The GR20 takes hikers on a spectacular trail across the island of Corsica and is one of the most renowned long-distance treks in the world. The route is broken into…
The GR20 takes hikers on a spectacular trail across the island of Corsica and is one of the most renowned long-distance treks in the world. The route is broken into 16 stages and is traditionally walked from north to south, starting in the town of Calenzana and finishing in the little village of Conca. This post give you all of the GR20 resources you need to familiarize yourself with the GR20 map, route, location, and all other things navigational so you can be sure you’re ready to take on this incredible trail!
The GR20 is located on the semi-autonomous French island of Corsica. Corsica sits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coasts of both France and Italy and just north of the island of Sardinia. GR20 hikers are likely to pass through at least one of the major towns in Corsica en route to and from the trail. These towns include Bastia, Calvi, Ajaccio, and Porto Vecchio.
The GR20 takes trekkers across Corsica.
Many trekkers are surprised to find that the GR20 visits very few Corsican towns along its route, instead staying high in the mountains and stopping mainly at mountain refuges and bergeries (former shepherds’ huts). However, the GR20 does pass through the town of Vizzavona, which is the approximate halfway point of the trek.
Given this fact, many hikers will want to add a few days to their itinerary, if possible, to ensure they are able to visit some of the beautiful towns and villages in Corsica.
The GR20 is traditionally hiked from north to south, beginning in the town of Calenzana and finishing in the town of Conca. However, it is possible and not uncommon to walk the GR20 from south to north.
The stages for the traditional north to south route of the GR20 are as follows:
Stage 1: Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu
Stage 2: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu
Stage 3: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu
Stage 4: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone or Refuge de Tighjettu
Stage 5: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio
Stage 6: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu
Stage 7: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra Piana
Stage 8: Refuge de Petra Piana to Refuge L’Onda
Stage 9: Refuge L’Onda to Vizzavona
Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle
Stage 11: E’Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi
Stage 12: Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Usciolu
Stage 13: Refuge d’Usciolu to Refuge de Matalza
Stage 14: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau
Stage 15: Refuge d’Asinau to Village de Bavella
Stage 16: Village de Bavella to Conca
The GR20 take trekkers across the island of Corsica.
In addition to the traditional route, the GR20 also includes several ‘alternates’. These trails connect the same start and finish points, but take walkers on a different route between the two points. These alternate routes can be used to add challenge, visit nearby summits, avoid certain sections, or provide a low-level route in the case of bad weather. Additionally, there is an alternate route that allows trekkers to skip an entire stage of the GR20 by going directly from Refuge d’Uscioulu to Refuge d’Asinau.
Here are the common alternate routes on the GR20, which are also shown on the map below:
Low level route on Stage 1 allows trekkers to avoid exposure in bad weather.
Low level route on Stage 2 allows trekkers to avoid exposure in bad weather.
High level route on Stage 8 between Refuge de Petra Piana and Refuge L’Onda.
High level route on Stage 9 between Refuge L’Onda and Vizzavona.
Ascent of Monte Renosu on Stage 11 between Bergeries E’Capanelle and Bocca di Verdi
High level route between Refuge d’Usciolu and Refuge d’Asinau, shortening the GR20 by a day.
High level route between Refuge d’Asinau and Village de Bavella
The GR20 also includes many alternate routes, shown in the map above.
Interactive GR20 Map
The interactive GR20 map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route. The map also displays the common alternate routes that are a part of the GR20. You can click on each stage to see its total length, listed in both kilometers and miles.
How long is the GR20?
The GR20 is approximately 113 miles or 182 kilometers long. This is based on following the traditional route and not taking any of the alternates. Of course, many trekkers will opt to take several of the alternate routes, which will lengthen or shorten the total distance, depending on the routes chosen. You’ll have the option to walk less or more depending on the weather, your preferences, and the conditions encountered on the trail.
The maps below show the approximate distance of each stage in both miles and kilometers, giving you a sense of the distances encountered on each section of the GR20. For more detail on each stage be sure to check out our interactive map in the section above!
Approximate stage distances of the GR20 in miles.
Approximate stage distances of the GR20 in kilometers.
What is the elevation profile of the GR20?
Over the course of all 113 miles, the GR20 has a staggering 34,500 feet or 10,500 meters of elevation change! Averaged out over 16 stages this means that each day you’ll have over 2,150 feet or 655 meters of elevation change per stage. Many trekkers will complete the GR20 in fewer days, meaning they’ll have an even greater challenge!
Of course, the elevation gain and loss isn’t spread out evenly from stage to stage. You’ll have days with a tremendous amount of climbing and you’ll also have days with much less (although always some!). Given that the GR20 is a point to point trail (meaning it does not start and finish in the same location) you’ll lose a tad more elevation that you’ll gain over the course of the entire route.
The elevation profiles below, displayed in both imperial and metric units, will give you an overview of what each stage of the GR20 is like in terms of total elevation change and distance. Elevation is shown on the left side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents a stop along the traditional 16-stage GR20 route, with the stop name shown at the top.
The steepness of the line between any two points reflects the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the the stage. So for instance you can see that the stage from Refuge de Carrozu to Ascu Stagnu is rather short in distance, while the stage from Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone has a lot of elevation gain.
When thinking about how many days or stages you’ll take to complete the GR20 be sure to reference these elevation profiles. They’ll give you a sense of how hard each day is and will let you see which stages may make sense to combine
Elevation profile of the GR20 in feet and miles.
Elevation profile of the GR20 in meters and kilometers.
Which maps should I carry on the GR20?
