Hiking the GR20 on the Island of Corsica
Every year thousands of people backpack through the visually stunning landscapes of Europe. Some consider backpacking Europe as sitting on a train with a backpack in the seat next to them, traveling between the major cities. But for the true and the brave,
backpacking is traversing mountain passes in order to see beautiful pockets of civilization that few others have had the chance to experience.
Possibly the most famous of these excursions is the GR20, located on the island of Corsica. A small island south of France in the Mediterranean. It is most famous as being the birthplace, and exile location of Napoleon Bonaparte. But Corsica boasts another famous local, the GR20.
The best time to trek the GR20 is from late June through early September. During this time the trail is not too hot and most of the huts along the trail are open. Some people may choose to sleep in these huts or camp outdoors, both are optimal on the trail.
The walk is about 180 km taking most people 15 days to finish. Though Guillaume Peretti did the trek in 32 hours. You will start in the northernmost part of Corsica and eventually end in the southern territory. Rocky up and down trails await, as my guide Francois stated, “nothing is flat.”
After arriving by train in Vizzavona, our group checked into the Hotel Monte D’Oro.
A late 19th century hotel wrapped in vines and shrouded by forest, once used as a get away by British aristocrats. The next day we set out through the thick canopy of oak, chestnut, aspen, birch and pine tree’s towards the rocky trail of the GR20. A little ways in, we come across a beautiful stream beset with an old wooden bridge. The stream flows next to us as we climb upwards along the beautiful peaks of the Cascade des Anglais.
About two hours into the hike, half the group breaks off to head down an easier trail, back towards the hotel. The rest of us continue up an even steeper grade. The stream disappears as the peaks to our right become steeper and more jagged. At the top of our hike we break to say hello to a couple of local donkeys that wander up to our persons, as they grant us blessings for our descent. In late September we are a few weeks late for the hut near us and rope courses that line the GR20 to be open; but the area still serves as a good spot to take a break before the tough hike down.
We as American’s don’t think of a downhill climb as being tough; but with loose rocks, narrow passages and a steep descent, the trail is just as challenging on the way down as the climbing sections. Our group member Mike Larsell experienced this for himself as he tumbled down part of the cliff travelling back to our camp. We help him to his feet; he laughs and as a man in his 50’s he evokes powerful words, “Just a little blood.” And with that, our one day on the GR20 ends back at Hotel Monte D’Oro. A great feast of charcuterie, Corsican wine and cheese awaiting us. With bumps and bruises, but feeling richer for the experience. Later that night I interview David Bess about his experience on Frances GR20, “I would do it again in a heartbeat. I thought it was challenging, very doable, but challenging. And magnificently beautiful.”
If you are in need of help with your Corsica adventure. We recommend ROW Adventures. Their Corsican trip won top 50 tours of a lifetime by National Geographic traveller. Happy travels from Chad Case Photo & Video! Check out this short video of the GR20 here.
written by: Jonathan Conti
photos by: Chad Case