You have reached an accessible Corsican village of the interior where you can spend an interesting time.
A view of the village from the neighbouring village of Moncale.
Here is how the Calinzana Corsica site is arranged
Please note that I spell Calinzana the Corsican way. Don't be confused by the spelling Calenzana - it's the French way; you'll see both on road signs.
Here you are in Calinzana, or as the French spell it, Calenzana, in Haute Corse, about 12 kilometres SE from Calvi, the tourist resort on the north west coat of Corsica. To be more precise it's at latitude 30°20' and Longitude 41° and 275 metres above sea level.
Calinzana is a very special place, often overlooked by travelers to Corsica and very important to the history of the island. Its old name was Palania - giving the name to the whole micro-region of the Balagna. The pieve (or parish) was later known as Olmia or Ulmia, and thus you'll see these names re-used by businesses today.
The patron Saint of the village is St Restitude, a Roman virgin decapitated in AD 303.
Like many a Corsican village near the sea, Calinzana hides behind low mountains and thus was protected from invading Saracens. Though the plain was used for grazing, the position was and is cooler than being at the seas's edge. The land is rich and supported a vigorous agriculture - vines, olives, fruits, bees, sheep, goats - that is now re-invigorated after years of decline.
Just to idle away a bit of time in the peace of its squares and paved alleys, you'd think you were in another era after the glitz and crowds of Calvi, its yachts and beaches. The village sits on the lower mountain slopes and has a fresher climate than the nearby coast. It is embraced by the mountains and protected from the worst weathers, while having many varied views towards the Bay of Calvi, the Genoese towers of Caldanu and Spano, the mountain villages of Lumio (Laetitia Casta's village), Montemaggiore (Don Juan's birthplace) and Moncale as well as the Monte Grosso range of mountains.
So what's really so special? Continue reading the Introduction below or follow the links to Argentella Silver Mine • Associations • Cottage Industry • Food & Wine Producers • Hotels, Restaurants & Holiday Accommodation • Lay Brotherhood • Prince Pierre Napoleon • Punta Aja Wind Farm • St Restitude • Start of the GR20 and find out some of the answers. The others you will have to discover for yourself!
So where is Calinzana in Corsica?
(c) Copyright 2004 Lonely Planet Publications. All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.lonelyplanet.com
Calinzana is a mountain village on the coastal plain and thus enjoys granite crags and sandy beaches on its doorstep. Time stands still in this ancient village that has modernity available but not in its face.
The Monte Grosso range behind some of the many olive groves of Calinzana.
The village is attractive, but is only part of Calinzana's story. It is such a huge commune that it has many other parts, each with their own special appeal:
The forest of Bonifatu - is due south, but road access is through Moncale and left up the sinewy road to the Maison Forestière car park, where there's a café. You can use the marked paths or even get yourself on to the GR20. The river Figarella has bathing pools, though access can be tricky. The forest (Pin Laricciu mainly, but other species also at the lower levels) is magnificent and the eroded rock formations are spectacular also. High passes enable communication with the valleys of Asco, the Tartagine and the Fangu. The fauna to be seen are varied - from golden eagle to the moufflon (at high altitude and if you are a good stalker!).
The sea at the Pain de Sucre Beach - is the nearest good beach to Calinzana (off the main road between Calvi and Lumio) - about 12kms. If you like the idea of lunch in Calvi or Ile Rousse, the train stops (if you hail it!) just behind the beach. It is small, with good thick sand and some rocky bits. It has an attractive beach restaurant (parasols and sun loungers can be hired) and it has great views across the bay to Calvi. The currents can be a bit dangerous in bad weather. I saw a baby shark there last year!
On the road from Calvi to Galeria along the coastal part of the commune of Calinzana, is Porto Agro, the small inlet where Nelson, then a commander, landed his troops from the British fleet for the Siege of Calvi in 1794.
He describes landing all his guns in this perilous sport, before dragging them up the very steep mountain to dominate the French forces in occupation of the citadel. He avoided a frontal attack of the bastion and went round behind the Revellata peninsula to surprise the defenders who thought the danger was passed when the fleet sailed by. He had learned how to dismantle his ships' guns and drag them into position on land to have superior fire power. British aid had been called for by Pasquale Paoli in to dislodge the French who occupied several Corsican ports and the success of the campaign led to the creation of the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom under George III, but it only endured for two years till 1796.
Further on down the coast is the Bay of Crovani where the beach at Argentella is not greatly frequented except in high season. The beach is pebble, but oh what pebbles! They are every colour of granite you can imagine and smooth enough to make into jewelry without a stone polisher.