The GR20 is the best marked trail we’ve ever hiked. The notorious red and white paint flashes guide the way through gullies, across boulder fields, and past mountain peaks. The saying on the GR20 is that if you’ve gone more than 20 feet without seeing marker you’re probably off the trail, and this is true! However, it can still be easy to get turned around, mixed up, and generally off the main trail in some capacity. You may find yourself walking in an early morning mist, struggling to look up to find a trail marker with the blazing sun, or simply have missed the last trail junction. For this reason we highly recommend that all trekkers have some form of wayfinding for the GR20.
When we hiked the GR20 we did not rely on traditional, paper maps that are available for the route. Instead, we preferred utilizing GPS maps on our phones to ensure we knew where the trail was as well as where we were in relation to it. Cell phone service is very limited along the GR20, so it is critical to have a good offline mapping app such as Gaia GPS to ensure you’ll be able to view the map at any point along the route.
With all this considered, we still recommend carrying a paper map, or map booklet. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If your phone runs out of battery or you drop it in one of the many swimming holes along the GR20 you’ll be glad you had your handy paper map to rely on.
To cover the entire GR20 at a good scale (1:25,000) we recommend bringing the following IGN maps:
. A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.
If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our GR20 GPX files for only $4.99. When you download the GPX file, you’ll get route data for each of the traditional stages of the GR20 as well as all of the common alternate route, plus waypoints for each stop along the way.
You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!
The GR20 is an intimidating trek. Between the complicated logistics and the serious physical challenges, traversing the rugged spine of Corsica is no small feat. The GR20 doesn’t allow much…
The GR20 is an intimidating trek. Between the complicated logistics and the serious physical challenges, traversing the rugged spine of Corsica is no small feat. The GR20 doesn’t allow much room for error or easy outs; little oversights can quickly become big issues on the trail. The reward for all of your toil? An unforgettable adventure like nothing else.
You’ll work hard enough on the trail without having to deal with avoidable snafus that result from poor preparation. We were infinitely glad that we did our homework ahead of time, and now we want to share our experience with others. Below we’ve listed our best, most essential advice for anyone hoping to tackle the GR20. It’s in no particular order, but it’s all guaranteed to help you have a smoother, safer, and more enjoyable experience on the GR20.
Your GR20 adventure awaits!
1. Start Early
Morning people rejoice! There are so many reasons why it’s important to get on the trail at daybreak each day.
First, as most hikers will be trekking the GR20 in the summer season, it is imperative to minimize your exposure to the intense Corsican heat.
Furthermore, the afternoon thunderstorms on the GR20 (an almost daily occurrence in July and August, but common throughout the year) need to be taken seriously. Getting caught in a storm on high, exposed peaks or ridgelines is extremely dangerous. Starting early will allow you to get off these sections of trail before the storms roll in.
Beyond the crucial safety reasons for hitting the trail early, there are some additional perks. These include getting your pick of the best bunks and campsites before the crowds (and avoiding the long line for the shower!), witnessing incredible sunrises from the trail, and having ample time to relax and recover in the afternoons. Your exact starting time will depend on your hiking pace, the time of year, and your daily distance goal, but many hikers choose to start just before sunrise (somewhere between 5:30-6:30 am). If you’re starting in the dark, don’t forget your headlamp!
Just one of the many incredible sunrises we enjoyed on the trail!
2. Carry Plenty of Cash
We wrote more extensively about GR20 money and budgeting in this post, but this advice is important enough to earn a spot on the Essentials list too. You will not find ATMs or banks at any point along the GR20, and very few shops, refuges, hotels, and restaurants accept credit cards. Therefore, you need to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for your entire trek.
Running out of money can completely sabotage your trek, as you’ll need to leave the trail to find an ATM (which will take a full day or more). Even if you plan on traveling frugally, you’ll need to restock food and other supplies along the route. It is also important to have some backup funds in case unexpected emergencies arise. Make sure you check out ourHow Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 article to estimate your expenses and avoid this common GR20 pitfall.
The well-stoked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio- You never know when you’ll need to resupply on cookies and crisps!
3. Think Through Your Logistics
Corsica is known for many wonderful things (incredible beaches, rugged mountains, rich history), but excellent tourist infrastructure isn’t one of them. It can be quite difficult to get to and from the GR20. This is due to limited and infrequent transportation connections, unclear and constantly-changing schedules, and a general lack of accessible information.
It’s a very good idea to plan ahead of time for how you will get to and from the GR20, as you’ll need to make sure that busses/trains are running when you want to start and finish your trek. Additionally, we highly recommend booking your lodging in advance and researching any luggage storage or transfers you may need.
Fortunately, our in-depth GR20 Logistics articlecovers all of this and more. It’s an excellent place to start sorting through all of the important nuts and bolts of your trip.
Most buses and trains use high-tech ticketing systems like this one 😉
4. Ditch Your Ego
When it comes to the GR20, all previously held notions of your hiking speed will need to go out the window. When looking at the time estimates for certain stages in your guidebook, you might be inclined to think there’s been a mistake, but indeed they are accurate (or perhaps even underestimated). The GR20 requires so much scrambling and careful navigation of technical terrain that it can take several hours to cover even a couple of miles.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay to move slowly. The rugged nature of the trail is exactly what makes it so fun and rewarding; make sure to give yourself enough time to actually enjoy it. Furthermore, it is incredibly unwise and unsafe to try to move faster than you can realistically manage. We met so many hikers who thought they could “double-up” on stages only to end up burnt out, nursing injuries, or just downright miserable. If you don’t have enough time to complete the entire trek, it’s better to simply cut out a stage or two instead of trying to rush through all of it.
Some sections require you to slow down quite a bit!
