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The GR20 Corsica from Calenzana to Conca

Above Lac de Melu on the GR20

Above Lac de Melu on the GR20
Anne and Terry walked the GR20 in June 2015 -    read on for Anne’s account packed with useful info on the planning, accommodation and route …… not forgetting the highs and lows

The idea of walking the GR20 was kindled some years ago by an article in Trail Magazine and later crystallised by the gift of a Cicerone guide.  June was identified as the best month from our point of view and June 2015 set as our target – and so the planning began!

Online information we researched about the route was difficult to assess without knowing the writer’s background, so it might be useful to give a snapshot of ourselves and our relevant experience.  We are in our early sixties, retired, walking fit but not super fit and I am not fast!  We spend a lot of time walking and scrambling Scottish mountains, particularly Munros  (over 3000ft), this includes some wild camping.  We also do some climbing at lower grades, have summited a few 4000m alpine peaks and walked and climbed in Tanzania, Morocco and Tenerife

Planning

The Cicerone guide by Paddy Dillon: GR20 – Corsica   The High-Level Route was invaluable and remarkably accurate.  (Ours was the 2012 update so by 2015 a few things had changed.)  The guide, supplemented by web articles, informed our plan.

We began by identifying each day’s stage, mountains to be climbed, trips off route and rest days.  It seemed important to build in rest days as refuge accommodation has to be booked in advance (well in advance if you want a bed), so any problem will create a knock on effect that is almost impossible to overcome.  We also wanted to see a bit more than just the GR20 during our first visit to Corsica so chose to drop down to a mountain village for 2 nights and to climb some additional mountains.

The Plan

Day

Activity

Overnight

1

Calvi to Calenzana taxi

Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu (high level). Climb Monte Corona

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu

2

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu (high level)

Refuge de Carozzu

3

Refuge de Carozzu to Haut Asco

Hotel le Chalet

4

Rest, explore locality

Hotel le Chalet

5

Climb Monte Cinto

Hotel le Chalet

6

Haut Asco to Auberge U Vallone

Auberge U Vallone (tent)

7

Auberge U Vallone to Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori. Climb Paglia Orba

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori

8

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori to Hotel Castel di Vergio

Hotel Castel di Vergio

9

Hotel Castel di Vergio to Soccia

Hotel U Paese

10

Rest, explore locality

Hotel U Paese

11

Soccia to Refuge de Manganu

Refuge de Manganu

12

Refuge de Manganu to Refuge de Petra Piana

Refuge de Petra Piana

13

Climb Monte Ritondu

Refuge de Petra Piana

14

Refuge de Petra Piana to Refuge de l’Onda (high level)

Refuge de l’Onda

15

Refuge de l’Onda to Vizzavona (low level)

Hotel I Laricci – dortoir

16

Visit Corte (train)

Hotel I Laricci – dortoir

17

Rest day – Diane and Ian join us

Hotel I Laricci -dortoir

18

Vizzavona to Bergeries d’ E Capanelle

Gite d’Etape U Fugone

19

Bergeries d’ E Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi (low level)

Relais San Petru di Verdi

20

Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Usciola

Refuge d’Usciola

21

Rest day

Refuge d’Usciola

22

Refuge d’Usciola to Refuge d’Asinau

Refuge d’Asinau

23

Refuge d’Asinau to Village de Bavella (3low level)(1 high level)

Auberge du Col de Bavella

24

Village de Bavella to Conca

Hotel San Pasquale

 

Having got this far we were able to book our Easy Jet flights from Gatwick to Ajaccio as soon as they became available online, therefore getting them very cheaply; also all our hotels in Ajaccio and Calvi at the beginning and end of the trip.

Further accommodation booking had to wait as the Parc Naturel Regional de Corse booking site on parc-corse.org did not become available for booking refuges until late March.  Initial contact details for non-refuge accommodation along the way were taken from the Cicerone guide and followed up on line (mostly in French). We did not do this until we had booked refuges because it all needed to hang together. In one case a euro cheque in the post was required to reserve accommodation.

