I don’t remember the first time i discovered this trekking path on the web. Probably i was having an overview of Corsica island in some strange website.
I was quite happy when i understood that i can link my passion for the mountains with the one of that island.
GR20 is one of the several Grand Randonn?e (or long-duration walking) available in France, Belgium, Netherlands and Spain. Backpacking is kind of hiking in the nature while carrying gears on one’s back.
The path was thought to be completed in 15 days, with an average daily walk of 6h. Spread into the path there are several refuges in which you can have a meal, buy food, rent a bivouac or sleep directly into the hut. The starting point is located in Calenzana, one of the Balagne historical region in North of Corsica, South-east of Calvi.
Approaching Calenzana is the first real problem of the trip: link from and to Bastia are few and slow. It must be said that Bastia-Calvi are 58 km far away as the crow flies, and in the middle there are some natural barriers like the mountains of Cape Corse and the Agriates Desert.
NB: i used the present tense in order to give an impression of “history in progress”, but i often use the past tense for remarking special memories. I think it’s more suitable for the storytelling.
• Day 0: From Cuorgne’ to Vado Ligure
To take the yellow ferry boat i always use the 1624 train from Porta Nuova, in Turin.
That’s because the last bus from Piazza Mameli, in Savona to Vado Ligure is around 2000. There are about 20′ for the boarding. The name of the public transportation company is TPL, and here’s the website.
I was the first to board so it has been quite easy to find the right place for passing the night. Remember to find it far away from noisy doors: the people usually use them very often and sleeping becames hard.
• Day 0bis: From Bastia to Calenzana
The approach in this journey lasted a loooot of time, 2 days. As first the backpack was heavier than expected (12 kg with water, 15 kg the first day, with mountain boots and food for the first 3 days).
So i started to use the trekking poles just in the middle of Bastia. Getting to the citadel and passing some time looking for the best way to charge the smartphone with solar panels was my solution for a problem that, in this kind of trip, hunts people like a curse: the huge amount of free time.
Moving from working 8-9 hours a day to 0 there is a sort of lifestyle shock.
all the above indication were found in https://www.corsicabus.org/. This is a non official website managed in a non-official way. In fact it’s clearly written “CORSICA BUS IS NOT A BUS COMPANY.”
In front of Bastia train station (la “gare”) there is the bus stop: France is famous for the good quality bus service and the care they have in showing the bus stop area.
in 2h you’ll be left in front of the walking area of Calvi, and you can have a good walk along the caratteristica alleys of this genoese city.
I chose to eat my panino in the top of the fortress looking at the people testing their flying drones and the ligurian cliffs in the other side of the sea (very rare event).
In Brno, Czech republic, Marquez won as usual the MotoGP race after a quite boring race. After some good dive with local guys from the cliffs under the citadel, the bus for Calenzana started from the statue of the water carrier woman in the low part of Calvi.
20 minutes and i entered the first camping of the trip: nobody was here for the check in, so i decided to be the abusive man of the situation. I ate my high calories sandwich and placed the tent for the first time in this trip (the second in my life, after Capraia island trip): faster than expected! good night at 21:30.
• Day 1: the prelude to the Odyssey (Calenzana 288 m; Ortu di u Piobbu 1571 m, 5:10)
wake up at 0530. The sun is just below the horizon and the air is quite warm. In the same table in front of reception i eat the last sandwich i prepared from home. Remember: 1-3-5-3-0.66. That sequence is the number for which one must divide 1 kg of bread for having some good meal, considering 1 sandwich and about 1000 kCal per meal.
For example i considered 6 meals, so 6 sandwiches and 6000 kCal; in total in the sandwiches there waere 800 g of bread (indulge in tastes), 270 g of ham or wurstel, 160 g of mayonnaise, 270 g of Fontina cheese (or similar) and 1.2 kg of bananas. Split all in 6 sandwiches and it’s done.
I discourage the use of seasoned cheese and salty ham: you’ll need a lot of water to digest.
If you notice, the ratio between bread and cheese is 3, as written before, for example.
The climb is quite easy, too easy and, while taking altitude on the hills upon Calenzana in a beautiful sunrise, i get lost. Perfect.
I come from a part of Italy in which the pathways are hardly marked and i don’t have the habit of studying the path colors before the way. At the end, when i notice that i’m following a purple mark and the gpx track is far away, I realize.
Coming back on the right track is quite difficult, damn it. I pass throught a forest of burned trees, fruit of past fires. Maybe the poor maintenance of the undergrowth is the cause.
When i finally reach the normal path, i discover i just met another man departured before me in the early morning. “Not bad” i think.
There is a group of 4 french people of a very good level: they’re going to double all the stages, one time i think they told me they would triple. One of them seems less nimble and i start to have doubts about their plans. And when we get lost all together, my doubts got worse.