5. Book Ahead
Unless you plan on carrying your own tent, it is pretty much essential that you reserve your accommodation in advance. During the peak season (June-September), the refuges are full every night. While you can try to show up early and score a bed without prior booking, it is unlikely that you’ll get lucky every stage of the way. Bookings are strongly encouraged for the refuges, and they are just as necessary if you plan on renting a tent. Additionally, it’s a good idea to reserve your accommodation in Calenzana, Conca, and Vizzavona, as these towns are quite small and the lodging options are limited.
Another important note on bookings: At many of the refuges, the warden will want to see a printed copy of your reservation. It’s not uncommon for people to lose their spot or pay twice if they don’t have a printed booking. If your itinerary changes due to weather or other issues, you can call ahead to the refuges and try to modify your reservation.
A full campground on the GR20. The refuge was even more packed!
6. Feast on Local Delicacies
Because the GR20 doesn’t pass through many villages, hikers have very few opportunities to experience traditional Corsican culture during their trek, which is a shame. However, you can get a [literal] taste of Corsica through the incredible culinary delights you’ll encounter along the trail. Not only are these foods fresh, local, delicious, and reasonably-priced, but they are a great way to learn a little more about the place you’re lucky enough to be exploring. Here are a few can’t miss items:
Charcuterie: Known worldwide as some of the best, many of the refuges serve up uber-local varieties.
Cheese: Most of the traditional Corsican cheeses are made with goat and/or sheep’s milk, including Brocciu, arguably the most popular and widespread varietal. Be sure to sample the local cheeses whenever you get the chance!
Canestrelli: These treats are very similar to biscotti and they come in a wide range of delicious flavors. They’re available at nearly every refuge and they make an excellent hiking snack.
Pietra Beer: Made with chestnuts from the island, Pietra beer has a complex, slightly sweet, and entirely unique flavor. Even though beer is shockingly expensive across Corsica, we think you’ll find that enjoying a cold Pietra after a big day in the mountains is money well spent.
That block of local cheese may be calling your name after a long day!
7. Take A Rest Day
As we mentioned earlier, the GR20 is avery difficult endeavor. It will put both your physical and mental endurance to the test. Throughout your trek, it will be imperative that you make a conscious effort to take care of yourself in order to prevent injury and burnout. One of the best ways to do this is to plan for a day off in your itinerary. Obviously we know that the GR20 is already very long, and not everyone will have the time to make this work. However, if it’s at all possible, we strongly recommend that you take a rest day. Not only will you give your body time to recover and rejuvenate, but you’ll have a chance to explore Corsica in ways that don’t involve hiking.
Vizzavona, located halfway through the route, is arguably the best place to spend a rest day. There are a couple of good shops where you can restock supplies, and there are several lovely restaurants and hotels where you can indulge in some creature comforts. Our GR20 Logisticsarticle has tons of helpful information on rest day options and considerations.
Living it up on our day off in Vizzavona!
8. Make New Friends
Many people are drawn to the GR20 because it offers the opportunity to experience solitude while trekking in wild and rugged landscapes. This is without a doubt one of the best parts of the trek, and you’ll certainly get to savor many moments alone in the mountains. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that time spent socializing with other people is one of the most memorable parts of many GR20 hikers’ experiences.
Since you’ll be starting and ending at the same refuges as many others each day, you’ll become familiar with those following a similar itinerary. You’ll have ample opportunities to chat along the trail, share a beer and a picnic table at sunset, cook your meals alongside your camp mates, and swap stories with new friends. Don’t pass up these opportunities! Meeting people from all over the world who share your love of the outdoors will make your experience so much richer. It was definitely one of the most fun, rewarding, and memorable parts of our GR20 adventure.
Kicking back and making friends at Refuge de Manganu.
9. Practice Your French
We’d be lying if we said it was utterly impossible to trek the GR20 without knowing any French. You could likely get yourself to and from the trail, navigate refuge check-ins, purchase food and supplies, and muddle your way through any unexpected issues that might arise. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should try. You’re going to have a much, much easier and more enjoyable experience if you take the time to brush up on your French skills before your trek. Not only will people appreciate your efforts (and therefore be more friendly and helpful), but there will undoubtedly be situations where English isn’t spoken and you need to communicate something.
You don’t need to be fluent, but you should learn some basic phrases relating to accommodation, weather, navigation, transportation, and food and drink.
Learn how to order food and drinks in French before your GR20 trek.
10. Leave No Trace
The GR20 traverses some truly stunning wild places. It is our responsibility to respect these places so that others can enjoy them now and many years into the future. This might seem unnecessary to discuss; after all, as hikers we have shared passion for the outdoors. However, if I had a Euro for every piece of trash or used toilet paper I saw on the trail, I would easily have enough money to take a luxury vacation. It’s simple: pack it in and pack it out. Stay on the designated trail. Don’t pick flowers or other vegetation. Furthermore, carry a small bag with you so you can pick up any trash you find along the trail, leaving it even more beautiful for those who come after you. Do your part and the mountains will reward you with their awe-inspiring beauty.
Do your part to protect this incredible place!
We hope you found this list to be helpful and we genuinely believe following this advice will allow you to have a less stressful and more rewarding experience.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out all of our other great GR20 content:
While the GR20 gets a lot of hype for its spectacular beauty (and it doesn’t disappoint), it’s perhaps even better known for earning the title of being the “toughest trek…
While the GR20 gets a lot of hype for its spectacular beauty (and it doesn’t disappoint), it’s perhaps even better known for earning the title of being the “toughest trek in Europe.” There is no doubt that hiking the GR20 is an exceptionally challenging endeavor, but it’s not one that is reserved only for the superhuman elites. Nearly any healthy hiker with a decent fitness base can successfully complete the GR20, given they are willing to put in the work to get physically prepared.
