our experiences. We visited the area anonymously, making our own choices, and paying all our bills in full.
Why visit the citadel of Calvi
Is the citadel of Calvi worth it?
If you are in the area, visiting the citadel is a must(see all our suggestions to visit Calvi). It is even the main attraction.
It makes Calvi recognizable on all the photos.
It is surprising because it is really located between mountains and sea.
The fortifications were mainly built under the Genoese government, between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries to defend the area.
The citadel seems to float barely attached to the mainland.
It is not as impressive as the Mont-Saint-Michel in France, but it is worth a visit.
However, be aware that the buildings inside are not in very good condition. Don’t expect a pretty village with flowery alleys… But we love this somewhat austere atmosphere.
What to see in the citadel
During your visit to the citadel, we advise you not to miss:
- The pro-cathedral of St. John the Baptist
- The oratory of Saint Anthony
- The panoramas on the bay of Calvi from the fortifications
More places to see, details and photos after the practical tips.
Virtual tour video
Here is a short video, to give you an idea of what a visit to the citadel looks like.
Tips and Map – Citadel of Calvi, Corsica
Where is the citadel of Calvi in Corsica – Map
- In the Balagne region(see our guide to the region)
- In the city of Calvi
- Île-Rousse to Calvi = 30min
- Saint-Florent to Calvi = 1h30
- Bastia to Calvi = 2h
- Ajaccio to Ile-Rousse = 3h (via the inland)
- Here is a map to help you find your way:
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How to get to the citadel
You can reach Calvi:
- by car on a day trip from Île-Rousse, Saint-Florent or Bastia
- by car during a road trip in Corsica
- by plane directly from France
- by train from Ile-Rousse (train from the beaches of U Trinichellu
The citadel is a heart of the old city.
There is a parking lot at the foot of the citadel of Calvi. It is called Paking Christopher Columbus or parking of the citadel.
There is a charge for this service (hourly rate, no fixed price).
If you want to park there, arrive early in the summer because it fills up quickly.
Otherwise, you can find other parking lots in the city, within a 5 to 10 minute walk. They are all paying.
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How much time to allow
To explore the citadel, we recommend that you plan for 1 to 1.5 hours depending on your interest in the buildings and views. Or 2h to 2h30 if you also visit the art museum.
If you want to know more about the structure, history and the different buildings you can see, there is an audio tour.
You must go to the tourist office to get a reader. The audio tracks are available in 4 languages including French, English, German and Italian.
In addition to explanations about the history of the fortress and its characters, you can enjoy traditional music.
Treasure hunt – the citadel of Calvi with children
If you are visiting with a child, consider the scavenger hunt program.
For a small fee, walkmans are available:
- Monday to Friday
- in the citadel, under the entrance porch, from early June to late September
- in the marina offices from late September to early June
The treasure hunt takes children to 11 locations to find a 4-digit code.
Available only in French.
Practical tips and map
- Go to the tourist office or to the reception of your hotel to get a map of the city. It includes the citadel and its streets.
- Be careful in the citadel there are many floors made of cobblestones and stones. The pavements are uneven. We advise you to avoid wearing heels.
- Between the rocks and the slopes and stairs, the Citadel is not really recommended for people with walking difficulties.
- The Citadel is a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
- If you come at sunrise, it will first be behind the mountains before illuminating the city.
Where to eat – restaurants in the citadel
You can find several bars and restaurants in the citadel. Some with terrace and view.
The most famous place in the town is the A Scola ice cream parlour. Just in front of the cathedral, you can find artisanal ice creams, with surprising flavors such as “maquis”.
One of us likes coffee…
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The citadel seen from the outside
Before you even go to explore it, we recommend that you admire the citadel from the outside. This gives you a better idea of its size and location. You will appreciate the alleys even more once inside.
From the beach
The best place to admire the citadel is from the beach of the Pine Grove.
In Calvi, there is a long sandy beach. It is very pleasant for a walk, especially at sunrise.
If you go there shortly after sunrise, once the sun has passed over the mountains, the light illuminates the peninsula and the citadel.
From the south road
Coming from the main road from the south, you also have a view of the top of the citadel. From this side the bell tower of the pro-cathedral is clearly visible.
From the other side of the bay
Finally, if you go to discover the beaches around the bay of Calvi, you will have other views on the citadel. You are much further away (as in the photo above, taken at Punta di Spanu, one of our favorite places in Balagne) but you also have views of the mountains!
Learn more about the beaches around Calvi.
Best things to do in La Balagne
Discover all our articles on the region:
The fortifications and the Salt Tower
The citadel is still surrounded by its fortifications and towers.
The beginning of the construction of the fortifications dates from the 13th century. And they were reinforced between the 1X and the XVIII, by the Genoese administration.
It was a strategic place that had to be defended.
At the harbor level, an isolated tower is connected to the citadel by a corridor. It is the tower of the navy, also called Salt Tower.
It was built in 1495 and served as a watchtower.
But later, it becomes the place of collection of taxes of which the gabelle (tax on salt) and becomes a warehouse of storage.
Sorry, we seem to have forgotten to take her picture. We’ll be back soon.
Entrance – Sign Civitas Calvi Semper Fidelis
Before you begin your visit, stop at the porch and look up. Notice the inscription “Civitas Calvi Semper Fidelis”.
It is a bit the motto of the city which means “City of Calvi always faithful”. It was given to the inhabitants by the Genoese government to thank them for their loyalty to the republic.