An attempt was made to pin down internal travel.  Train timetables Ajaccio to Calvi proved useful and accurate.  The train is cheap and a very effective and spectacular way to see the island.  A taxi from Calvi to Calenzana was necessary for our timetable to work; the only alternative does seem to be the school bus in the afternoon.  The navette from Conca to Porto-Vecchio was hard to pin down but having given ourselves a night in Conca, we had time to visit the Gite d’Etape La Tonnelle and find out accurate times.  The bus we planned to take onwards to Ajaccio had ceased to run so we had several hours to enjoy the town and a nice lunch but still managed to get to Ajaccio that day with an alternative bus company!

We checked our annual travel insurance, cover to 2500m is sufficient for the trail but Monte Cinto, the highest mountain, is 2706m; higher than many insurance policies cover.

The amount of cash needed was estimated.  ATMs are available in Ajaccio and Calvi but nowhere on the GR20 including Vizzavona and we understood almost nowhere took cards.  Refuge accommodation, but not food, could be pre-paid online and hotels in Haut Asco, Castel di Vergio and Soccia (not Vizzavona) did actually take cards, as did the Auberge du Col de Bavella and, surprisingly, the Bergeries de l’Onda.  We successfully worked on 40 euros per person per day for supper, drinks, mountain food and the occasional breakfast (we don’t really do breakfasts). Adding cash for unpaid accommodation, travel and unforeseen circumstances becomes quite a lot of money, more than can be withdrawn from an ATM in one or two days, so pre-planning is essential.  It is possible to take the train from Vizzavona to Corte (worth a trip) to visit an ATM there.

As we find it unnerving to walk without a map, we ordered:

Editions Didier Richard – Haute Corse and Corse du Sud 1/60000, available from www.themapshop.co.uk  . Not detailed enough to enjoy much off route but adequate for a diversion in emergency.

Carrying rucksacks GR20 Corsica

What to pack ? You don’t want to be carrying anything you don’t need.

Clothing and Equipment

With 4 weeks in Corsica carrying everything on our backs, we had to think very carefully about what we actually needed and which rucksacks to pack it in.  In the end we chose a 40L day sack and  a 65L exped sack, neither of them very full.  With the intent to stay in refuges or similar and eat a prepared evening meal, we were able to be quite minimal.  I washed our clothes with soap and cold water about every other day. Refuges had washing lines strung so drying was easy as long as the weather was good.

Individual equipment with slight male / female variations, enclosed in waterproof sacks
(Our waterproofing turned out to be insufficient for the conditions.  A rucksack cover would have helped, or immersible dry sacks, but they are heavier).
 
Waterproofs (top and bottom) We got very wet at times
Walking boots
Flip flops/light shoes
2 pairs walking socks
2 walking trousers (long for protection)
3 pants
2 bras
2 base layers (long sleeves for protection)
2 light fleeces
1 light shorts/swimming shorts
1 light T-shirt
1 pair light socks
Sun hat
Warm hat (we never wore these)
Warm/waterproof gloves
(Tough lightweight gloves would have been useful for spiny broom and sharp rock, as were the long sleeves and trousers, we saw many very scratched legs and thorn removal was required!)
Light 2 season sleeping bag
2, 1L water bottles
Compass
Head torch
Toilet paper
Reading glasses
Sun glasses
Mobile phone
Walking poles (just me)
Cash
 
Shared Equipment
Toiletries (small containers)
Sunscreen
Insect repellent (turned out to be absolutely essential!)
Camera
Binoculars
Guide book
Maps
Map case
First aid (included zinc oxide tape for hotspots; useful for repairs including boots!)
Knee brace (lots of people wearing joint supports – tough walking!)
Bivvy bag and silk liner (for emergencies)
Knife (useful for slicing sausage and tape)
Water treatment (we did not use this, plenty of springs this June)
Matches (necessary for making tea/coffee in refuge kitchens)
Su Doku Killer book, pencil and rubber
Pen, paper

 

With water and a small amount of food for snacks, we carried about 10Kg and 15Kg each.  This allowed us to enjoy the walking and scrambling and not to feel exhausted at the end of the day.  We met several people, mostly young men, who had found it necessary to abandon equipment and food to reduce pack weight. Obviously to be self-sufficient, camping and cooking gear are essential but think minimal and lightweight, it is possible to buy basic food to prepare at most refuges.

Our GR20 Walk

To sum it up ….. fantastic scenery, wonderful variety, interesting company, very satisfying to complete, but also hard work.  As we expected, each day’s walk was quite manageable, the scrambly bits were fun, easy with very little exposure but the terrain was tough and the living was hard.

