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GR20: Corsica’s Difficult and Beautiful Long-Distance Hiking Trail

The GR20 is the most popular and challenging long-distance hiking trail within French territory. However, this 180-kilometre and 15-stage trail runs across the island of Corsica, not the French mainland. It can also be walked in both directions. This article will provide all the relevant information for walking it from north to south.

Stages of the GR20

Stage 1: Calenzana – D’ Ortu di u Piobbu

10.5 km, 5.5 hrs, 1360 m ascent, 60 m descent

Like many long-distance trails, the GR20 starts with a steep ascent. It’ll leave you sweating as you hike through pine and oak forests and alongside a stream. Eventually, you’ll come out of the forest onto a grassy saddle called a “bocca”. From here, the trail descends steeply for a short distance. As you make your way up the Capu Ghiovu, you’ll have to navigate several rope-secured passages on the first day. From the top, the rest of the trail leads through a birch forest, a typical sight on Corsica that characterizes the entire GR20.

Stage 2: D’Ortu di u Piobbu – Refuge de Carozzu

8.5 km, 3.5 hrs, 790 m ascent, 640 m descent

The second stage of the GR20 is mainly rocky terrain, although it starts with birch woods and a stream. After a while, the woods give way to rocks and granite slabs. These might make progress a little more strenuous, but shouldn’t be a major obstacle for experienced hikers. From Bocca Piccaia, you get a great view of the Grande Barrière, the chain of peaks between East and West Corsica. The slippery rocks on the path up to Bocca Carozzu demand surefootedness. Then, the route leads through a rocky gully and down through a forest to the hut.

Stage 3: Refuge de Carozzu – Haut Asco

4.5 km, 3.5 hrs, 780 m ascent, 920 m descent

At the beginning of the third stage, the GR20 shows its ruthless side, sending you straight up an 800-metre ascent. This then leads into a spectacular gorge. But be careful! You should only climb it in good weather, as it is exceptionally dangerous otherwise. Afterward, you’ll reach Lac de Muvrella, then Bocca di Stagnu. At the fork here, we recommend taking the second path. It doesn’t lead through high alpine terrain, but lets you get close to Monte Cinto, Corsica’s tallest mountain. Across the foot of the mountain and the Grande Barrière, you’ll descend to Haut Asco.

GR20 Rock

Stage 4: Haut Asco – Refuge di Tighiettu

6.5 km, 5 hrs, 1059 m ascent, 798 m descent

If you want to reach the highest point in Corsica and climb Monte Cinto, stay another day in Haut Asco and tackle the almost eight-hour tour. Make sure you don’t underestimate this stage, even though it’s been adjusted since June 2015, when three climbers fell to their deaths in the Cirque de la Solitude. As a result, the stage was blocked off. The current version is still strenuous and demands your utmost concentration, even with yellow markings showing the way. The trail leads over loose rock and scree on the slopes of Monte Cinto, making this one of the most grueling stages.

Stage 5: Refuge de Tirghiettu – Refuge de Ciottulu di i Mori

6.5 km, 3.5 hrs, 620 m ascent, 80 m descent

You’ll be able to take it a little easier on the fifth stage. Pine and macchia forests give way to Bergerie de Ballone, where you can pause to snack. You can also climb up to Calasima, Corsica’s highest village. Then, facing the rock formation called cinque frate, you’ll climb over scree to the hut. You can also take many worthwhile day trips, like to the mountain lake called “the devil’s hole”.

GR20 Viewopint

Stage 6: Refuge di Ciottulu di i Mori – Refuge de Manganu 

24 km, 8 hrs, 643 m ascent, 1033 m descent.

The longest stage of the GR20 is also one of the most beautiful and easiest to hike. The trail first takes you along Golobach and past some pools. These naturally formed standing waters offer a great place to take a swim. If you are traveling in summer, you can stock up on food from local farmers just beyond Corsica’s second largest lake, Lac de Nino. Afterward, there’s only one large plain ahead. Then, you’ll arrive at the hut, exhausted but satisfied.

Stage 7: Refuge de Manganu – Refuge de Petra Piana

8.5 km, 4.5 hrs, 830 m ascent, 589 m descent

At this stage, it’s crucial to bring enough water and sun protection with you. The entire route is above 2000 meters and offers little to no shade. Avoiding the sun is just one reason to get an early start. The golden light of morning also adds a special touch to the lakes. Your continued efforts will be rewarded by increasingly beautiful views that’ll put you in a great mood. Frequent meetings with feral domestic pigs, typical in Corsica, also contribute to the happy atmosphere.