Let’s be really clear about this: the GR20 is not a trek that you should attempt without proper training and preparation.
Trying to “wing it” on the GR20 will set you up for a miserable and potentially unsafe experience. On the other hand, put in the work ahead of time and you’ll have an exponentially more enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Here’s a few reasons why that’s true:
You’ll be able to focus on the beauty of your surroundings instead of the pain and fatigue in your body.
You’ll eliminate the unnecessary stress of falling behind schedule due to spending longer-than-anticipated days on the trail.
By taking the time to prepare in advance, you’ll enjoy the anticipation of your upcoming trip and completing your trek will be immensely more rewarding.
You’ll improve your fitness and health by working towards a goal that is exciting and meaningful.
So keep reading to learn how to train for the GR20, and then get started! Your future self will thank you.
There’s no doubt about it- the GR20 is a challenging trek. Some of the major factors that contribute to its difficulty are the large amount of scrambling, steep ascents and descents, overall distance, heat and weather, and exposed nature of the trail. We believe that most reasonably fit people can complete the GR20, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. You’re much, much more likely to actually enjoy it if you are in good hiking shape and have backpacking experience. Most of the scrambling is pretty manageable; it is just tricky and awkward at times and can become tiring after you’ve been at it for awhile. If you are judicious about avoiding storms and careful on exposed sections, it really isn’t much more dangerous than other hikes.
For an in-depth look at the various challenges of the GR20, be sure to check out this post.
I don’t live near mountains…Will I be able to get fit enough?
Okay, so hopefully the first section of this post convinced you that yes you CAN complete the GR20, but also that you really, really should take our advice and train ahead of time. However, if you’re like many people who aspire to trek the GR20, you don’t have trails in your backyard on which to complete said training. If that’s your situation, don’t despair. We’ve known plenty of people who’ve become incredibly strong hikers without the benefit of mountain training. Here are some ideas for flatlanders:
Use the stairclimber machine at your local gym. Go slow, as this torture device machine definitely induces greater perceived exertion than most sections of the GR20.
Walk or run up and down the stairs at a nearby high school stadium or similar venue.
Get on a treadmill and walk at a brisk pace. Play around with setting the incline to a variety of levels, ranging from 5-12%.
Many bridges make excellent artificial hills. Make sure the one you choose has a safe pedestrian area and then walk back and forth across that sucker a bunch of times. Sure, it’s not the most exciting option, but consider it an opportunity to build both physical strength and mental fortitude.
As much as possible, complete the above activities while wearing a weighted pack similar to the one you plan on hiking with. Commit to one or more of these moves and you might be shocked at the high level of hiking fitness you can build without ever leaving sea level.
Adapting the GR20 for Varying Ability Levels
Unfortunately, the GR20 is not the friendliest trek in terms of accessibility and adaptations. Most sections that don’t allow for shortcuts or detours and the ones that do exist can be less than perfect. That being said, it is still possible to complete significant portions of the hike, even if you’re not able to do the whole thing. If your training doesn’t go as planned due to injury, illness, or the realities of life that inevitably creep in from time to time, there are ways to reduce the level of challenge on the trek. Here are a few suggestions:
If possible, consider adding an extra day or cutting out a segment to reduce the average distance you’ll need to cover each day.
Use a luggage transfer service to eliminate the extra demands of carrying your heavy pack (note that these do not service all stops along the GR20 and require you to take a different route at times)
Plan for a rest day midway through your hike. Vizzavona is the best option. See our logistics article for more information about luggage transfers, rest days, and detour options.
Enlist a few friends or family members to come with you and rent a car. You can alternate between hiking and driving the support vehicle to customize the amount of time spent on your feet. Plus, you’ll still be able to enjoy much of the same spectacular Corsican scenery from the road.
Plan to only complete the GR20 Sud. While still plenty challenging, the southern half of the GR20 is generally less strenuous and closer to civilization than the GR20 Nord
Basic GR20 Training Plan
Six Months Before Your GR20 Trek: Build Your Endurance Base
You should be prepared to spend many long days on the trail while hiking the GR20. Most walkers complete their trek in 13-16 days, meaning they’ll need to average around 11 kilometres (7 miles) per day. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, remember that it is slow and tiring to move across much of the terrain encountered on this trek. To prepare for extended periods of hiking, you should try to build a solid foundation of aerobic endurance. So what does that actually mean? Simply put, your body needs to be accustomed to sustaining low(ish)-intensity exercise for longer than an hour.
Like a lot of training, the best way to get your body used to moving for a long time is -you guessed it- to regularly move for extended periods of time. You can achieve this in a lot of different ways, but the important factor is that you’re frequently and consistently doing cardio exercise. Aerobic activity (AKA “cardio”) includes things like jogging, cycling, walking, swimming, using the elliptical machine, or anything else that requires moderate, sustained exertion (your heart rate should be elevated, but you should be able to maintain a conversation and keep up the activity for at least 30 minutes).
Starting six months prior to your GR20 trek, aim to complete 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3-5 times per week. If your fitness regimen already includes this kind of thing, just keep on keeping on!
Three Months Before Your GR20 Trek: Build Your Strength
In order to feel great throughout your trip and avoid injury and burnout, you’ll need the endurance base you started building in the previous training phase, plus ample leg strength. Ideally, at this point in your training you should begin to increase the frequency and intensity of your hiking. Your main goal is to continue to build your aerobic endurance while also training your leg muscles for long-distance hiking. If you can’t hit the trails, you can achieve similar results by doing anything that involves incline; bike uphill, set a treadmill to high incline (4-12% grade), or spend some time on the step machine at your gym. Heck, you could even walk the stairs at the local high school stadium if you wanted to.
