Our GR 20 (Corsica)

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July 7th 2016
Published: August 22nd 2016
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View of the Corsican ferry
Our GR 20 – Corsica

19 June 2016 – 7 July 2016

We first fell in love with Corsica’s rugged landscape and beautiful coastline in 2011 when we completed a composite of the Mare a Mare Nord and Sud (Coast to Coast North and South) trails. It was then that we first heard about the infamous GR20** (GR short for Grand Randonee) hike that is considered Europe’s most beautiful and toughest long distance trail. So with more technical hiking adventures under our belt in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in France/Switzerland/Italy and New Zealand we felt ready for the GR20 challenge!

Dave created our itinerary to have us doing the GR20 hike from South to North, typically many hikers start from the North end but we wanted to not walk into the sun every day and also wanted to enjoy the most beautiful dramatic sections at the end of our trek.

We flew from Sydney-Singapore-Zurich-Paris-CDG -Paris Orly to our final destination in Bastia Corsica and then enjoyed an amazing 10-hour sleep in our gorgeous hotel overlooking the Bastia harbour after flying non-stop. We had a rest day to gather few food supplies and our bus tickets to the beginning of the GR20 hike at Conca. The weather for our entire time in Corsica was amazingly sunny and dry – most day were 30+degrees. Our first night in Corsica was spent watching locals tango dancing and celebrating start of summer solstices’.

1st day hike from Conca (252m) to Refuge de Paliri (1055m)

Our bus from Bastia to Conca/Saint Lucie took 3 hours and then 6 hours’ uphill hike to Paliri campsite / refuge. It was very hot and we really felt it. Arrived at busy - almost full campsite and we were so tired that we just ate some Corsica Charcuterie (dry-cured ham) and cheese for dinner that we had left over from lunch and block of chocolate from refuge store. You can buy basic supplies from the refuges – rice, pasta, pasta sauce, chocolate, bread, jam, charcuterie, cheese plus you can order hot meal / set menu, enjoy cold beer, pitchers of wine, soft-drinks, et al. They have their supplies either air-lifted by helicopter or brought in by horseback, via road access points (although not that many of these).

We slept in our tent for the 1st time
Refuge de PaliriRefuge de PaliriRefuge de Paliri

Morning coffee
including using our comfy air mattresses – slept really well on account of being absolutely shattered. We opted to take our tent so we could be sleep where and when we wanted BUT you can book a limited number of bunk beds in the various refuges on the GR20 – we just wanted to avoid heavy snorers et al.

2nd day hike from Paliri (1055m) to Refuge d’Asiano (1530m)

Woke up with beautiful sunrise hitting high cliffs enjoying cup of coffee and big bowl of porridge, raisins and honey.

We took the high variant option for our 2nd day which delivered spectacular views but it was tough….it reminded us of one of the hardest days on the Tour de Mont Blanc, Fenettre D'Arpette pass on our way from Champex to Trient, but instead of one challenging ascent and descent on this hike, we did the equivalent of 5 climbs up and down in one day.

We finally made to our camp site after 8.5 hours of hiking, the actual refuge had burned down recently but there was still running water and an operational toilet. Some hikers without tents were unable to secure beds in alternate refuge
Refuge de PaliriRefuge de PaliriRefuge de Paliri

Team captain preparing mentally for day ahead
so they slept under the stars. I got up very early to go to the washroom and I could see headlamps coming down from our next day’s hills at approx. 3.00am….I later chatted to those same hikers when they arrived 6.00am and they were trying to finish their GR20 that day so had started hiking at midnight from Refuge d’Usciolu under a full moon to achieve their deadline. We did meet quite a few hikers who were doing the whole course in 5 days (so 3+ legs per day) versus the 15 stages across 12-15 days – they were running most of the trails and hardly carrying anything aside from water and minimal food as they had support crews coming in to bring food supplies and changes of clothes along the way.

3rd day hike from Refuge d’Asiano (1530m) to Refuge d’Usicolu (1750m)

We headed straight UP to Monte Incudine (2134m) from our campsite and then had a series of steady up and down technical climbs and scrambling for at least 8 hours+ to Usicolu. We took a nice lunch break and dip in stream before we finally saw the refuge in the distance cut into the steep cliffs (helicopter and horse access only) and it took 3+ hours to finally come into camp from when we 1st saw the refuge. We had yummy cooked pasta dinner enjoying sunset after another tough day.

4th day hike from Refuge d’Usicolu (1750m) to Refuge de Prati (1820m) and then descent to Col de Verde (1289m)

We had another ascent from our campsite to Monte Formicula (1981m) and were rewarded by a beautiful sunrise view to the coast then series of ascents and descents to Refuge de Prati for quick drink stop – this was an almost brand new refuge but we wanted to do push on to Bocca di Verdi refuge for our overnight stay, it was long steep descent but our bodies and feet were getting more used to the hiking. We spent night at Bocca di Verdi, enjoyed a hot shower and nice dinner with some Swedish hikers who had completed ½ of the GR20 in 2015 and were back to complete the other half of the course.

