Need a New Challenge? Walk Corsica’s GR 20, the Toughest Hike in Europe

Need a New Challenge? Walk Corsica’s GR 20, the Toughest Hike in Europe

Have you found that your once fierce passion for hiking has been waning a little recently? Don’t worry! It doesn’t mean that the spark has gone – it might just mean you’ve become bored hiking the same old trails and viewing the same old scenery. It’s known as ‘repetitive boredom’, described as being when ‘something that in itself is fun becomes boring through repetition’, according to Dr Lars Svendsen who wrote A Philosophy of Boredom back in 2005. The solution? Mix it up a bit and try out some new, exciting routes that challenge you and push you to your limit, like Corsica’s demanding GR 20 trail.

What is GR 20?

‘GR’ stands for ‘Grande Randonnée’ in French, which translates to ‘long distance hiking’ in English. There are more than 100,000 km of these trails across France, with around 35,000 km being signposted and considered ‘official’ GR routes. Some of the most popular hiking trails include GR 2 between Le Havre and Dijon via Paris, and GR 10 which follows the Spanish border. However, one of the most challenging of the GR walks is GR 20, on the French island of Corsica, with 180 km of footpath stretching from Calenzana in the north all the way to Conca in the south. It’s one of the ‘top trails in the world’.

So what’s so difficult?

If you hike the trail from Conca in the south of the island, you’ll probably be wondering what all the fuss was about. The southern end of the trail is much easier going, with a more pronounced footpath, regular signposts, and a relatively flat surface compared to the northern section. The area around Calenzana in the north is particularly rugged – rough stones, broken granite slabs, and so on – and at times it can be challenging to determine what’s footpath and what isn’t. Many people find this part of the trek to be the hardest due to the long ascents and there’s a lot of climbing between the Refuge de Ortu di u Piobbu and Refuge de Carrozzu.

GR 20 map

The weather also plays its part. Corsica is known for its beautiful Mediterranean climate, with hot, sunny days during the summer. Due to snow and frosts, the best time to hike is between June and October with the hottest months in July and August. Frost can leave stones and rocks in the higher areas slippery. Rainfall can also be higher in October.

GR 20 practicalities

Getting into Corsica, and to either of the trail ends, is fairly simple. There are direct flights from both Manchester Airport and Stansted Airport in the UK to Sainte-Catherine Airport in Calvi, Corsica. Calvi is located just a short distance from the trailhead in Calenzana – it’s about 20 minutes by taxi. To get to Conca, fly into Bastia-Poretta Airport and get the bus down to Sainte-Lucie de Porto-Vecchio, where it’s just a short taxi journey to the trailhead. Alternatively, there are ferries to Calvi and Porto-Vecchio from France (Toulon and Nice) Italy (Savona), and Sardinia (Golfo Aranci and Porto Torres).

There are a number of refuges along the trail, providing beds, toilet and shower facilities, and food for hikers. Some are better than others, but as a whole they can be described as ‘basic’ – a hole-in-the-floor toilet, cold showers, and so on, but everything you need to refresh ready for the next day. If possible, stop overnight at the Refuge de Carrozzu and take a dip in the small pool underneath the Spasimata Bridge, and at the Refuge d’Asco Stagnu – a ski resort with a restaurant and shop for stocking up on supplies. There’s also incredible countryside views from the Refuge de Manganu.

GR 20 refugesExamples of some of the refuges found on the trail

Trek Highlights

With a trek like this there are some amazing views and incredible, breathtaking sights to be seen. Here is just a very small selection of the highlights you’ll enjoy along the way when walking the GR 20 route:

Lac de Nino viewLac de Nino (north section)

1. Between the Refuge Ciottulu di i Mori and the Refuge de Manganu is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful sections of the trail. You’ll be walking along the mountain ridge with great views into the valleys below, and you’ll have a spectacular view of the Lac de Nino.

2. Towards the end of the trail, around Bavella, you’ll stumble across the Aiguilles de Bavella – fantastic rocky mountains that jut up into the landscape. Stop overnight at the refuge d’Asinau if you wish to take in these sights and marvel at the jagged peaks and dense forests of pine trees.

3. After passing the Refuge d’Asco Stagnu near Bergeries de Ballone, there’s another challenge to take – if you’re up to it! A short detour allows you the chance to climb Corsica’s highest peak – Monte Cinto. The unbelievable views from the summit are well worth the extra climb!

aiguilles de bavella corsicaAiguilles de Bavella (south section)

Route Options

There are many route options available for hikers looking for a new challenge. For those who want to work up to the full 112 mile hike, there are shorter sections of the route that can be enjoyed as standalone walks, or there’s the chance to ‘go for it’, and take on the full route from start to finish.

Northern Section (Guided)
This guided hike covers the northern section of the GR 20 from Vizzavona to the Refuge Tighiettu in Albertacce. You’ll be walking between 7 and 14 km (4 and 8.5 miles) per day.

Southern Section (Guided)
This guided hike covers the southern section of the GR 20 from Bavella to Vizzavona. You’ll walk between 7 and 17 km (4 and 10.5 miles) per day along the high granite mountains of Corsica.

Full Hike North-to-South (Self Guided)
Enjoy the full hike, north to south, at your own pace on a self-guided hike through the mountains. Take a load off with World Walks’ luggage transfer service to your destination.

Full Hike South-to-North (Self Guided)
Hike from Conca to Calenzana at your own pace with the south-to-north self-guided walk. World Walks can arrange for transfers, accommodation, and luggage delivery to your destination.



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