History

La Balagne is the area in the northwest of Corsica with the Désert des Agriates to the northeast and the foothills of Monte Cinto to the south and southeast.

It is one of the island's largest micro-regions and was previously known as the 'orchard of Corsica' due to the fertile soil found there that produced prolific quantities of honey, fruit and wine. Its landscapes are distinguished from the turbulent and rugged mountains found in neighbouring regions by gentle rolling hills laced with vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards. Due to its strategically positioned ports and its proximity to mainland France, la Balagne was one of the first regions to embrace tourism and Calvi especially, has welcomed holidaymakers since between the two world wars. Ferries from the mainland to Calvi and L'Ile Rousse, as well as the airport outside Calvi, have encouraged a steady stream of visitors ever since.

Calvi

Archaeological evidence indicates there were settlements in 6000BC. These Neolithic peoples were hunters and gatherers along the coast and moved gradually inland so that by the Bronze Age most people lived in easily defensible hilltop sites (now known as the villages of Balagne). They established an agro-pastoral lifestyle, and hunted and reared sheep - a way of life that lasted for more than 4000 years.

With the arrival of the Phoenician and Etruscan invaders economic changes began but it was the Romans who fully exploited la Balagne's agricultural potential when they started the cultivation of olives. Hence, the area became rich and a prime target for the Saracen raiders who menaced the Mediterranean in the medieval times. The Pisans constructed forts along the coast to keep the Moors at bay and also erected numerous beautiful churches and chapels throughout the region.

When the Genoese took over in the 13th century they built the citadels in Calvi and Algajola and the new ports did a steady trade with Tuscany, the principal cargo being olive oil. Under Genoese rule, the region was divided into cantons ruled by local nobility (known as Sgio), many of whom were cultured men educated in Italy. The peasants of la Balagne were versatile and many worked as tailors or cobblers as well as farmers (hence the tradition of the la Balagne craftsmen) so they had greater financial independence from their Lords than in other regions. Many had their own flocks and so remained loyal to Genoa until well into the 18th century.

In the early 20th century, decline set in and the small oil mills could no longer compete with industrialised processes on the continent, so the villages became depopulated. The local economy did not pick up until the 1950s with the advent of tourism. This industry is still growing today and hotels and properties are still being built along the coast albeit with restrictions. As a result, the roads have been developed improving communication with the rest of the island, and maritime traffic and flights to mainland France are at their peak. The economy of rural areas is still struggling however and the Strada di l'Artigiani is a craft trail marketed to encourage tourists to discover the traditional crafts and agricultural methods.