Bust of Christopher Columbus
And at the foot of the fortifications, also outside, do not miss the bust of Christopher Columbus.
It is a bronze bust with the dates 1436 – 1506. Some say that he was born in Calvi. While the city of Genoa also claims this fact.
Nothing is certain.
Inside the citadel, you will find many multi-storey buildings. Houses built in the XVIII and XIX centuries.
Unfortunately they are almost all in bad condition.
There is a special atmosphere in the citadel. Few stores, some workshops…
If you haven’t taken the audio guide, we suggest you just go on an adventure and get lost in the small labyrinth. Don’t worry, you will always find your way out.
At the northern tip of the fortress, you find a little more greenery.
Where to stay in Calvi
Calvi is an excellent destination to stay during your vacations in Corsica.
Here are our suggestions for where to sleep.
Option 1 – Around the marina
The heart of Calvi is at the foot of the citadel around the marina. Here you have a wide choice of hotels, bars and restaurants.
We recommend the Casa Bianca hotel with its modern decor and beautiful views
– see pictures and availability
Option 2 – Along the beach
The beach of Calvi is all in length.
You can find more hotel and lodging options along the beach with its promenade that allows you to walk everywhere: camping, hotel, rentals…
We recommend the Hotel Onda where you will sleep almost with your feet in the water…
See prices, pictures and availability
Option 3 – on the heights
And if you prefer to have beautiful views, you can choose a hotel a little higher up in the city or even in my villages above, to sit on your balcony and relax facing the sea and the mountains. To have more calm.
We suggest a dreamy and luxurious stay in the hotel La Villa Calvi.
See prices, pictures and availability
Discover the availability of the best rated accommodations in Calvi
or see our complete guide on where to sleep in Calvi (coming soon)
If you are looking for special places to see in the citadel. Here are the most notable ones.
Saint Anthony’s Oratory
This door is hidden in the middle of the buildings.
It is surprisingly contrasted with the walls around.
It feels like we are breaking a ban, but the place is open, it’s the oratory of Saint Anthony.
It dates from the 16th century. Since its construction, it has been occupied by the brotherhood of St. Anthony the Abbot, dedicated to helping people in difficulty.
Inside, take note:
- 16th century frescoes (chapels with remarkable frescoes in Corsica)
- Christ on the cross, in polychrome wood and silver embossed dating from the seventeenth century (carried in procession during the Holy Week)
- 2 polychrome wooden statues of Saint Anthony Abbot (14th and 15th century)
Pro-cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Originally founded in the 13th century, it was rebuilt in 1570 and again several times. It became a cathedral in 1576 under Gregory XIII.
The version we see today dates from the 18th century.
During the Holy Week, all the religious processions start from here.
And it also hosts the festival of polyphonic songs, every year.
Inside, take note:
- the altarpiece of Barbagelata dating from 1498
- the marble altar
- the gilded wooden pulpit from 1757
- the Black Christ which was carried in procession in 1555 and would have protected the city.
Museum of Art MUDACC
Since 2020, under the first vault of the entrance of the Citadel, contemporary works are presented in the Museum of Arts of the Citadel of Calvi (MUDACC).
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
- The ancient Palace of the Governors called Sampiero Barracks (1496)
- The Old Palace of the Bishops of Sagone (16th century), where the bar Chez Tao is located.
- The birthplace of Christopher Columbus – if he was really born here – with a simple plaque.
- The house where Lorenzo Giubegga, godfather of Napoleon I, stayed
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Panoramas from the citadel
And from the citadel, you can also enjoy a breathtaking view.
Towards the bay of Calvi
At the tip of the citadel, you can land on the fortification walls.
From there you have magnificent views over the bay of Calvi. Unfortunately on the maint, you have the sun in front in this direction.
But it is still very beautiful with all the mountain peaks in contrast to the sea.
Towards the peninsula of Revellata
On the other side, you also have views of the entire peninsula of La Revellata.
You can see its white lighthouse at the tip and the tiny island that ends it.
About the city of Calvi
And at other places of the ramparts, you also have beautiful views, from above, on the old town and the marina.
History of the Citadel
Traces of occupation of the Bay of Calvi have been found since prehistoric times.
With the Roman Empire, Calvi became a strategic base. Many military personnel are in place and the city is growing.
But in the 5th century, the barbarian invasions destroyed Calvi.
The 13th century was a turning point for the city. The lords fight for the city and the promontory. The inhabitants have to endure sieges and killings. In 1278 he asks for protection and the Republic of Genoa.
The construction of the citadel then began.
The citadel was conquered in 1420 by the expedition of Alfonso V of Aragon, after a long resistance. But the inhabitants, led by Pietro Baglioni, revolted the following year. Calvi remains faithful to the Republic of Genoa.
In 1453, the administration of St. George took over the city and the salt tower was built. The inhabitants continue to enjoy the same rights as under the Republic of Genoa.
Around 1520, Calvi was one of the main cities of Corsica with about 3 500 inhabitants.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, Gieronimo Levento had important works carried out in the citadel.
Its history continues to be shaken with several dominations including the English for 2 years. Calvi became French again and remained a military fortress from 1938 until the liberation.
How to get to Corsica
Option 1: by ferry
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Airports in Bastia, to visit the North, Figari to visit the South, or Ajaccio convenient for all Corsica.
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