In the west of Corte/Corsica

The GR20 on Corsica: Hiking the southern part

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. My tour in August 2018
  3. Résumé
  4. Details of the tour
  5. Links

1. 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?

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

Word of mouth about the beauty of the unique nature still hasn’t spread yet it seems, access to the island is comparatively difficult, the GR20 has the reputation being the hardest hiking trail in Europe, and so you find yourself consequently in a place not really besieged by lots of tourists.

Somewhere on the southern part of the GR20
Somewhere on the southern part of the GR20

After one or two days of hiking on this trail you understand a little better why the GR20 is labeled as one of the hardest.

There is very little that can be called comfortable. You will sleep in a tent (borrowed or your own), if you choose not to sleep in a shared room at one of the camping sites that has to be booked beforehand.

Climbs tend to be very exhausting, sometimes dangerous too.

Oppressive heat and, most important, the heavy backpack with all your essentials (mine was about fourteen kilograms with two water cans).

And when you have great luck and there does exist a shower at one of the bivouac sites: water is ice-cold, and you search in vain for a standard of cleanliness that you are used to.

2. 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 an additional 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 in its own right, so even if you are not planning to make a several days hike I would highly recommend to make a train ride with the U Trinighellu at least.

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 normal to see the same people at the bivouac sites every day, what is a good prerequisite for socializing.

So as it happened, I made friends with a young outdoor-enthusiast from Alsace at my starting point in Vizzavona on the very first day as we 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 but was rich in calories.

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

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 knowledge in French we communicated solely in the common lingua franca.

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

I approached her as she was sitting on a rock for a short rest, a big 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.

In the vicinity of the Refuge de Prati
In the vicinity of the Refuge de Prati
One of the many breathtaking views from the hiking trail
One of the many breathtaking views on the hiking trail

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 (I did my best to speak some French).

During a rest I talked to an experienced Frenchman, who explained why the GR20 is still comparatively low-frequented by visitors (the reason is first and foremost the grade of difficulty), 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.

Macchia, the typical vegetation on Corsica (near Zicavo)
Macchia, the typical vegetation on Corsica (near Zicavo)

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

For example, as my remaining quantity of water was nearly exhausted during my fourth day with the only water-source on the trail being 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 were only minor irritations and spoiled my great adventure not in the slightest (it was quite the opposite actually).

Rather funny than dangerous are encounters with animals such as wild boar, who can appear all of a sudden from the underbrush. Unfortunately, I hadn’t my camera within reach on any of these occasions.

Meadow near Zicavo
Meadow near Zicavo

3. 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 Mediterranean island.

Near the Refuge de Matalza (on the rock you can recognize the red/white mark of the GR20)
Near the Refuge de Matalza (on the rock you can recognize the red/white mark of the GR20)

4. Details of the tour

Every height stated below is AMSL, i. e. Above Mean Sea Level.

  • 1st day: Train from Bastia to Vizzavona
  • 2nd day: Vizzavona (920 m.) – Refuge d’E Capanelle (1642 m.)
  • 3rd day: Refuge d’E Capanelle (1642 m.) – Refuge de Prati (1820 m.)
  • 4th day: Refuge de Prati (1820 m.) – Refuge d’Usciolu (1750 m.)
  • 5th day: Refuge d’Usciolu (1750 m.) – Refuge de Matalza (1410 m.) – Zicavo (not part of the GR20)
  • 6th day: Bus from Zicavo to Ajaccio
  • 7th day: Train from Ajaccio to Bastia (stay in Corte)
  1. Parc Naturel Regional Corse – website of the natural park
  2. Corsica Ferries – reaching the island via ferry boat

Featured Image: in the proximity of Corte, Haute-Corse