Additionally, now is the time to start incorporating a leg strengthening routine into your weekly training. Many hikers neglect strength training for any number of reasons; they don’t think they need it, they don’t know how, they don’t have time, or they just find it boring (this last one is the favorite excuse of yours truly!) However, strength training plays a huge role in giving you the power needed to tackle hard climbs, build stability, stay light on your feet, and prevent injury. You don’t need to spend a ton of time in the gym to get results, either. Even just a few minutes a week in the comfort of your home can make a world of difference.
Everyone’s fitness goals are different, but we generally recommend completing the following short workout 2-3 times per week to build GR20-ready legs:
10 goblet squats (with medium weight)
10 lunges on each leg (add weight or jumps to increase the challenge)
10 step-ups on each leg (weights optional)
Complete three sets of each exercise. For extra credit, try to incorporate some core strengthening exercises (such as planks) into your routine.
Two Months Before Your GR20 Trek: Put on Your Pack
Remember all of thatbrand new gear sitting in your closet? Now is the time to break it in! In the eight weeks or so before your trip, try to get in as many longer hikes (or walks) with your gear as possible. Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for your trek. The benefits of breaking in your gear at this point are twofold. First, you’ll be able to test your boots, backpack, socks, and so on to ensure that they fit well during longer hikes. Second, you’ll begin training your body to hike while wearing a heavy backpack. If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging it is to hike with the extra weight. This is especially true when it comes to navigating the awkward scrambles that are plentiful on the GR20.
Even if you’ve been strength training, chances are you’ll be using new muscles when hiking with a backpack. The best way to condition your body? Hiking as much as possible with that heavy backpack! In the two months before your GR20 trek, try to complete at least one challenging hike every week while wearing your pack. Your backpack should mirror the weight you intend to carry on your GR20 hike, including food and water. Ideally, you should work up to hikes that are 15-18 kilometres (5-10 miles) long with 500 meters (1,500 feet) of elevation gain. If that’s not possible, try to complete a weekly long walk (5-10 miles) while wearing your pack and with as many hills as possible (see the previous section for more ideas on this). As an added bonus, these hikes/walks are a great opportunity to start breaking in new hiking boots and other gear.
ImportantReminder: During this training phase, you should keep up your aerobic and strength training from the previous sections, simply replacing one of your weekly aerobic workouts with a long hike.
One Month Before Your GR20 Trek: Time for a Test Run (Hike)
This stage in your training is awesome because it requires you to take a vacation (you’re welcome). If at all possible, try to take a 1-2 night backpacking trip in your local woods. If you aren’t planning on camping along the GR20, you don’t need to take an overnight trip, but you should still try to fit in two back-to-back days of long, hard hiking.
This important step allows you to try out different ways of packing your backpack for maximum fit and comfort, practice setting up camp, and get your body used to hiking consecutive days in a row. It will also give you the chance to see what items you packed that you don’t need, and what you may have forgotten.
Keep up your established aerobic and strength training until 10 days to one week before the hike. In the last week before your trip, continue doing some light cardio and strength, but take extra rest days and don’t do any big, challenging hikes so your body is fresh for your upcoming adventure. Upon arriving in Corsica, try to give yourself a day or two to rest and acclimate before starting your trek. Finally, pat yourself on the back and take pride in showing up to your GR20 trek fit, prepared, and the best version of yourself!
Disclaimer: This training plan is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor is it a replacement for seeking medical treatment or professional nutrition advice. Do not start any nutrition or physical activity program without first consulting your physician.
So how tough is Europe’s toughest trek? Short answer: pretty tough. And what about the GR20 makes it hard? Short answer: lots of things. Medium answer: the physical challenges, the…
So how tough is Europe’s toughest trek? Short answer: pretty tough. And what about the GR20 makes it hard? Short answer: lots of things. Medium answer: the physical challenges, the sheer length of the trek, the weather conditions, and the technical natureof the trail (Keep reading for the long answer).
On long treks, sometimes the toughest times come when we’re least expecting them: the “easy day” that feels endless, the downhill cruise that crushes our knees, or that chilly morning that we can’t summon up the willpower to unzip our sleeping bag. Those moments will undoubtedly occur on your GR20 adventure, adding a little spice and character-building to the experience (how’s that for a positive spin?) That being said, in addition to the parts that are personally challenging, there are sections of the GR20 that are universally tough for everyone.
It’s important to get physically and mentally prepared for these sections, but you shouldn’t be too intimidated. The purpose of sharing this information is certainly not to scare you, but to give you an idea of what to expect so you can approach your trek feeling prepped and confident. We’ve listed these in order by stage (not toughness), assuming you’re hiking in the traditional north-south direction.
The ridge walk between Bocca Piccaia and Bocca Carozzu (Stage 2): This is the first of many long, slow, and undulating ridge walks and arguably one of the hardest. Be prepared for lots of scrambling.
The Spatismata Slabs (Stage 3): Perhaps the most infamous of the entire trek, the so-called “Slabs of Doom” have the reputation for being sketchy and vertigo-inducing. These large, steep rock slabs are fitted with cables in many places. If you’re heading uphill, they actually aren’t too scary, but downhill hikers have reported feeling uncomfortable with the steep grade. The slabs can be extremely slippery and dangerous when wet.
Ascent to Pointe des Eboulis (Stage 4): Pointe des Eboulis is the highest point on the entire GR20 trek, and getting to it is no small feat. The ascent is long, very steep, and requires some pretty technical scrambling on the final push to the top. Additionally, in our opinion Stage 4 is the toughest stage overall, so your effort on the ascent is compounded by the other challenging aspects of the day.
The view from Bocca Piacca.
