We went to sleep in Italy and woke up in France. Today the Noordam docked in Calvi, a small seaside town on the northwest side of the island of Corsica. Corsica was at one time attached to the French mainland and the landscape is actually a continuation of the Alps. The climate varies from humid shipping villages to red rock deserts to winding mountain roads. Calvi itself sits in a harbor so small it cannot hold the Noordam, meaning tender boats were required to go ashore. Ships typically use the lifeboats for tender. The Noordam’s lifeboats each hold150 passengers. The passengers with booked excursions boarded priority tenders, and then anytime after 8:30am anyone wishing to go ashore receives tender tickets in the Queen’s Lounge. By the time we arrived at the Queen’s Lounge at 9:00am it was already open tender, meaning the traffic was light enough to allow ad hoc trips to shore.
The main attraction in Calvi is the medieval citadel. It looms large over the harbor and if you’re up for the hike, the church at the top boasts the best panorama of the surrounding area. Taxis can only drive up to a point before the ancient winding streets become too narrow and steep for vehicles. The citadel is rumored to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus in the 1440s. Though historians debate that claim, it is not debated that Napolean Bonaparte was born on Calvi. He is recorded as saying he never felt at home until he approached Calvi from the sea and could smell the rosemary and lavender.
We decided to spend the day at the beach. We knew at some point on this trip we wanted a lazy Mediterranean beach day…golden light, clear water, the daily catch for lunch, the whole schtick. There are 13 public beaches in the town of Calvi so we figured this was our best shot. We selected Plage de Calvi because it’s an easy 20 minute walk from the tender drop point and offers stunning views of the citadel. To get there, put your back to the citadel and walk through town. Though Calvi was still sleepy at 9:00am, cafes along the waterfront were slowly coming to life and a few shops on Quai Landry were opening. The street closest to the water is the most touristy, then the second street up from the water less so, and by the third street up from the water you’re practically a local. Streets are lined with flowering trees, cafes, antique shops, pharmacies, winding side streets, and shuttered apartment windows. It’s adorable.
I read you could rent chairs and umbrellas on private sections of the beach, typically outside restaurants. Jen wanted to investigate kayaking. On the way to the beach we came across the Calvi Nautique Club offering kayak rentals by the hour, half day, or full day. Jen opted for an hour, enough time to get her around the citadel. I opted to continue the search for the mythical umbrellas (none were set up as I walked along the beach). About 10 minutes down the shore there is a restaurant called Le Lido, the very spot I was hoping to find. There were 12 lounge chairs set up and I requested they also set up an umbrella for me. The man working at Le Lido seemed happy to do it (likely because he was about to earn 10 Euro in the off season the moment I sat in his chair), but he was confused by my swimsuit. I suppose it is technically October. It was a humid, breezy, partly cloudy, and 76 degrees; I was definitely going to swim one way or another.
The water temperature was just slightly cool, which is exactly what I was hoping for. The restaurant owner’s reaction may have been somewhere between confused and concerned, but this Scandinavian gal was perfectly cozy. Other than two local senior citizens in swim caps and goggles, who clearly swim the length of the bay as their morning exercise routine, I was the only person anywhere in the water for nearly two hours. The shelf of Plage de Calvi is quite long and you can walk the length of a football field out into the water before you’ve even covered your shoulders. The water is so clear it’s like it’s not even there. All the way out where I was floating (maybe 150 yards) I could still look straight down to my feet and watch the ripples on the sandy floor. What a gorgeous, unspoiled secret Calvi is. I’d heard of Corsica, of course, but had never particularly thought to come here in any of my travels. Now, much like Lucca yesterday, I’m wondering how to rent an apartment for at least one month. I’d love to regularly join those two old men on their morning swim.
Jen eventually joined me and relayed the following details about her kayak excursion: The sit on top kayak, paddle, life vest, and dry barrel were 13 Euro for one hour. She was able to make it around to the opposite side of the citadel in 20 minutes, nearly crashing with a Noordam tender en route but all is well. She easily paddled back into the bay, found me where I was floating, chatted, posed for a photo or two or twelve, and arrived back at the rental shop in under an hour. Tandem kayaks are also available to rent (referred to by avid kayakers like Jen as the “Divorce Makers”), as are paddle boards.
There was a restaurant next to Le Lido that seemed to have a very low key snack bar style (and the name of the restaurant was in English, so not a good sign). We were pleased to have selected our posh location when we ordered charcuterie for lunch and this loveliness was delivered. We paid 16 Euro for the meal and 10 Euro for the use of each lounge chair. It was 36 Euro well spent for one of the most relaxing days I’ve had on this entire itinerary.
Tomorrow the Noordam docs in the principality of Monaco. Jen and I are taking an excursion to Nice and Eze. Be sure to follow along in real time on Instagram and Twitter @fourthirtyam, hashtag #livevoyagereport. The Noordam Mediterranean Explorer Live Voyage Report landing page leads you to each day’s post.
I hope you’re enjoying your virtual vacation. Until tomorrow…bon voyage,