The road south passes by the ruined chateau of Prince Pierre sitting on its dominant hill and is well worth the climb. If you want to be spooked, visit the nearby abandoned silver mines (hence the name Argentella).
This area known as Luzipeo (the 'p' is pronounced 'b') is also an area of considerable interest to Neolithic researchers. A menhir found many years ago is one of the very few Corsican standing stones that represents woman. Jean Sicurani, a doctoral student (and a singer with the polyphony group A Filetta) has identified a newly discovered menhir, extraordinary by the fact that it has ears, though one is much lower than the other! this is because the carver had a mishap with the first try.
The start of the GR20 and Tra Mare e Monti (Nord) Footpaths is at Calinzana and is one end of the 170 kilometre GR20 mountain path, perhaps the most challenging of the Grande Randonnées, given its length - a 15-day trek for most walkers with a positive and negative height difference of 10 000 metres. You can also take the less arduous, but nonetheless breathtaking Mare e Monte path to Cargese. You can take the Mare e Monte from Bonifatu over the pass of Bonassa down to Tuani in the Fangu valley; it's a very good walk - I've done it, though you need to have someone collect you from Tuani, or you can stay the night at the gîte d'étape (and eat a hearty Corsican supper, have a bathe in the natural river 'swimming pool') and climb back over the next day.
The village and its surroundings have many walking possibilities apart from the 'big' paths. There are many marked paths that may be a little difficult because they are overgrown, but for example, you can walk all the way down to the sea or to neighbouring villages, without using the roads. Also on the road up over the Col of Marsolinu (D81) there is a rock climbing face.
A Via Ferrata is soon to be set up at Calinzana. What's a Via Ferrata, (iron ways in English), I hear you say... well, the activity originated in the Dolomites of northern Italy and were originally installed to enable Italian and Austrian troops to defend the heights of the Eastern Alps in WWI. They are means of ascent and consist of steel cables running through firmly anchored stanchions and, on the steeper sections, ladders and individual rungs bolted firmly to the rock. In the easier parts, cables are used for safety and for the climber to pull on in more difficult ones. Via Ferrata allow you to access fantastically high and exposed places with relative ease and with little or no climbing experience or skill.
Some say Calinzana formed one end of the "French Connection" and in Ian Flemming's 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' it's said that the village prosperity was attributable to the high density of gangsters whose origins could be traced to Calinzana. Perhaps Flemming was referring to the Calinzana Guerini family who developed quite a reputation for themselves in Marseille. Then there's the "Corsican Connection" theory of the Kennedy assassination and the suggestion that Antoine Guerini, the Corsican Caïd from Calinzana, organised it. If you read French, read La Saga Guerini by his niece, Marie-Christine Guerini (Flammarion, 2003). It tells the life and death stories of Antoine & his brother Mémé in the post-war Marseille 'milieu corse'. Marie-Christine makes it into a racy, though sad, story, almost like a work of fiction. For another perspective, read the hefty book by two investigative journalists, Jacques Follorou & Vincent Nouzille - Les Parrains Corses.
Here lie Antoine and Mémé Guerini and others in the family tomb in Calinzana graveyard.
Calinzana has always been a place producing enterprising people, as you will see as you progress through the Calinzana Corsica site (see especially Cottage Industry or Food and Wine Producers). In the 'old days' Calinzana was a much more important place than Calvi, for it was truly Corsican and not a Genoese garrison like the citadel of Calvi. When I arrived some twenty or so years ago, there were many parts of old Calvi that were owned by people from Calinzana, who had come down to use the port for trade or fishing.
In the C18 it was of greater size than Calvi. the vestiges of the old fortunes of Calinzana can be seen by the size of the Confrères' chapel - the Casazza - by comparison with the Oratoire in Calvi's citadel, home to its Confrèrie. the Casazza is (my guess) six times the size.
Calinzana is one of the biggest communes of Corsica and the whole of France and it nestles in the lee of Monte Grosso (1938m) and was once the most populated town in the Balagne. It is the site of the Roman Olmia and you will find a number of streets and local businesses named after it. It grew especially in the 16th century as people fled the coast and the ravages of the Barbary pirates.
During the Corsican revolution in the eighteenth century, the Battle of Calinzana (1732) was noteworthy by the killing of 200 Prussian mercenaries hired by the Genoese. General Ceccaldi led the Corsican forces, but he was more than helped by the locals.