Ascent to Bocca a e Porte and ridgewalk to Bocca Muzzella (Stage 7): These sections are very characteristic of the GR20 Nord. Expect a very steep and strenuous climb followed by a long, slow ridge walk with lots of scrambling.
Descent into Vizzavona (Stage 9): If you don’t think hiking downhill can be hard, think again. Stage 9 entails nearly 5,000 feet of elevation loss, much of that on steep and stony paths. It’s a physical and mental grind, but the small luxuries waiting in Vizzavona make it all worthwhile.
Monte Renosu high-level variante (Stage 11): This optional alternate route is pretty straightforward on the initial ascent to the summit of Monte Renosu, but the following section requires some pretty technical scrambling and good navigation skills (the route is not well-marked).
Stage 12: Those who claim that the southern half of the GR20 is easy fail to take this stage into account. If you didn’t make it to Refuge de Prati on the previous day, you have a big ascent to start the day. Then there is a long, slow ridge walk in the middle, followed by yet another challenging climb and a final, maddeningly rocky descent.
The traditional GR20 route starts in Calenzana in the north, passes through the midpoint in Vizzavona, and finishes in Conca in the south. However, it is possible to hike in either direction. The northern half of the GR20 has a reputation for being the toughest, while the southern half is a bit gentler. Some trekkers prefer to start in the south to get accustomed to the trail before tackling the tougher sections in the north. Others would rather start in the north in order to put the biggest days behind them early and do so with fresh legs.
So in terms of difficulty, one way isn’t significantly more or less challenging than the other. It is totally a matter of personal preference, although we hiked from north to south and would definitely recommend it. We benefited from the confidence boost that came with conquering the most challenging sections early on, and we felt the ascents and descents were more manageable in this direction. While slightly less people hike in the northbound direction, you probably won’t notice a significant difference in crowds since hikers headed both ways stay at the same refuges.
Physical Challenges of the GR20
The GR20 does not require advanced mountaineering experience, but its challenges certainly should not be taken lightly. It is a very strenuous endeavor, with a staggering 34,500 feet or 10,500 meters of elevation change. When averaged out over the 16 stages, hikers have over 2,150 feet or 655 meters of elevation change to tackle per day. Many trekkers will complete the GR20 in fewer days, meaning they’ll have an even greater challenge! You’ll be carrying all of your necessities on your back and much of the hike requires walking on steep, loose, and rocky terrain, all of which add to the toll on your body.
One other consideration involves the health of your knees and overall leg strength. There are very long, steep descents on nearly every stage of the GR20, and these can create problems and irritate chronic injuries for those with sensitive knees, backs, and hips.
With a few exceptions (say, relaxing on a beach), it is difficult to get up and do the same activity all day every day for two weeks straight. Whether you complete the GR20 in twelve days or sixteen, that is a long time to be out there. Not only can the repeated long days on the trail wear you down physically, but they can also impact you mentally. Don’t despair- although the GR20’s length presents a major challenge, it is also one of the best parts. There is a beautiful and gratifying simplicity in the routines of life on the GR20, a simplicity you’ll likely yearn for long after your adventure ends.
Enjoying the simple things on the GR20.
Weather Challenges of the GR20
No matter what time of year you choose to trek the GR20, weather conditions are more than likely to add to the challenge of your experience. The vast majority of hikers complete their trek in the summer months, which certainly has advantages (such as snow-free trails and stocked refuges). However, the heat can be absolutely brutal. Much of the trail is very exposed, meaning you’ll be laboring under the very strong Corsican sun. This increases your risk of dehydration and heatstroke and will totally sap your energy.
Additionally, the afternoon thunderstorms in July and August are nothing to take lightly. Lightning is especially dangerous when you’re on a high ridgeline or exposed peak. Fortunately, if you’re willing to get an early start, you can avoid the worst of the heat and get off the most exposed parts of the trail before the storms roll in.
Regardless of whether you choose to trek in May, July, or September, you will encounter weather elements that add to the challenge of the trek, be it gale-force winds, frigid mornings, glaring sun, or torrential storms. Get on the trail at sunrise, use good judgment, give the mountains the respect they deserve, and you’ll be just fine.
Technical Challenges of the GR20
In addition to the basic physical challenges, there are also many sections of the GR20 that are technically difficult. This reality really begins to sink in when you look at the time estimates for some stages of the trek. For example, the time estimate for completing Stage 3 is 5.5 hours, and yet the distance covered is just 3.75 miles. How is it possible that it could take such a long time to go such a short distance? you might ask. Welcome to the GR20.
The GR20 is a very technical hike, but it is still a hike. There are no points where you’ll need to use ropes or climbing implements, but there are a few things that make it technical. First and foremost, many stages require quite a bit of scrambling. Think of scrambling as slightly less vertical rock climbing. It’s not like you’ll need to shimmy straight up a sheer rock wall, but you’ll need to use your hands and really lean into the rock to get up or down certain sections. Additionally, there are cables and chains fixed to the rock to help you navigate some areas. These can seem intimidating, but they’re actually not so bad. Finally, the trail conditions add to the overall technicality of the GR20. Much of the rock can become slippery and treacherous if wet, and other sections of trail are quite loose and stony.
Many stages of the GR20 (particularly on the GR20 Nord) follow a similar pattern: long steep ascent, undulating ridge walk with lots of scrambling, long steep descent. Despite the fact that the ascents can be tiring and the descents knee-crunching, they are relatively straightforward. The ridge walks, however, can be very slow and arduous, due to the amount of scrambling involved. If you keep your mental game strong, you will discover that scrambling is actually really FUN and one of the most unique and wonderful parts of the GR20 experience!