 Accommodation and Food Along the GR20

GR20 Accommodation

Top left – Refuge d’Usciola, Bottom left – View from tent Refuge d’Asinau,  Middle – Relais San Petru, Top Right – Luggage awaiting pick up outside Gite d’Etape U Fugone, Bottom right – Tents at Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu
 

Refuges were very variable, some more rigidly run than others; these were more like Alpine huts and made for easier living as rules were clear and people tended to adhere to them.  But unlike Alpine huts, the concept of leaving quickly and quietly if departing very early – from 4am – seemed to be unknown to many.  All had potable(drinking) water but not always internally.  Toilet/s (often squat) and a cold shower were located away from the main building.  The pressure on these was huge as total numbers could be up to 100 or more. Many refuges had very little internal sitting space, which became a problem in wet weather, although it was lovely to sit outside much of the time.

All the refuges we used supplied an evening meal, generally of 3 courses: soup or cheese/meats to start, a pasta or lentil based dish then cake, tinned fruit salad or (more commonly) cheese to finish.  Each menu appeared to remain the same from day to day so a 2 night stop could be boring, but most refuges also provided plates of cheese or meats and sometimes omelettes, so a bit more variety was possible.  Bergeries were definitely a good opportunity to sample alternative menus.

Diane and Ian, who joined us from Vizzavona, opted for a refuge supplied tent and mat, rather than bed space inside.  Like us they ate prepared suppers and did not carry cooking gear.  This could have been a problem, as where refuges provide outside cooking facilities (many do), campers are banned from the internal kitchen; so making a cup of tea or coffee, as we tended to do for breakfast, would not have been possible for them on their own.  This bit of information had escaped us before we reached the GR20.

GR20 Accommodation Day by Day with the Low-Down

Day

Overnight

Comments

1

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu

Fairly chaotic with kitchen and sleeping platforms combined plus a separate dormitory. Fair sized dining room.

2

Refuge de Carozzu

More organised. Reasonable indoor dining space. Least inspiring pasta dish (lots of pasta very little tomato sauce). 4 sit-on composting toilets

3

Hotel le Chalet

Very clean, pleasant and friendly. Nice restaurant with good varied food. Walkers menu about 20 euros

4

Hotel le Chalet

5

Hotel le Chalet

6

Auberge U Vallone (tent)

All accommodation in pre-pitched tents with mats. (Mats throughout seemed perfectly adequate) Good food in a dining/bar area

7

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori

Reasonable indoor seating space, necessary as it was very wet and everyone piled in for shelter. Gardien put heater on to help

8

Hotel Castel di Vergio

Rather soulless and formulaic but clean and friendly. Food fine

9

Hotel U Paese

Very friendly but quiet. Lovely terrace for drinks/breakfast – beware mosquitoes! Village restaurant now shut but hotel owner’s son is running a snack bar (hot food) next to the hotel and opened up on a night off so we could eat.

10

Hotel U Paese

11

Refuge de Manganu

Lovely evening, good company and lots of wine – can’t actually remember much about internal layout! Food collected on trays from gardien

12

Refuge de Petra Piana

Very small kitchen/dining room attached to dormitory, no other indoor seating space, something of a problem as it was quite wet.  Gardien, a character, bark worse than bite! One of better refuge suppers

13

Refuge de Petra Piana

14

Refuge de l’Onda

Quiet, as all campers are about 50m down the slope with their own facilities. Lovely flat, grassy, enclosed camping field. Evening meal available at the Bergeries de l’Onda next to camping field – very good food in largish dinning area

15

Hotel I Laricci – dortoir

No space available in the hotel when we booked (late March) so we were in the dortoir.  No bedding, dirty toilets and showers.  Laundry room available with machines but these were not in use, just a sink and cold water tap. Breakfast was the only meal available in the restaurant.

We spent much time on the terrace of the Restaurant du Chef de Gare drinking coffee, beer and wine. We ate very well here twice, and once over the road at the Bar Restaurant de le Gare.

