Key information: GR20
- Corsica's GR20 is a superb diagonal dissection of the island along its awe-inspiring granite spine.
- Enjoy outstanding scenery, which darts back and forth between ravishingly beautiful and harshly magnificent. Peerless views of sea and mountain, and regular geological and engineering marvels.
- Discover the intriguing maquis shrubland: aromatic herbs and brush on the lower slopes. Corsica offers a degree of wildness rarely found on the Mediterranean's tamed continental coastlines.
- This is a long, tough, difficult walk over 200-odd kilometres. It is reputed (with good cause) to be one of the most difficult long-distance treks in Europe, with some scrambles that will horrify those with a poor head for heights. Come prepared.
- Cicerone's GR20:Corsica, The High Level Route is the must-buy book for this walk.
- Walkopedia rating85
- Natural interest16
- Human interest5
- Negative points2
- Total rating85
- Length: 180km
- 15 days
- Maximum Altitude: Around 2,225m
- Level of Difficulty: Very Difficult
The GR20 is one of Europe's most exhilarating - and most celebrated (famously infamous) - footpaths, a tough trek in magnificent mountains with scrambles to horrify those of a nervous disposition. It runs from the island's northern coastline along the 180km length of its central mountain spine, over a series of Alpine peaks topped by 2,710m Monte Cinto.
Along the way are innumerable aretes, ridges, and relentless ascents/descents. The most demanding are assisted: some, the Cirque de Solitude in particular, can be heart-stopping and are genuinely dangerous, and during wet weather (of which there is plenty, with thunderstorms coming thick and fast in high summer and howling winter weather) should only be tackled by the very experienced. Thanks to a series of chains and ladders it is, at least in summer, accessible to anyone fit, without the need for special climbing skills or gear. This is of course one of its main attractions: that it offers levels of high mountain access that are rare for the (fit!) walker.
There is, then, some basis for the route's reputation as a monster, although there are alternatives to some of the toughest sections. But, with the refuges often splendidly sited, and abundant pools, plus the odd comfortable gite, there are opportunities to relax and enjoy the experience when the weather smiles.
Corsica, a part of France since the late 1750s and birthplace of its most famous son, Napoleon, still maintains its own special identity. The people still speak their ancient tongue; the island is French by administration, Italian and north African by emotion and location; the atmosphere is relatively unsullied by modernization. Corsica's rugged terrain, much of its higher reaches bare rock, is mistakable for something rather more alien. This is truly wild, unspoiled mountain country, rich with the scent of herbs and cooled by high forests and riddled with ancient footpaths. All of this wild "otherness" is communicated in the GR20, leading you through its most isolated, magnificent areas. Note: as at late 2016, the famous Cirque de Solitude is closed as a result of landslip. There is an alternative route. Check the current position.
On its central spine Corsica is often astonishingly beautiful, albeit harsh: outlandish towers and cliffs above ravishing lakes. Add in glimpses of far-off sea and the maquis heathland on the lower slopes, with its mingled heady aromas and varied and vivid graduations of colour - rosemary, thyme, fennel, lavender and myrtle; rock roses, strawberry trees, holm oaks, cork oaks and magnificent indigenous Corsica pine. The trek leaves the remoter mountain passes to plot near to the towns of Monte Cinto, Monte Rotondo and Monte d'Oro.
Fauna includes the mountain goat, the mouflon, wild boar, harmless but hissy snakes, huge kites and tiny finches, hoopoes, the 2.7m-wingspan bearded vulture, and noble, graceful eagles.
It is not just the scrambles that make this a tough undertaking. The weather is often foul - we mean really horrible - and the huts basic, cramped and crowded, especially when it is wet. Carry a tent, but, while camping is delightful in good weather, it can quickly get miserable in bad. All this can make the GR20 an exhilarating challenge, if you enjoy that sort of thing (it is a lot of peoples? best-ever walk), but quite a lot of days can take you way beyond what would be considered fun by rational people.
