GR 20, Corsica
RELATIVELY UNKNOWN IN Australia, this 180km-long journey traverses the middle of the island of Corsica, and promises a minimum of two, preferably three, weeks of spectacular hiking as you move through a variety of landscapes. It is renowned as Europe’s toughest trek, with an accumulated ascent of just over 10,000m. The GR 20 (GR stands for Grand Randonnée, or Great Walk) is divided into two sections – north and south – and it is the north that will challenge hikers the most. This section is more mountainous, with steeper and more rocky tracks to negotiate, as well as the higher altitude to contend with, when compared to the southern section. This northern section joins Calenzana in the northwest of the island, with Vizzavona pretty much smack-bang in the middle. The southern section begins here and finishes on the island’s eastern side, just in from the coast, at Conza.
The challenges are many on the GR 20, especially in the northern section, and range from unpredictable wild weather and the tough 1500m-plus ascent on the first day, to tackling the track’s toughest full day, the Cirque de La Solitude and its mix of ladders and chains that need to be negotiated as part of the cirque, on day four. And yes, you’ve barely started. These challenges are balanced with the always-welcome prospect of staying the night at one of the 16 refuges (mountain huts) dotted along the route as you make your way south. Be aware these refuges are not as luxurious as what you will find in the Swiss Alps, for instance, but still offer a warm welcome and a decent level of comfort after a big day in the mountains. And also be sure to pack a bivy bag just in case the refuge is full when you arrive.
The southern section of the GR 20 offers its own highlights: the i pozzi, a system of underground waterholes sitting at a lofty 1800m altitude in an immense alpine valley; myriad dense forests with often barely discernible trail markers to up the ‘adventure’ of your hike; some still-rugged and challenging cols and mountain sections to tackle; and a continuation of always hospitable refuges. You will also spot the Mediterranean to both your left and right as you walk high along the ridgelines.
The only sad part of the GR 20 experience is realising that at some point you will have to leave your alpine refuge and rejoin the heaving masses in the tourist towns down on the coast. Still, after two to three weeks in the wild, at least you know that pizza and beer will taste fantastic.