Anyway we take altitude quickly and we reach “Bocca u Saltu” (1250 m. 3:00), the first notable point of the path. The sun is not so strong, but under my trusted hat i’m protected.
In the meanwhile i meet a middle aged couple from the central part of Sardinia: they are facing the north path without sticks and i’m very hit from this behavior, crazy couple!
After 2h and i’m at the refuge: it’s burned. Nobody told me and i notice all the functions are managed in 2 containers used as a kitchen and cash desk. I eat my sandwich, set up the tent and here the problems begin: It’s only 12:30! What can i do until evening? if i wake up at 05:30 and i want to have more than 8h hours of sleep (counsiled for this kind of efforts), i have 8.5h of free time, and no battery charger!
Indeed the solar panel must stay in full sunshine, but i feel uncomfortable (too hot) to stay nearby.
While the phone is charging i get a nap and start to think what to do. 1h of chinese studying, using this app and i notice i told nobody i got to the refuge. The signal is zero and it’s better to search it in some way.
Asking the boss of the refuge (a rather strange man, like all the GR20 staff on the other hand) i discover there’s signal in a kind of pass 300m above the refuge, at “Bocca di Tartagine”, 1852 m.
The signals are yellow and the route is clear, so i’m at the top in 30′. Actually it’s a success and i reach to call all the people i need (family, girlfriends, ecc…).
The remaining part of the days i used for planning the next days: i would doubled all the stage, within the limits of my possibilities.
I’m quite relieved by this decision, and the desire comes back to me.
The sunshine is at 20:20 and it’s a beautiful performance. I would see something like this for all the GR20.
• Day 2: the first double (Ortu di u Piobbu 1570 m – Carrozzu 1270 m, 4:30; Asco Stagnu 1422 m, 4:00)
Doubling stages charged myself. With a purpose everything shines of a better light.
After 2h i reach a parisian with a stange name: “Lauric”. It’s very lean and he has a showy knee pad on the left leg, caused by a bad injury during a trekking in Slovenja, which ended crying. Hard man.
Ironically, after 1h my knee hurt the mountain and i heard an hollow sound. And a big pain.
I thought “wow, my GR ends here, fuck!”. The dimensions suddendly doubled and i felt him spongy. The path started to be on the ridge and i was not so confident i could trust him.
I decreased the speed and at tried to enjoy the view. The landscape now is wild like i had never seen before. “Bocca Innuminata” (1865 m – 4:00) is the last pass before the refuge Carrozzu (4:30).
Here i have to say the food is very tasty: coke, omelette and cous cous. Nice choice.
The first double makes me feel uncomfortable: it’s very hot and i’m alone.
It’s time to make new friends. The 2 sardinian people do not want to double, they are true hikers, but i’m only a runner borrowed to the trekking pleasures.
Here comes another lone traveler. Let’s start talking! He’s a doctor, specialized in internal medicine, called Lauras. He’s a very good pace and it’s good for the next step. In the meanwhile also a french adventurer joins the group, Alex. He’s been in Kilimanjaro and has a very heavy backpack (15-16 kg)!
My legs are officially tired. The muscles are not used to this kind of effort.
Starting at 1:00 pm is an agony, and the sun high in sky (the most powerful blue i’ve ever seen) reminds me to drink a lot, in order to avoid unpleasant problems to my kidneys, as happened in the past.
After the tibetan bridge over gorges de la Muvrella the climb is quite hard. The average slope is 33% for 788 m of delta+. The sun is shining hard and we stop every 15′ for a drink. “2 l starts not to be enough” i start to think.
We do not lose heart and we get the Col de Stagni (2:20), now it’s only descent.
The descent is the worse part of the climb: boring and all the load ends in the knees. Finally i get to the refuge Asco-Stagnu (4:00) in a very good time and alone: the other people just lost some time on the mountain and would arrive soon.
In the evening i meet a priest, Manuel, the Bastia’s parson, who was going to be transferred to a little town in the south of Sardinia, together with a young deacon, still in the seminary.
We plan to double not the tomorrow step (with sadness i discover the Cirque of Solitude is still closed, so we need to climb 3/4 of the hard Monte Cinto and then turn right) but the next 2.
• Day 3: faster than expected (Asco Stagnu 1422 m – Tighjettu 1683 m, 5:00; Ciottuli di i Mori 1991 m, 3:30)
After a good breakfast our mixed group of 4 people starts towards the Cinto. 1 year before i just climbed that mountain with a lot of satisfaction.
This year it seems to be back to the past: i recognize the same scree and the same atmosphere. Magic.
After 1 hour i’m without companions. I don’t know where the other people are. Probably stopped on a queue before the chains.
At Bocca Crucetta (2452 m – 3:30) i’m in the highest elevation of the GR20. Here the wind is very strong and it will be the only time i use the shell jacket during the day.