5th day hike Col de Verde (1289m) to Vizzavona (920m) – this was a long tough old day 10 hours of hiking downhill mainly to the beautiful village town of Vizzavona – we left at 6.30am and arrived to a lovely B&B that Dave booked at 5.00pm. We stayed 2 nights and enjoyed a complete rest day with a train trip to nearby Corte for some supplies. Our B&B hosts Vincent and Henri made our stay so beautiful including offering a laundry service for their hiking guests. Henri made homemade pastries / tartines for our breakfast – they were to die for!!!

6th day hike from Vizzavona (920m) to Refuge de l’Onda (1430m)

This was a 7-hour hike to a working goats cheese farm and refuge. We had a 1100m ascent and then 600m descent down to l’Onda. They served famous goats cheese spinach lasagne however less the world’s least friendly service but anyway it tasted so good. Dessert was more goats cheese with fruit.

7th day hike from Refuge de l’Onda (1430m) to Refuge de Pietra Piana (1842m)

This was a shorter day of hiking so we opted for the high variant – lots of scrambling and very steep scree. We had a great spot at this campsite overlooking valley and enjoyed dinner of lentils and porkbelly.

8th day hike from Refuge de Pietra Piana (1842m) to Refuge de Manganu (1601m)

This was a very tough day but full of tough fun technical scrambling, hitting the snowline and seeing beautiful glacial lakes and then we finished with a very rocky long descent to a beautiful refuge at Manganu.

9th day hike from Refuge de Manganu (1601m) to Castellu di Vergio (1404m) / ski hotel

This was probably the easiest leg of the GR20, it was 4 ¾ hours flat – descent and we arrived to small ski village comprising of campsite, small supplies shop and café/restaurant/bar and hotel. We opted to stay in hotel and enjoyed hot shower, watched a movie and had lovely dinner at their restaurant.

10th day hike from Castellu di Vergio (1404m) to Refuge de Tighjettu (1683m)

This was a solid day including ascent up to 1991m and then a tough descent of 2+hrs before a 1hr steep ascent to Tighjettu. We had to secure a spot quickly as not much in the way of a flat spot. The only truly flat spot was the helicopter pad. It was a windy old night exposed on the mountain and we did not sleep too great given we on a uneven angle.

11th day hike from Refuge de Tighjettu (1683m) to Refuge d’Asco (1422m)

Well this was the biggest day of them all. We took 2.5 hours to ascent to Cirque de la Solitude (over 2000m) in gale force winds then a 0.5 hr+ slog along the ridge line into the wind before we major descent section down to Haut Asco. It just kept on going and going. There were chains on offer but we did not use them so much. We arrived at beautiful hotel and crashed to have hot showers and watch the Tour de France cycling followed by lovely dinner at the hotel restaurant that evening.

12th day hike from Refuge Haut Asco (1422m) to Refuge de Carrozzu (1270m)

This was 5.5 hours hiking of beautiful ascent followed by technical descents coupled with amazing scenery. We set up our tent for the last night and enjoyed a lovely dinner, few beers and sunset views down the valley towards to Calvi.

13th day hike from Refuge de Carrozzu (1270m) to Calenzana (275m)

We took a long descent trail to complete our GR20 – we took a taxi from a lovely village Calenzana to the coastal town, Calvi. We were lucky with finished our last hiking day with Marie-Francoise and Evangeline from Brittany and they helped to arrange the taxi to our various hotels. The girls had done the same more remote hikes we’d done in Nepal nearly at the same time when we’d done them – small world hey!

We arrived at our beautiful Calvi hotel overlooking the ocean and we relaxed and had a quick dip in the clear warm salty ocean – just loved it.

We enjoyed two days / nights in Calvi, swimming, eating, sleeping, before our flights to Paris-Frankfurt-Toronto.

Side note: the GR20 trails technically did not deliver anything new that we had come across on our prior hikes, just more of the advanced stuff every day on the GR20! We just loved it.

** Source: http://corsica.forhikers.com/gr20

The GR 20 is a long distance trail that traverses Corsica diagonally from north to south. It is considered to be the most difficult of all the GR routes and one of the most beautiful mountain trail in Europe. The GR 20 is a long distance
Catching more beautiful viewsCatching more beautiful viewsCatching more beautiful views

Hike from Refuge de Prati (1820m) and then descent to Col de Verde (1289m)
trail that traverses Corsica diagonally from north to south. It's 180km long with variation in height of about 10 000 metres and can be walked in 15 days.

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 29


Lunch breakLunch break
Lunch break

Hike from Refuge de Prati (1820m) and then descent to Col de Verde (1289m)

Quiet contemplation and enjoying a beer

We visited Corte on our rest day ex. Vizzavona
Goats dairy - Refuge de l'OndaGoats dairy - Refuge de l'Onda
Goats dairy - Refuge de l'Onda

We stayed at this site of working goats cheese dairy
Refuge de l'OndaRefuge de l'Onda
Refuge de l'Onda

Enjoying cold Corsican beer, Pietra at the end of long day hiking

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