16

Hotel I Laricci – dortoir

17

Hotel I Laricci -dortoir

18

Gite d’Etape U Fugone

Wonderful! Clean! A small dormitory for the 4 of us, a short walk to indoor toilets, washbasins and hot showers. Good food in a pleasant restaurant

19

Relais San Petru di Verdi

Pleasant, clean dormitory accommodation with a small kitchen at the end. Showers (solar heated so very soon ran cold), washbasins and sit-on toilets (paper provided) outside. Lovely meal in restaurant with large terrace

20

Refuge d’Usciola

Very organised, gardien has been there for over 20 years and his father before him. Smallish dining area and kitchen, food is collected from the gardien’s hut a short distance away.  Keen to move people on in the morning and clean

21

Refuge d’Usciola

22

Refuge d’Asinau

Well organised, reasonable internal dining space and kitchen. Only place where refuge tents were not pre-pitched, lots of pressure on camping spaces. 6 sit-on composting toilets. Best refuge supper with fresh bread

23

Auberge du Col de Bavella

Wonderful! A 6 bed dormitory (bedding provided) for the 4 of us with en suite toilet and (hot) shower.  Good meal, large terrace and internal restaurant

24

Hotel San Pasquale

Delightful hotel, although we didn’t have much time to enjoy it. Very good meal at Gite d’Etape La Tonnelle, terrace and large internal restaurant

GR20 Route

The route is generally well marked with  white and red horizontal striped markers and cairns. Variant routes are marked with yellow stripes.

The Route

Obviously this is written from our perspective.  There are many ways to tackle the GR20, time/money constraints, experience and fitness, will dictate what works best for any individual or group.  Many double staged (really hard work!), others planned to cover a stage each day.  Choices were made between high and low level routes (where available), guided groups, independent groups but with kit transported to many overnight stops (much less washing!).  Obviously it is possible to break the route into north and south but there are lots of other possibilities; in some places very short expeditions could be achieved.  I have tried not to duplicate the excellent guide descriptions too much but show variations (in bold) where we found them. Some alterations just have to be taken into one’s stride, for example closure of Cirque de la Solitude and alternate navette transfer.  This was something of a problem for those on a tight budget as the fare was an unexpected 35 euro additional expense.

As far as we understand it the Cirque de la Solitude is closed at least for the rest of this season and another route has been marked and opened.  This is much higher and more technical than other parts of the GR20 and should be looked at carefully.  I suspect the navette to Calasima will continue to run as an alternative.

GR20 North

GR20 North

1. Day 1: taking a break at  Boccu U Saltu    2. Day 12: Descent North from Breche de Capitellu 3.  Day 15: Stream on descent to Vizzavona  4. Day 12: Contemplating our next ridge South  5. Day 2: More rocky bits   6. Day 5: Monte Cinto summit             7. Day 8: Paglia Orba after the rain  8. Day 14: ‘Scottish’ ridge  9. Day 11: Lavu a Crena  10. Day 9 Lac du Ninu
 

Day

Activity

Comments

1

Calvi to Calenzana taxi

Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu (high level). Climb Monte Corona (not achieved)

Pleasant day’s walk when taken slowly, a bit of gentle scrambling. Heavy rain after we arrived at the refuge, we chose not to climb Monte Corona

2

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu (high level)

Tougher terrain, rocky scrambles keep the interest up. Long rocky descent in a storm. Stream in spate. Day of Cirque de la Solitude tragedy

3

Refuge de Carozzu to Haut Asco

More fun rocky bits and another long and steep descent, but dry

4

Rest, explore locality

Investigated route we wouldn’t be taking towards the Cirque de la Solitude

5

Climb Monte Cinto

Descent took as long as ascent but worth it. Path back through woods difficult to follow

6

Haut Asco to Auberge U Vallone (Owing to closure this became navette to Calasima and walk to Auberge)

Scenic navette journey. Easy path from Calasima to Auberge U Vallone

7

Auberge U Vallone to Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori. Climb Paglia Orba (not achieved)

Fairly gentle day, started dry but became very wet. Glad to reach refuge, lots of wet and very cold people. Not the day to climb Paglia Orba!

8

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori to Hotel Castel di Vergio

Gentle day, very pretty route. Rested on slabs in the sunshine after fording the Golo, found a new bridge crossing about 200m further downstream!