Descending from Bocca Crucetta it’s an ordeal: the weight you have on the shoulders become heavy after many hours of climbing, and knees ask for mercy.
At Tighjettu i spend 3 hours, having lunch and doing laundry, but i cannot see any of my (ex) companions: i indeed decided to go on alone, towards Ciottuli di i Mori. It seems to be a very short way, only 4:00.
The way is quite easy, passing through yet another bergerie, the Ballone, where i poorly choose the wrong road. When you have to choose a road, remember, the easy one is always the wrong one. When you start seeing different things (mark colors, views, but also strange stuff like gym tools…) it’s better to have a deep thought about your situation.
When i come back to the GR path i find Alex is passing with it’s huge backpack. What a relief! Trekking with another people avoid the boredom and keep you safe in case of emergency.
Actually i don’t know its job or the family name, but we had a good time together.
We get Bocca Fogghiale (1962 m, 3:00) and started to see the refuge. Always a good time!
At Ciottuli di i Mori i end up in a common table for the dinner populated by ENGINEERS.
Strange guys and girls in a strange place. The perfect ending for this day. From tomorrow the music would change.
Usual cold shower and then sleeping into the tent with around 10° outside. This refuge is very high!
• Day 4: the long march (Ciottuli di i Mori 1991 m – Refuge de Manganu 1601 m, 7:00; Refuge de Pietra Piana 1842 m, 5:00)
12 h walking, it’s not an error. This is not a record, but for it was. After 3 days the muscles just started to get acclimatized but the feet skin was not so good (not to mention the smell…), full of lacerations and bubbles. But the pain was not so strong.
I’m writing this article 1 exact month from that day, it seems that 1 lifetime has passed.
I will avoid to write down what i think about the 7€ sandwitch with corse sausage i got at Ciottuli i Mori per breakfast. Shameful and arid as the sahara, the only comment.
I reach to be at 6:00 in the road and the day is sunny and quite warm. The slope is gentle and i start the descent without problem. I get Col de Verghio (1404 m, 3:00) and i have my breakfast in a classic bar (Hôtel Castel de Vergio). After 3 days of refuges it’s quite weird for me to have a meal in this kind of place. I also buy 3 snickers and they will be useful for me. The prices are quite high and you need to leave the backpack at the entrance of the hall. Quite smart, considering the number of people inside the building.
After this you enter in a sort of desolated steppe. The road climbs softly until Bocca San Pedru (1452 m, 4:30) with its little chapel and then there’s a sort of plateau with the Lac de Nino. I’m walking across the border of north-south Corse and this seems a place out of the world: mongolian grass and free horses fulfill the panorama.
Refuge de Manganu (1601 m, 7:00) is finally achieved and my snickers lunch is waiting for me.
The next stage is shorter but more wavy. Climbing the Breche de Capitellu (2225 m, 2:00) requires a lot of effort (after all the km in the morning), concentration and a pair of sunglasses. I don’t know how, but my Vaporwing Elite got broken: the left eyeglass frame suffered a brittle fracture. They accompanied me for 2 years. RIP.
From the col it’s possible to see 2 beautiful alpine lakes: Capitellu and Melo. They can be reached by a path going towards Corte, but they are 200 and 400 m down. So it’s better to go on.
The path continues on the ridge and the time passes quickly, even if you are always in the same position.3
After Col de Soglia (2052 m – 3:10), the beautiful Lac de Rinoso and Bocca Muzzela (2206 m – 4:10), finally i get to Refuge de Pietra Piana. It was 19. Not all the refuges give the possibility to eat in 2 rounds, for example at 18 and 20.
When i arrived i was out of battery but the dinner was delicious (even if i had to insist to get it, because of the time). When the people at the table discovered my path of that day, i received an applause but i was too tired to appreciate the situation. It was cold and the sunset was coming. I still have to place the tent and have my shower. It will be the coldest ever. The machine collecting coins for hot water, of course, was not working. At 21 i was finally sleeping.
• Day 5: can you meet me halfway (Refuge de Pietra Piana 1842 m – Refuge de l’Onda 1430 m, 3:30; Vizzavona 920 m, 5:00)
I started to feel home at the beginning of the 5th day. The everyday operations were well accepted and also quicker than in the previous days.
The first part is quite easy with a gentle descent into the deciduous forest. In few hours i’m just arrived to the refuge, ops bergerie de l’Onda (11:00). I don’t understand if this is the refuge or a simple bergerie. It’s too early, and my clothes need a wash, so i decide to stop and to take advantage of the beautiful sink at the end of the clearing, in the middle of the tents of the park authority.
Oddly they are very clean and, maybe making the wrong choice, i drink the water. Bad error.
