In the west of Corte/Corsica

The GR20 on Corsica: Hiking the southern part

Introduction

Socializing during a hiking trip is great, especially when you hike on an exceptional and challenging trail like the GR20 (Grande Randonée 20) on Corsica/France.

And where else do you have the opportunity to take photos with high altitude mountains and the Mediterranean sea on it?

GR20, near the Plateau de Gialgone
GR20 – The author (right) near the Plateau de Gialgone with a just made new friend

The GR20 is still not the most popular destination for the average adventure-seeking tourist, which is indeed remarkable since we’re living in an era where almost every location with a name is besieged by scores of tourists (had you ever been on Mount Snowdon in North Wales during the summer season? Then you know what I mean).

GR20
GR20 – somewhere on the southern part

After one or two days of hiking you will learn why.

There is no comfort at all. You are usually sleeping in a tent, if you choose not to sleep in a shared room at one of the camping sites which has to be reserved beforehand. Climbs are super-exhausting. Oppressive heat, and the heavy backpack (mine was about fourteen kilograms with two water cans).

And when you have great luck and there is a vacant shower at one of the bivouac sites – it is ice-cold.

My tour in August 2018

I hiked for four full days, from the train station in Vizzavona in Central Corsica to Zicavo in the south (I made additionally a hike around Corte in Upper Corsica after this, but that was not part of the GR20).

A trip with the meter-gauge railway from Bastia to Vizzavona (or further to the capital Ajaccio) is an adventure on its own, so even if you are not planning to make a several days hike I would highly recommend to make at least a train ride with the U Trinighellu.

The south of the GR20 is considered to be the easier part of the tour, that means more precisely the section between Vizzavona in Central Corsica and the town Conca, situated on the island’s south-eastern coast.

“Wild camping” is not allowed, so it is quite normal to see the same faces at the bivouac sites every day, which is a good prerequisite for socializing.

So I just made on the very first day friend with a young outdoor-enthusiast from Alsace/France at my starting point in Vizzavona as we accidentally bumped into each other at the water-boiling spot.

And then, we spent the next four days together and looked after one another, shared even our food sometimes – which was for the most part crackers, bread and other stuff which hadn’t much weight and was rich in calories.

GR20, Refuge d'Usciolu
GR20 – one of the numerous camping sites (Refuge d’Usciolu), on the left my tent

He was by far the tougher hiker. He had yet accomplished the whole north-route (he started in Calenzana), and now he was about to complete his trip in the south of the island despite an injured foot.

His English skills were solid, and due to my lack of language skills in French we communicated solely in the common lingua franca.

During my third day I made friends with a young woman which I had seen several times at the camping sites the previous days. Now she ran into me occasionally as we were hiking towards the next refuge (Refuge de Prati).

I approached her as she was sitting on a rock for a short rest, a huge smile across her face. She was nineteen and studying medicine in Lyon, as I learned shortly after. She also hiked solely the south of the GR20, but not on her own as I did but with her parents.

GR20
GR20 – In the vicinity of the Refuge de Prati
GR20
GR20 – luckily the weather was magnificent on every day

She was fast and tough, and it didn’t cost her much effort to outpace me without sweating one visible drop of sweat.

And she was the nice person that I’d expected, as she invited me to sit next to her and her parents in the evening at the bivouac site, where we took our evening meal and had some entertaining conversations.

During a rest I talked to an experienced Frenchman, who explained why the GR20 is still comparatively unpopular (the reasons are first and foremost the level of difficulty and the lack of comfort), and he told me that it had been the Germans who made this trail accessible a few decades ago. And yes, I noticed indeed many German hikers on the GR20.

GR20
GR20 – somewhere on the southern part

There had also been some slightly dangerous moments during my tour.

For example, as I ran almost out of water during my fourth day because the only water-source on the trail had dried up (it was August, after all). Or as I got lost in an area that had been devastated by a forest fire with all trail marks erased (near Gialgone).

In hindsight, this had been only minor irritations and spoiled this great adventure not in the slightest.

More funny than dangerous are encounters with wild animals, like boar or cows, who can appear all of a sudden from the underbrush.

GR20, macchia near Zicavo
Macchia, the typical vegetation on Corsica (near Zicavo)
GR20, meadow near Zicavo
Meadow near Zicavo

Résumé

The entire GR20 comprises sixteen stages, of whom I made solely four and a half of the seven in the south.

So there is no question to visit Corsica again to repeat this great experience, yet the next time in the north of the island.

GR20 near Zicavo
GR20 – near the Refuge d A Matalza (please notice the red and white mark on the rock)

Note: I apologize for the overall bad picture quality. In order to carry as little weight as possible, the sole electronic device on this trip was an old smartphone (which was switched off most of the time) and no additional photo equipment.

Details

  • 1st day: Train from Bastia to Vizzavona
  • 2nd day: Vizzavona – Refuge d’E Capanelle
  • 3rd day: Refuge d’E Capanelle – Refuge de Prati
  • 4th day: Refuge de Prati – Refuge d’Usciolo
  • 5th day: Refuge d’Usciolo – Refuge d A Matalza – Zicavo (not part of the GR20)
  • 6th day: Bus from Zicavo to Ajaccio
  • 7th day: Train from Ajaccio to Bastia (stay in Corte)

Links

Parc Naturel Regional Corse – website of the natural park

Featured Image: near Corte