The bottom line…
If you approach it with a solid fitness base and some trekking experience, you should be well suited for the GR20. There’s no need to be too intimidated by this trek, but it’s a very good idea to train ahead of time, be realistic about your abilities and expectations, and use good judgment in the mountains.
It is often said that if you walk more than 20 feet on the GR20 without seeing one of the famous red and white paint flashes that you’ve gone off…
It is often said that if you walk more than 20 feet on the GR20 without seeing one of the famous red and white paint flashes that you’ve gone off the trail. In reality, navigating on the GR20 is a bit more complicated than that, especially given the multiple variants, difficult terrain, and exposed nature of the route. The last thing you want while tackling this famously difficult trail is to have to think too hard about navigating. That’s why we recommend all trekkers think about how they’ll find their way on the trail before arriving in Corsica.
We think that with the proper tools and preparation you’ll have no difficultly navigating on this incredible trail. In this post we’ll walk you step-by-step through exactly how we navigated on the GR20 utilizing offline GPS maps on our smartphones. We’ve even got some great resources for those who would like to do the same. Let’s get started!
The GR20 presents some unique challenges when it comes to bringing physical maps. The route is so long that in order to cover it in its entirety you would need to bring no less than seven IGN maps. All this for a hike that you should be packing as light as possible! We did not rely on paper maps during our GR20 hike, instead choosing to utilize the GPS maps described in this article. That being said, we always recommend that trekkers carry some form of paper maps with them. There are just too many opportunities for you to run out of battery, break your phone, or have some other technical malfunction that renders your GPS map useless.
To cover the entire GR20 at a good scale (1:25,000) we recommend bringing the following IGN maps:
Offline GPS maps for your smartphone are one of our favorite insider tips for those trekking the GR20. These maps make navigating the route a breeze by showing you exactly where you are on the trail as well as the surrounding terrain, next stopping point, and other important data. We utilized these features frequently on our own GR20 hike to know how far we had hiked at any given time, check that we were still on the trail, and know-how close we were to the next refuge on the trail.
Setting up these apps takes little effort on your part, but will make your GR20 much less stressful! Once you’ve selected your app of choice (more on that below) you simply download the necessary GPS files onto your phone, download some background maps, and you’ll be navigating like a pro in no time!
We think this is far and away the most convenient way to navigate on the GR20 and want to help you successfully utilize offline mobile maps on your own trek. Keep reading below to learn more about how your phone can work as a GPS and how we can help you feel confident using this navigation method.
Turn your phone into a GPS
Did you know your phone can do much more than just send email, take great photos, and video chat with someone halfway around the world? Our favorite feature that is often overlooked is the modern smartphone’s ability to act as a GPS device. This is especially useful for long-distance treks with limited cell phone service like the GR20! You regularly use this feature when navigating with Google Maps, Apple Maps, or other mapping software that comes standard on most phones these days.
The problem you run into while hiking is that your phone relies on having an internet connection in order to download the background mapping data that needs to be displayed for you to know where you are. You see, the GPS in your phone only provides a location point, but the really valuable data is the background map that shows the various streets, businesses and even traffic conditions around you. Without an internet connection to show the background map, your Google Maps app will look something like this:
Not a very effective way to navigate
Solving the background map problem
Given the excellent cell phone and internet coverage in cities and town, this typically isn’t an issue. However, this can be very problematic when you’re nearing the top of Monte Cinto on the GR20 without cell service! So what’s the solution?
GPS Navigation apps that allow for downloadable background maps. These apps allow you to select a predefined area, in our case the entirety of the GR20, and download the background map to your phone.
This allows you to access the map data without a cell phone connection and still know exactly where you are! Even though your phone is not connected to cell service or internet, the GPS will still work and give you accurate location information. Pretty cool, huh? I’ll show you exactly how we did this for the GR20 below.
GR20 maps – How we can help
For those looking for GR20 GPS resources, we offer a complete mapping digital download for just $4.99. Included you’ll get access to both .gpx and .kml files for the entire GR20 route along with common alternate routes and waypoints of all of the stops along the traditional itinerary.
These custom maps can be used on Android and Apple devices and works with both paid and free GPS navigation apps.
Which app should I use on the GR20?
There are countless GPS app options available for you to choose from. Of those we’ve used and recommend two options for GR20 hikers: Maps.me and Gaia GPS. The main difference between the two apps is that Maps.me is free to download and use,but has limited base maps. On the other hand, Gaia GPS requires a $19.99 annual subscription to use but has superior offline base maps and more robust navigational tools. Check out the comparison below to see how a specific section of the GR20 displays in each of the apps. Instructions for downloading and accessing the GPS data for the GR20 for both Maps.me and Gaia GPS are included below.
Comparison of Maps.Me and Gaia GPS for the GR20
As shown above, both apps do a fine job of displaying the route and location points along the way. The major difference is that Gaia GPS provides much more in-depth information such as adjacent trails, topographic data, and elevation shading. It is for this reason that we highly recommend you spend the $20 to use Gaia GPS. However, we definitely understand those who prefer to use the free option. If you decide to go that route it is even more important for you to carry paper maps as you may need more detailed information than what Maps.me provides.
Gaia GPS for the GR20
The instructions below provide a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom GR20 GPS data we’ve created in Gaia GPS.
Step One – Download the GR20 GPS file
When you purchase our GR20 GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to open the email and download the .KML (or . GPX) file directly onto your phone (as opposed to on another device) to simplify the process. If you do happen to download the file to your computer you’ll need to transfer it to your phone. The easiest option for this would be to simply email it to yourself.
After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Gaia GPS, which you should do.
Gaia GPS will then import the data and you should see the GR20 route and waypoints for your specific itinerary displayed on the map.
Success! You’ve imported the GR20 GPS data into Gaia GPS.