The whole route will take over two weeks of spectacular isolation and remarkable views. The northern section (GR20 Nord) can be done in a bit over a week, but is the toughest part. GR20 Sud is (relatively) gentler. GR20 can be walked north to south (most people) or south to north.
See also Paul Hadaway's thoughts below.
OUR FRIENDS' EXPERIENCES
GR20 - the hard way by Paul Hadaway
These are personal notes on the GR20 – Paddy Dillon writes THE guide book, and there is no point in trying to replicate it; the other web links provide faster itineraries than the base 15 stages/15 days in Paddy Dillion's book. All my stage number references are Paddy Dillon's stage numbers. No-one would plan to follow my itinerary out of choice but despite set backs I did it in 13 days, starting from the north, breaking after stage 3 and restarting the same day from the south. I started with a companion who blew out after 3 days then walked with 4 Dutch guys who very generously let me join their team – and I didn't even have to wear an orange shirt.
Read the guide books carefully; my experience is no worse than the books & blogs describe; it just all happened at once.
Walking the GR20 was one of the best 2 weeks I have spent. It's tough and it's dangerous – I saw 3 memorials to walkers who had died en route – but you're only ever 2/3 hours walk downhill to civilisation. It's a truly excellent brush with harsh untamed nature; the scenery and surroundings are dramatic, beautiful and threatening.
Preparation – I spent the week before walking on a sun bed at the Belles Rives Hotel on Cap d'Antibes – not ideal, but I was recovering from a shoulder operation that had gone wrong. Again not ideal, but I didn't break it on purpose and I had been planning the GR20 for a long time. I was going, come what may and the doctor had cleared me to carry a rucksack.
I am usually fit; football/pilates/walking/riding-several-times-a-week fit, but the shoulder had restricted most forms of exercise although.....READ MORE
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
GR20: Corsica – The High Level Route, Cicerone: excellent information on the route. A must.
Corsica Trekking GR20, Trailblazer Trekking Guides.
The Great Walks of Europe - R. Sale.
Chapter in Trekking Atlas of the World - Ed., J. Jackson.
Corsica: The 70 finest coastal and mountain walks – Klaus Wolfsperger / Rother walking
Corsica (DK Eyewitness Travel Guides) - R. Williams and K. Tomasetti.
Corsica (Lonely Planet) - J-B. Carillet.
The Rough Guide to Corsica - D. Abram.
Landscapes of Corsica – Noel Rochford / Sunflower
Corsica (Walk and Eat) – Pat Underwood, John Underwood, Noel Rochford / Sunflower
Granite Island: Portrait of Corsica - D. Carrington.
Asterix in Corsica – Goscinny & Uderzo / Orion.
The History of Corsica – L. H. Caird / BiblioBazaar: 1923 record of a wild, piratical history, reprinted.
France: FFRP Topo-guides to Long-distance Footpaths, FFRandonnee
Southern Corsica GR20 – FFRandonnee
High Corsica (GR20) – FFRandonnee
The Rough Guide Map Corsica – Rough Guides
Road Map Corsica (AA Touring Map France 16) – AA Publishing
Libris Wanderkarte 08. Haute Corse (GR20) – Libris Richard: doughty German Mare e Monti route map
Corsica Insight Travel Map – Insight Guides
Carte de Randonnée (4149 OT – 4253 OT: 5 maps) and 4253 ET are good ones to look out for.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks). Maps can be bought locally, fairly easily. Also try www.mapsworldwide.com and www.trektools.com.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
There are various good times for walking here, be it June for the wildflowers or September to mid-October for fewer people and mild weather (due to the island’s bare granite in many places, it heats up quickly and to high temperatures). July and August mean very overcrowded refuges, and severe heat and thunderstorms.
Corsica’s Mediterranean climate means that coastal areas are accessible all year round, though high mountain areas are snowed in from November to May.
For winter sportsters, cross-country skiing is possible along certain stages of the route during the winter months.