The high temperature helps the dresses to dry in a short time while i have an omelette and some talk with a spanish girl, solo traveller from Madrid. She works for a charity association and she’s spending her holidays here in Corsica.
She’s quite nice and we plan what’s the best solution for getting Vizzavona: the Monte d’Oro path with 700 m Dsl+ or a white road that would bypass the mountain. A group of italian/swiss people breaks into our conversation: they have a dog that doesn’t want to walk anymore (i ask myself who is the dog in reality).
Like all swiss they are very well equipped and their book is a mine of informations. But at the end it’s quite useless because i decide to stay along my path, without plan changing.
I say hello to all and start to walk. After about 2h a bad accident is just happened when i come: a couple of guy fell from a rock and i can see their pale faces full of deep cut. In the other side of the mountain an helicopter is looking for them.
I promise myself to take more care on my path but it’s quite hard to me to understand how that accident happened: the road is quite simple and i cannot see any danger.
10′ after the signal comes back (90% of the path is without signal, ed.): my brother tells me the italian government has just fallen. Salvini broke his balls and decided to send all home. Posterity will judge.
The descent is very challenging and the final part is boring, i’m walking with the people that are going to swim into the local gorges, the “Cascades des Anglais” (1150 m, 4:00).
My GR20 north ends here, and i go to sleep and refresh into the local bivuac, called “L’Alzarella Bivouac”. The prices are aligned with the ones of the rest of the path and also the procedures is the same: Buy the bivouac, buy the dinner, buy the breakfast for the day after. In this way i survived for 10 days with less than 250 EUR.
Before sleeping a good beer is not the ideal but that evening i made and exception to the rule. A girl from Argentina, Veronica, was telling her story of voyerism all over the world: Patagonia, Santiago path, Annapurna trek… wow, what a traveller! the day after she would hitchhiking toward Ajaccio, for a festival celebrating 250 years from Napoleon birth. Good luck!
During the night a callus wakes me up in the middle of the night. What a pain! I took with me my compeeds (make them saint) and they would stay in my feet for the next 5 days. They are amazing, and also quite expensive. But it was worth to buy them. I never saw such a bubble on my little finger.
• Day 6: the beginning of the end (Vizzavona 920 m – Bergeries de Capannelle 1586 m, 4:00; Refuge de Prati 1820 m, 4:00)
First in the list: to get lost. Done!
From the bivouac the road seemed tooo simple to me, and i followed a group of french people, sure about their path. 3 km and 30 plentiful minutes lost. While i gain altitude i have to say that Monte d’Oro is very beautiful as seen from this side.
A guy from Bolzano (quite technical people, i remember i spoke with using a lot of numbers, and he seemed at ease) is offering some nuts to me while speaking about how this trip is under his expectations. Also for me is almost the same. Lonely travels must be performed in another way, maybe in the cities would be better i think in my head. He also suggest me to drink from a fountain a few steps away. The water is very fresh but quite metallic.
The sun, as usual after 11:00 is very hot and my skin start to be hurted by him. My sun protection is 30 but sweating it is diluted in the half of the time. I need more and i extend the hand like a poor and hopeful guy does with his almoner. After so many heavy days it’s a little gesture of relief, such as the other i’m starting to perform more and more often: drinking from patched my 3 l camel bag (the wet lower back i noticed at Refuge de l’Onda has been a quite evident signal there was an hole. Damn!).
At Bergeries de Capannelle i indulge with an abundant stew and a chocolate cake, and then again walking under the sun. I notice i’m not cutting time from the suggested one i can find into the official tables. That means 8 h are 8 h walking. Double stages are becoming impossible i think. My stoicism is starting to leak.
At Col de Verde i find a place very similar to Vizzavona: a road and a few buildings that overlook it. The road starts to be heavy and the legs are hard. The final ascent of the day is very stiff. I should climb zigzag into the forest, and then on the rock. I get lost. Incredible.
The path is very near as i can see from my gpx tracker, but the road is full of tall grass and maquis that scratches my poor legs.
When i reach Bocca d’Oro i feel out of battery, a strange feeling i never had in this trip. I think it’s over. I call my father and ask him to catch my ass on Bonifacio the day after. How i don’t know.
When i’m without energy i feel drunk, but in this case was different, because i cannot make deep breath. But the moral is improving because the day after i would see civilization!
I place the tent, eat something fast, because the dinner was just completed (i walked more than 30 km that day, the hardest ever!) and have a quick and cold shower when the sun is just down. I ask the last photo of my trip to a german person with in great mood on that sunset. I have also good memories, maybe it’s sympathy.
The mood falls when the manager tells me that at Col de Verde there are no bus and the nearest is in Cozzano, last rampart of civilization located 2 h of GR20 towards south and 2 h of “Mare e Monti” towards west. I start not to feel well. My intestine is protesting against several days of shitty food and forces marches, and maybe also water of African derivation.