Corsica: Northern Highlands, France
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
We walked the two days across the high watershed ridge (and the GR20) in May 18.
Calacuccia to Col de Vergio
This is a particularly fine section of the Mare a Mare Nord.
A gorgeous day's walking begins by dropping on old paths to potter above the Calacuccia lake for a couple of delightful kilometres, as the lake narrows into a series of pretty bends.
The views up the Niellu valley, apparently the widest on this island of ravines, are never less than thrilling, with its surrounds of 2,000m+ ridges, still blanketed in recent snow when Walkopedia was there in mid May.
The trail then turns uphill, climbing to start a long traverse of the northern flanks of the Niellu valley. It turns north to drop into the Viru gorge and cross a graceful Genoese bridge. After a steady climb through open forest, it spends several km on a delightful exploration of wood and heathland, with frequent views across to the high southern ridge, or glimpsing west to the island's central watershed ridge. Ever-present, but usually invisible behind the ridges immediately above us, is the Monte Cinto massif.
The trail eventually turns north-west into the amazingly broken and dramatic highlands to join the steepening Golo valley, which penetrates between spectacular cliffs into the island's highest massif. After an admiration of a vigorous waterfall, it is time to cross the river to turn south towards the Col de Vergio gap in the high central ridge. (When Walkopedia was there, the bridge had gone and we had to cross the swollen river perilously on a fallen tree or leg-soaking teeters between rocks.)
Thence it is a longish trudge through superb mixed forest, in which huge Corsica pines are the stars, to the Col or the Castellu di Vergio; the former is on the Mare a Mare Nord, the latter on the famous GR20 route, reaching a much-used if tired hotel below the col.
A great day's walking!
Col de Vergio to Evisa
This 8km, 5hr or so, leg of the Mare a mare Nord descends, through fine and very varied forest, from the Col de Vergio to pleasant Evisa, some 600m below.
We began at the Castellu di Vergio hotel, and traversed delightfully on the GR20 through sparkling early morning forest, north below the high ridge for a km or so, then turning left to plod up to the Vergio col.
We then took ourselves off-piste, and headed due north on a small path, round the hill above the col to get the best possible views back down the broad Niellu valley and north into the western reaches of the Monte Cinto massif, Corsica's highest area. A wonderful quarter-hour, just admiring the wonders before us.
Then we are back on the Mare a Mare Nord, traversing briefly on a beautiful meadow towards twisted old Corsican pines, then dropping below the tree line into the Aitone forest, mixed pine, birch and beech, for a long and sometimes rough descent on a path which at times doubles as shallow stream bed.
A good track then traverses for a pleasing half hour to the disappointing Pont de Casterica (no Genoese bridge here), although it has very pretty pools below it.
Walkopedia then made a side walk, which we highly recommend, especially if, like us, you want to bulk out what looked like a slightly short day. We took the track due west, which climbs steadily across a steep hillside, with tremendous views, to the Bocca a u Saltu pass, out on harsh granite highlands sprinkled with hard-scrabbling pines, a rather remarkable area. You can then scramble up some (or all) of the nearby minor peak, a great heap of bare granite into which extravagantly twisted pines support themselves on absurdly long and twisted roots. We had the huge luck to see a lammergeier (bearded vulture – 4 breeeding pairs left as of 2017) swing round several times below us on its grand wingspan, working its way up the valley towards the highlands. 1.5hr or more.
Back to the MMR, we drop quite steeply, then wind through attractive forest before making another shortish but steep descent to the river, which we parallel delightfully for a few 100m, then turn uphill for another climb to a ridgetop with good views up the valley.
A rough and steep descent gets to a little suspension bridge across the river, from which we climb (passing a trail down to a famous bathing pool) to join a track high above the now deep and dramatic gorge of the d'Aitone river.
We soon join an atmospheric, winding, walled track which descends through overrun groves to a stream, then winds through interesting old farmland, much of it old chestnut groves now sadly afflicted with beetles and canker which also serve as grazing, to the edge of the still cheerful town of Evisa, “pearl of the mountains”, perched above the deep Tavulella river valley, which itself debouchs through a tremendous gorge back into the Spelunca Canyon (see below), the lower version of the Aitone valley we have been walking in today.