Beautiful in spring, very hot in summer, cooler but dry in autumn; snow on high ground in winter.
Being very mountainous for a relatively small island, Corsica harbours many different microclimates, from Mediterranean to Alpine. Winters are consistently harsh, but other periods have huge weather variation. There is potential for rapid deterioration in the mountains (and Corsica is famous for severe summer thunderstorms), and high winds can be commonplace.
By telephoning 04 95 62 87 78 you can find out that day’s forecast for any particular section of the walk. For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides
The Cicerone guidebook has good information on getting to Corsica and the GR20.
Most flights involve a stopover in France, but Corsica has become sufficiently popular with the Brits that Easyjet now flies to various destinations on the island from Gatwick and Manchester; also try the charter airlines, which may well have spaces.
Getting to Calenzana (start point both for this trail and for the Mare e Monti): depending where you are on the island, treat yourself to a thrilling trip on the rattling narrow-gauge railway to Calvi. This is an adventure in itself, and passes through Corti, in the central mountains, where it crosses the Mare-Mare Nord and makes a good jump-off point for many other walks. From Calvi, it’s a 12km bus ride – but it only runs in midsummer, twice a day, from the railway station. Otherwise, your best bet is to catch a cab (or find other walkers to club together to do so; this is a popular path), though it’s not unknown for people to catch the school bus.
No permits are needed to do this walk.
The route is well-waymarked along it length with the grande randonnee stripes on rocks and other landmarks. Most walkers follow the trail north-south, and the north’s reputation as the toughest leg is probably partly perceptual, and related to increasing fitness levels. The trail begins, as does the Mare e Monti trail, which soon peels off to the west, in the main street of Calenzana, once renowned for its bandits, now a sleepy backwater with, nonetheless, useful shops, restaurants and a gite d’etape.
Note: as at late 2016, the Cirque de Solitude is closed as a result of landslip. There is an alternative route. Check the current position.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Mountain weather: snow, rain, cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Severe summer thunderstorms. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun can be a problem due to the innumerable bare rock faces. Extreme heat inland in summer. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous, though there is equipment in place in the most tricky sections; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Fires: some areas suffer severe forest and brush fires in summer. If caught out, take refuge in watercourses or on clear, high ground.
- Dangerous/harmful animals: Corsica is mercifully free of dangerous snakes – but does have an indigenous wild boar. These are generally timid, but don’t take this as an excuse to provoke them.
- Occasionally risky rivers need to be crossed – usually fine, with poles, but avoid for a good while after thunderstorms (frequent in summer).
- This is remote country: you will have to carry food and other supplies and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.
You can form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and the difficulty of getting supplies, some will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Take care, though, about which bit you do (few organisers do the famous northern section), and to be sure what baggage transfer is involved and whether that means missing sections.
If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration.
Organisers cannot book refuge space.
- Wilderness Travel – 11-day tours taking in Corsica and Sardinia together
- Explore! do some trekking on Corsica - including a 15 day GR20 tour
- Sherpa Expeditions
- World Walks
- Corsican Places
- Discovery Travel
- Walks Worldwide
Check out www.gites-refuges.com/v2, where you can search for accommodation by route. Some gites are unattended ouside high season; make sure you carry sufficient provisions to allow for this.
Camping is available throughout, but don’t expect soft grass: you are destined for a hard bed! If camping, make sure you are by one of the refuges as it is illegal on the rest of the trail. Therefore you must reach a refuge each night whether you stay there or not.
The main accommodation is refuges (mountain huts), which are basic, cramped and crowded in high season. Don’t expect a bed unless you leave your last base very early. Camping is preferable when possible. In foul weather, people may simply not move on, making for miserable conditions in the huts.
Important: you can’t book refuges ahead, and can often find them full in high season (especially in bad weather). Many hikers leave ludicrously early to be sure of getting space at the next refuge. You will need a tent, just in case.
Almost all refuges offer meals and supplies (order as soon as you arrive), and some bergeries, gîtes and hotels sell supplies.
