An Adventure with a View: Itinerary and Expectations.
The GR20 is a mountain trek and as such demands preparation and confidence in your physical condition. Though not the most technically challenging hike, it does require some scrambling, use of chains, a ladder on the Northern section, and a sure footedness for the rocky landscape and mountain ridges.
The average daily walking time for proficient walkers is 6.5 hours, not including breaks. However, several days cover over 8 hours walking with considerable ascents and descents averaging +800m and -500m per day.
To undertake this walk self-guided you need to be a confident mountain walker, able to read route notes and, most importantly, be able to locate your position on a map and navigate your way when necessary. You need to be confident in the face of challenges and difficult conditions. You should be well equipped and well prepared, mentally and physically.
With several technical sections, rocky passages and steep descents, the altitude gain and loss requires great physical effort. The northern section, the most technically challenging part of the route, is set in a mineral environment which trekkers dread. As for the southern section, although the difference in altitude is not as great, the distance is longer. The GR20 is also very different from the grandes randonnées of the Alps or the Pyrenees with the terrain comprising of loose rocks and stones on the ground making for challenging conditions.
From North to South or from South to North?
Debate as to which way you should actually walk the GR20 is rife. Even local experts rarely agree on which version is best, and from what I have researched it seems largely to be a matter of personal preference.
North to South:
- In its original creation in 1972, the starting point chosen by Fabrickant was Calenzana and the ending point was Conca.
- The most technical sections of the trail are situated on the northern section which many consider best to tackle with plenty of energy and fresh resolve.
South to North:
- Conversely, walking the GR20 from South to North is a good way to ease in. By starting from the easiest part of the trail and finishing with the most difficult and challenging section, it’ll enable you to get used to the rough terrain and gradually increase in difficulty.
- Starting from Bavella means that you will be walking with the sun on your back and will have better sight of where you are heading.
Personally I have opted to trek from North to South as the walk was originally created.
Day by day Itinerary
Day 1: Calvi to Bonifatu
I will start in the morning of the first day from Calvi. A little village which sits quietly within an area abundant with olive trees, Calvi is accessible by plane, train or ferry. I will be flying to Nice and getting a ferry from there. From here I will hike to Bonifatu, which lies high up in the forest. This stage is characterised by several river crossings and magnificent views over quaint, typical Balagne towns. It is an excellent warm up day offering superb views towards the Corsican coast.
Estimated walking time: 4h05
Height gain: + 800m
Height loss: – 540m
Day 2: Bonifatu to Haut Asco
Leaving Bonifatu for one of the longest stages along the GR20. Once more crossing several rivers before reaching the famous footbridge of Spasimata, which is 30 metres in length and suspended above a waterfall; a great location for photos. Continuing on to the Valley of the Muvrella with its small but picturesque lake. The viewpoints are numerous and divine from the passes. The route then continues on to the foot of the Monte Cinto, the highest summit of Corsica, and camping spot for the night.
Estimated walking time: 8h00
Height gain: + 1300m
Height loss: – 598m
Day 3: Haut Asco to the Sheepfolds of Vallone
In this dream setting, I may have the chance to observe mouflons, wild sheep, which are numerous in this region of Corsica. The legendary ‘Cirque de la Solitude’ offers one of the most impressive landscapes of the GR20. Equipped with handrails and a ladder this incredibly technical passage promises to be both challenging and rewarding. A long detour is also possible to avoid this section, (but where’s the fun in that). The route continues past the refuge of Tighjettu before reaching the sheepfolds of Vallone, where a cluster of shepherd huts with ample portions of home cooked and locally sourced food await.
Estimated walking time: 5h25
Height gain: + 1050m
Height loss: -980m
Day 4: The Sheepfolds of Vallone to Verghio
After waking up to breathtaking mountain views, the day begins with a gentle walk through a forest of giant Laricio pines before a long climb up the Bocca di Fuciale. The climb, though tough, is rewarded by views expanding down towards the Golo valley. From here, the path becomes much easier, winding down the valley past the many rock pools on the Golo river, which are fantastic for bathing, a luxury I’m sure will be welcomed by day 4 of the hike. The final stretch will take me back through the woods and up again to Castel di Verghio.
Estimated walking time: 6h15
Height gain: + 971m
Height loss: – 1017m
Day 5: Verghio to the Sega refuge
Today may be a long day for some, but it is a real treat. Leaving Verghio under the shadow of this superb forest, the route gradually begins to climb and the trees start to fall away. The morning’s effort is rewarded by the descent to Lac de Nino with its little ponds (pozzines). This is one of the most well-known lakes in Corsica. The surroundings are superb, with fantastic views of the mountains and horses, cows and pigs can oft be seen grazing around the lake. The path continues to follow the river and its many bathing pools to lead to one of the most beautiful refuges on the island.
Estimated walking time: 7h50
Height gain: + 869m
Height loss: – 689m
Day 6: The Sega refuge to Corte
Making my way down the Tavignano gorge to Corte, this stage offers more opportunities en route for bathing in the crystal clear waters of the Tavignano river.
Estimated walking time: 4h00
Height gain: + 720m
Height loss: – 1400m
Day 7: Vizzavona to Capanelle
Today’s trek begins with the Pass of Vizzavona and the stiff but steady climb to Bocca Palmente where the view is splendid. Next, after passing the crest, I shall pass several sheepfolds before finally arriving at the sheepfolds of Capanelle where I’ll spend the night.
Estimated walking time: 7h45
Height gain: + 1000m
Height loss: – 400m
Day 8: Capanelle to the Col de Verde
From Capanelle to the picturesque sheepfolds of Traghjete before trekking on towards the Plateau of Ghialgone. Crossing the footbridge of I Spiazzi to yet another bathing point. The final descent of the day lies under the shadow of the rarest and most majestic Corsican fir trees, before reaching the Col de Verde.
Estimated walking time: 5h00
Height gain: + 700m
Height loss: – 950m
Day 9: The Col de Verde to Cozzano
Starting the day with a climb towards the refuge of Prati, which is perfectly positioned for beautiful views across to the massif of Renosu. The view is at its best upon reaching the crest. From here the view stretches out across the Ligurian sea and the Italian island of Elba, when the weather allows it. These astonishing views are followed by a descent in amongst a landscape of rocky slabs before reaching Cozzano, a town in the heart of Corsica.
Estimated walking time: 8h00
Height gain: + 750m
Height loss: – 1300m
Day 10: Cozzano to the Sheepfolds of Bassetta
The morning will be devoted to the climb towards Bocca Di l’usciolu. After 1000m climbing to the peak, I will enter into a forest of centennial trees. The path finally descends and the vegetation becomes dense. After a stream crossing, the day ends at the sheepfolds of Bassetta.
Estimated walking time: 6h30
Height gain: + 910m
Height loss: – 505m
Day 11: Bassetta to Bavella
This is the longest and hardest day of the adventure, but the end of this superb trek is in sight. After a passage in the forest cross a footbridge to continue through former sheepfolds towards Monte Incudine. From here descend to Asinau to reach my final destination, Bavella and its famous ‘aiguilles’, needles, which dominate the landscape of the Alta Rocca. There couldn’t be a more fantastic place to finish this memorable walk.
Estimated walking time (via the alpine variant): 09h00
Height gain: + 1170m
Height loss: – 1200m