Many folk tales tell of the Calinzannais' heroism in the battle, when they were alleged to have flung all kinds of missile from their houses, including bee hives. Two Corsican patriots, Petru Pizzini and Antoine Marcu Tortora were apparently waiting in ambush, surprised the advancing troops and encouraged the locals to join in. Ins any event, the church tower (separate from the Baroque church itself) was built to commemorate the event. A hundred corpses were buried nearby (the Campu Santu di I Tedeschi). Now it's the tower that is the menace, for bits keep falling from it!
The Tadeschi campanile that stands beside the St Blaise Church.
What is true about the village is that it has strong tradition and life remains in many ways untouched by its proximity to holiday hotspots. Also it has a maritime climate in the mountains. Many of its winding cobbled streets permit no vehicular traffic and the buildings have in the main not been 'tarted up'. The economy of the village, though not what it once was, is still very active and becoming more so.
The village has a bi-lateral EU funded partnership with Thiesi (province of Sassari) in Sardinia to share experience on the restoration of ancient buildings using traditional building methods. Progressively I hope we shall see a sensitive rehabilitation of the village.
At the same time, the village human and natural resources are being re-invigorated, as for example through the completion of a new wind farm that produces enough electricity for the entire micro-region.
Calinzana has a small supermarket, another village shop, biscuit makers, two butchers, a charcutier, a carpenter, two garages, a busy post office, two hairdressers, a furniture shop, a pharmacy, two doctors, a dentist, a district nurse, a notaire, hotels, cafés, taxis and many artisans, builders, shepherds, wine growers, a funeral director, a gendarmerie and a big primary school... In other words it's a self-contained and self-sufficient place, quite rare these days among Corsican villages, even though many residents work in Calvi.
Sadly the last bakery, Guerrini, closed in 2005 after more than 60 years, but you can still get bread made outside the village by other bakers - in the two groceries, the patisserie and at a Pain Minute.
It's a village where you can buy farmhouse cheese from shepherds, traditional Corsican biscuits from a couple of producers, locally produced olive oil... without visiting supermarkets or gift shops. A visit to Calinzana will give you an opportunity to see a bit of what the guides often call la Corse Profonde, without having to penetrate too far into the interior.
There are many services available in the village. There is are two undertaker (Buttafoghi & Gugliemacci), builders (Jean-Dominique Tonini), decorators (Chrisophe Masino - Décoration Ulysse), cabinet makers (U Giru), garden services (Georges Cunci), two forest/agricultural contractors (EDAF and L'Alivu), plumbers (Jean-Marie Debeugny),car breakers (Casse Autos Calenzannaise) and many others - so if you come to live here you should be well served!
The population of 1 800 is largely concentrated in the old village and the new dwellings in the plain spreading down towards Calvi and the coast, but its huge land surface has people very widely dispersed. The commune has 83 000 hectares and stretches both down to the coast NE of Calvi and surrounds Calvi to the coast to the SW almost to Galeria and over the mountains above the Forest of Bonifatu about half way to Monte Cinto, Corsica's highest peak.
Calinzana is on two 'tourist itineraries' - the Calvi wine route, run by the Syndicat d'Appellation Corse Calvi (tel 04 95 61 71 08) and the Craftsman's route, run by the Chambre de Métiers de la Haute Corse . Both produce brochures listing the producers and their details. Each itinerary, or a combination of the two can make very good trips. For those that are in and around Calinzana, you'll find details on the Calinzana Corsica website, others further afield are on Corsica Isula.
Another idea if you like more guidance is to join the organised visits run by Isabelle Flores, who runs a guide business called Les Clés de l'Ile de Beauté and guides in English as well as French. She lives in Calinzana (tel 06 86 96 36 57) so knows it well and in July & August does guided tours of the village every Tuesday and Friday, leaving the Square of St Blaise, the parish church, at 9am. Apart from the mountain walks of the GR20 and the Mare e Monte, you can walk cross-country to Calvi, Montemaggiore, Cassano and other Balagne villages if you have more energy.
Bianconi Scuperta (www.bianconi-scuperta.com) - Olivier Bianconi is a young local man who has always been fascinated by his local culture and heritage. He has now established a set of guided tours in the Balagne (including one covering Calinzana and surrounding villages) to visit sites and share their history and significance.
If you want any more pointers to enjoying a visit to Calinzana, you could do worse than asking us. If you'd like to visit more of Corsica, then go to Corsica Isula - a website with a vast coverage of all aspects of Corsica.
calinzana.corsica-isula.com © 2005 William Keyser