9

Hotel Castel di Vergio to Soccia

Very different terrain, a lovely contrast. Lac du Nino is a delightful picnic spot. GR20 now runs around the north side of the lake. Final descent into Soccia not as shown in our guide, lots of new fencing, we ended up on the road

10

Rest, explore locality

Pretty village. Only food at snack bar next to hotel, no shops or ATM

11

Soccia to Refuge de Manganu

Spent some time around Lavu a Crena, a very pretty lake with fantastic water lilies. Saw grebes and fended off small pig wanting to share lunch!

12

Refuge de Manganu to Refuge de Petra Piana

A hard day. Long, steep, rocky, hot ascent to the Breche de Capitellu then interesting rocky ridge followed by traverse over big boulders. The rest is easier

13

Climb Monte Ritondu (not achieved)

Both under the weather, decided on a washing and rest day

14

Refuge de Petra Piana to Refuge de l’Onda (high level)

Lovely route, quite Scottish, some interesting rocky bits but also grassy slopes

15

Refuge de l’Onda to Vizzavona (low level)

A fairly easy day but it did seem to go on for ever! Pretty walk beside the river close to Vizzavona

16

Visit Corte (train)

Worth a wander up to the citadel – no time for museum unfortunately

17

Rest day – Diane and Ian join us

Enjoyed sitting on the terrace of the Restaurant du Chef de Gare drinking coffee, wine and beer

18

Vizzavona to Bergeries d’ E Capanelle

Pleasant easy day’s walk, a good introduction to the GR20 sud

19

Bergeries d’ E Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi (low level)

Continuous traversing through forest became a bit boring

20

Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Usciola

A long day with quite a lot of up and down but good views and interesting rocky bits

21

Rest day

Washing!

22

Refuge d’Usciola to Refuge d’Asinau

Another long day but with loads of variety and a mountain summit. Long, steep rocky descent to refuge. This is now broken into 2 stages in the more up to date guide and on the map

23

Refuge d’Asinau to Village de Bavella (3 low level, 1 high level)

Both routes interesting, would be worth a circuit from Bavella

24

Village de Bavella to Conca

Yet another long and hot day. Interesting route but needed to take it slowly due to the heat. No water at last water source (Bergeries de Capeddu). Super photo opportunity at Bocca d’Usciolu

GR20 South

GR20 South

1. Day 20: Route onwards to Refuge d’Usciolu  2. Day 22: Arete a Monda  3. Day 23: Aiguilles de Bavella   4. Day 22: Crossing Plateau du Coscione towards Monte Incudine  5. Day 24: The final notch Bocca d’ Usciolu  6. Day 18: Bergeries d’Alzeta 
7. Day 22: Tomorrow’s Towers!  8. Day 22: Ruisseau de Furcinchesu
 

GR20 High (and Low) Lights

 

Corsican Mountain strip 2

Wonderful scents in the air as we climbed out of Calenzana

Stretches of little scrambles on day 2

Being soaked and somewhat anxious about the lightning and amount of water pouring off the mountain as we descended.  We had joked that at least we would not encounter the problems we had had the month before in Scotland, when crossing streams in spate became a bit of an epic.

Reaching the stream shortly before the refuge and finding it in spate!

Successfully crossing the stream and reaching the refuge to be greeted enthusiastically by others who had done it.

Descending to Haut Asco and watching the sobering arrival and departure of the police helicopter, as it ferried harnessed gendarmes and pompiers into the Cirque de la Solitude to continue the search.

Hot showers.

A beautiful night sky above our tent after a good supper and interesting talk with two other English walkers.

Sunbathing and picnicking on slabs by the Golo.

Water lilies on the lake.

Day 9 Descent to Soccia Lavu a Crena Waterlilies

An evening exchanging exploits with the Mad Russian and lots of red wine!

More fun scrambling.

A high level, almost Scottish, ridge with a bit of rock interest.

Watching the sheep streaming in for milking time at the bergeries.

Eating the resulting cheese.

Walking into Vizzavona battered, bruised and bitten and wondering if I had it in me to continue.

Watching confidence and sure-footedness grow as the 4 of us walked the southern half.

Good, clean accommodation with ‘normal’ toilets.

Fantastic scenery.

A huge sense of achievement!

GR20 successfully completed

At the end in Conca

Words By: Anne Sheldrake    Photos: Terry Sheldrake and Ian Dalgleish

Any GR20 questions or tips – do let us know

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