France has a well-organised gîte d’etape (walker’s hostel) network, and there are a few gîtes on the way. Of particular note: the Gîte du GR20 in Calinzana, run by the Parc Naturel Regional de la Corse. Booking ahead, especially in peak times, is a very good idea, if not essential; bring your own sleeping bag and towel.
For either end of the route, Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation. As a popular holiday destination, Corsica has no shortage of accommodation sites, mostly catering for coastal areas. Try:
- Gites de France
- Direct Corsica
- Corsican Places (has some inland accommodation)
- Corsica Tourism Digest
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- Corsica Travel Guide
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
The gastronomy in the towns is excellent, as ever in France; plus, this is sort of Italy. The two greatest peasant cuisines in the world, the ambience is romantic, the villages idyllic and perfect for a stroll. Eat!
The GR20, in dissecting the island from north-west to south-east, touches on myriad other trails. These include; notably:
- Sea and Mountain (Mare e Monti) - on and inland from the north-west coast
- Mare a Mare Nord (Calinzana to Cargese; 10 Stages)
- Mare a Mare Sud (Porticcio to Propriano; 5 stages)
Many will find these trails, along which supported expeditions can be made, more enjoyable than GR20.
As mentioned previously, skiing along sections of the route is possible. Water sports around the island.
COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS
Name: Dick Everard
Posted on: 24/01/2011
Paul Hadaway doesn't recommend September but I walked the whole of the GR20 in 2002 starting on 15th September from North to South. We never had any problems with accommodation although the hut at the Refuge de Manganu was a little crowded, after some bad weather which had stopped those who were staying there the previous evening from moving on - although we managed to get there albeit the weather wasn't pleasant. That, however, was our only bad day and we had blue sky and light cloud for most of the two weeks. Regarding difficulty, I wouldn't say that it was particularly difficult provided your are fit and don't mind heights. I was only 54 years old at the time but one of my colleagues was 66 and he wasn't the oldest person on the walk as we met a 75 year old Frenchman with a broken wrist(he had fallen out of his bunk bed). OK, we were fit and lucky with the weather. It was certainly more difficult but only just than the GR5 which I walked this year (St Gingolph to Monaco) with the same colleague now aged 74! You just need to be fit and get plenty of training carrying a heavy rucksack but 10 or 11kgs is enough not 13kgs. Although we carried a tent for the whole of the GR20, it was never used as there was always space in the Refuges, Gites or hotels. It took us 16 days walking i.e we twice walked two of Paddy Dillon's stages in one day. We carried some dried meals for emergencies but we only ever had to cook our own food once otherwise we managed to get a cooked meal every evening and even had scrambled eggs for breakfast at one Refuge.
Posted on: 01/01/2017
Walkopedia friend Dick Everard (thank you Dick!) says:
I wonder whether you have read about the accident at the Cirque de la Solitude on the GR20 in Corsica this year. I only came across it by accident when looking something up on the internet. It is difficult to get a full picture of what happened but it seems that possibly 7 people were killed following a rock fall/landslide following very heavy rain. The path is presently closed at this point but the only English Report was by Paddy Dillon of Cicerone in the Outdoor Magic forum and that on Corsica.forhikers. Most of the reports are dated just after the accident happened when they only knew of three dead and I don’t think it was until several weeks later that the full picture emerged. Most of the newspaper reports are in French so unless your French is good, they are difficult to understand and the Google translation isn’t much help. I thought it might be sensible to highlight the dangers of walking in mountains in Walkopedia as I am sure most of us get complacent – I know that you do include warnings. It takes something like this to remind everyone that they need to be careful not that I would want to put anyone off walking the GR20 or any other high level route. On a practical matter, I don’t know how one discovers when and if the stage through the Cirque de la Solitude will be re-opened – maybe on Corsica.forhikers: this is the latest info from there: http://corsica.forhikers.com/forum/p/25089 .
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