Stage 8: Refuge de Petra Piana – Refuge de l’Onda

10 km, 5 rs, 490 m ascent, 900 m descent

This trail provides two options. You can hike through high alpine terrain and enjoy the view of the sea. However, your experience will depend on good, stable weather. Or you can choose the safer but no less picturesque option through the Manganello and Grottaccia valleys. It offers several idyllic streams and a special treat for hikers interested in flora. The vegetation shares a greater resemblance to an ancient forest than a European island and gives the hike an exotic and adventurous feel. Both stages end at the Refuge de l’Onda.

Stage 9: Refuge de l’Onda – Vizzavona 

11 km, 5 hrs, 711 m ascent, 1221 m descent

Stage 9 has enchanting geographical features that make this hike especially memorable. The path leads over Monte d’Oro and past glacial lakes and cirques that prove the region’s glacial origins. Once you look back on the mountain ranges you’ve already conquered, you’ll definitely feel proud. However, you should only enjoy these views when you don’t have to keep hiking. Since most of the trail is loose scree, it’ll demand your full attention. The last part of the trail leads along a stream until you reach the small town of Vizzavona. It was formerly known as “little Switzerland”. While it’s lost much of its splendour, it’s still a nice place to spend the night.

GR20 peaks

Stage 10: Vizzavona – Cappanelle

13 km, 5 hrs, 890 m ascent, 224 m descent.

GR20 hikers think of Vizzavona as the hub between the northern and southern parts of the trail. It’s also where hikers who don’t want to tackle the entire long-distance trail finish their tour. The stage to Cappanelle is defined by its steep inclines. It takes four hours to get out of the forest and see Monte Renoso ahead. You can climb this impressive peak or leave to your left and continue to your accommodation.

Stage 11: Cappanelle – Refuge de Prati 

17.5 km, 6 hrs, 890 m ascent, 590 m descent

This stage includes a long path that takes you from Cappanelle to Refuge de Pratilong. However, the trip is pleasant and weaves through flat forests and mountain pastures. From time to time, you’ll pass some picturesque mountain villages. However, before you reach Refuge de Prati, the stage becomes treacherous at the end. To reach the hut, you must overcome some steep snaking paths.

Stage 12: Refuge de Prati – Refuge d’Usciolu

10.5 km, 4.5 hrs, 700 m ascent, 750 m descent

The twelfth stage of the GR20 is a ridge walk. After enjoying the sea view of the sea from the hut and hiking through a meadow, you’ll follow a path to a ridge for the rest of the day. Making it through the many peaks requires a lot of attention and perseverance. However, the route over the ridge gives impressive views of the Corsican landscape and makes it worth the effort.

GR20 View

Stage 13: Refuge d’Usciolu – Refuge d’Asinao

16 km, 6 hrs, 1030 m ascent, 1185 m descent.

This stage is also on the longer side and leads through some of the most fascinating landscapes in Corsica. After leaving the hut, you’ll hike along a monument ridge. Its name comes from the rocket formations that resemble statues. You then descend and cross Coscione Plateau before continuing your descent through the forest. After a while, the path starts going uphill again. Then, it leads you out of the trees to Col de Luana. You’ll get a beautiful view walking over the stretch to Monte Incudina, the highest mountain in the southern part of the island. The hut rests at the bottom of the summit. We recommend reserving a spot early since they quickly become scarce, especially in summer.

Stage 14: Refuge d’Asinao – Refuge de Paliri

15.5 km, 5 hrs, 650 m ascent, 545 m descent

In the second-to-last stage, you’ll experience the climbing paradise known as the Bavella Group island. You’ll reach limestone towers, including Tower III. You can climb it, even without equipment, and enjoy a stunning view. But even if you only walk by the Bavella Group, you’ll still get your money’s worth. Along the way, you’ll get great views of the fascinating landscapes and diverse wildlife. The sunrises and sunsets at the Refuge de Paliri also make for great photos.

Stage 15: Refuge de Paliri – Conca

12.5 km, 4 hrs, 225 m ascent, 965 m descent

The last day. A little wistful, you set off in the morning on the path that leads downwards through a dry landscape. Looking over your shoulder, you watch the mountain ranges and peaks you’ve passed, and after two final climbs past some pools, you get your first glimpse of Conca. Thirty minutes later, you enter the GR20’s destination, where you’ll spend two hours at sea. Here you can relax and shake off the stresses and strains of the fifteen days before heading home again.

GR20 beach village view

Conclusion

If you’re ready to push yourself to the limit on a long-distance hiking trail, then the GR20 is perfect. This fifteen-day hike provides plenty of compensation for your efforts with its varied landscapes and great views. It also provides an unforgettable experience that you’ll be raving about for a long time. So what are you waiting for? Start planning to make those worthwhile memories come true!

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