Step Two – Choose your map source
Next, you’ll want to select your base map for the GR20. This will be the background map that you will eventually download and use to navigate while hiking, even without cell phone service. There are tons of background maps available for download, but we highly recommend the “Outdoor” layer for those hiking the GR20. To choose this map source, simply select the layers icon in the top right corner and then select ‘Outdoors’.
Step Three – Navigate to the GR20 and download your base map
Once you have selected the “Outdoor” base map, you’ll need to download the entire area of the GR20 – which is almost the entire island of Corsica! Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know your exact location on the trail when you don’t have cell phone service. To download the map background data, follow the steps below:
Navigate to Corsica and then the area of the GR20 in Gaia GPS
Select the ‘Create’ button (circle with a plus sign in the upper right-hand corner)
Select ‘Download Map’
Draw a rectangle with your finger that encompasses the entire GR20
Set the ‘Max Zoom’ to 17
Name your map ‘GR20’ and select ‘Save’
Allow the download to complete and you’re done! (you’ll want to be connected to WiFi for this)
That’s it! Now you’re all set to navigate on the GR20 like a pro with an offline GPS map in Gaia GPS. You can now zoom in on specific sections, view trail segments, and see all of the refuges along the route!
Using the Gaia GPS app on the trail
The final step for navigating like a pro on the GR20 is to know how to utilize the Gaia GPS app when you are out on the trail. To view your current location, simply select the location button on the top menu. At this point your phone will activate its GPS, and (providing you have a fairly clear view of the sky) in a few moments it will show you exactly where you are by displaying a yellow arrow. Use this whenever you want to see how far you’ve gone, how much further you have left until your next stop, or if a fork in the road has you questioning the correct way. NOTE: The yellow arrow shows you where you are, but will not necessarily point towards the direction you are actually facing. This is important to remember when you are orienting yourself!
Maps.me for the GR20
The instructions below show a step-by-step guide for downloading and accessing the custom GR20 GPS data we’ve created in Maps.me. Maps.me is an excellent free navigation app that allows you to download offline background data. As we noted above, downloading background data is the the key to successfully utilizing GPS to navigate on the GR20. The primary shortcoming of using Maps.me for navigation while trekking is the limited base map data.
You won’t find any topographic lines, terrain shading, or other helpful features. However, we know that many trekkers will be just fine with Maps.me and you can’t beat the price! Here is your step-by-step guide to utilizing our GR20 GPS data with Maps.me:
Step One – Download the GR20 GPS file
When you purchase our GR20 GPS download, you’ll get a link for the GPS file included in your order confirmation email. You’ll want to be sure to open the email and download the GPS file directly onto your phone to simplify the process. Be sure to download the .KML file as Maps.me cannot read gpx files. After completing the download you’ll be prompted to open the file in Maps.me, which you’ll want to go ahead and do.
After opening the GPS file with Maps.me, the app will navigate to your current location and will also display a message stating that your bookmarks have successfully been loaded. You’ll need to move the map from your current location to the GR20 and verify that you see the track and waypoints displayed.
Step Two – Download the GR20 base maps
Once you have successfully loaded the GR20 GPS data, you’ll need to download the entire area of the GR20 as a base map in Maps.me. Remember, without downloading this data you’ll have no way to know where exactly you are on the trail. To download the background map data in Maps.me, follow the steps below:
Navigate to Corsica and then the area of the GR20 in Maps.me
Zoom in on the trail until the app prompts you to download a map region
You’ll need to download the Corsica map in Maps.me to cover the entire GR20.
Verify that you’ve downloaded the required base map by navigating to the ‘Download Maps’ menu.
Once you’ve checked that the Corsica map has been successfully downloaded you’re all done!
Zoom in on the trail until prompted to download the ‘Corsica’ map.
To verify that you’ve successfully downloaded all of the Corsica base map in Maps.me follow these steps:
Select the ‘Menu’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen
Select ‘Download Maps’
Verify that the ‘Corsica’ map is downloaded
A note on battery life
One of the easiest ways for the app-navigation method to go awry is for your phone battery to die. I recommend two strategies to help prevent an unexpected dead battery from sabotaging your trip. The first is to ensure that you always exit the app before locking your phone. This will prevent the app from continually locating you, and thus draining your battery. You can also keep your phone on “airplane mode” to prevent it from wasting battery life while searching for cell service.
The second way to prevent a dead battery from causing problems is to carry a backup battery system. These are relatively inexpensive and are worth their weight in gold when you find yourself with a dying battery. I like the Anker PowerCore 20100, but any decent option should do.
Planning a GR20 hike is a tremendous undertaking. Known as the hardest trek in Europe, the GR20 has more than its fair share of challenges. The route, weather, and trail…
Planning a GR20 hike is a tremendous undertaking. Known as the hardest trek in Europe, the GR20 has more than its fair share of challenges. The route, weather, and trail conditions all conspire to truly make this one of the most difficult hikes around. Adding to that difficulty is the fact that Corsica can be extremely tricky to get around when compared to the rest of Europe. Infrequent public transportation, limited train routes, and lack of clear schedules can make planning for the GR20 nearly as hard as the hike itself!
We wrote this guide to help you plan for all the small details and tricky logistical items that are sure to arise as you plan your own GR20 adventure.
Corsica can be reached easily from the rest of Europe by either air or sea. The most popular port of entry for either air travel of ferries will be Bastia on the northeast coast of the island. You will also have the option of flying into Calvi, Figari (near Porto Vecchio), or Ajaccio.
When considering which city you’ll arrive in, your main consideration should be whether you are hiking from north to south (starting in Calenzana) or hiking south to north (starting in Conca).
For those hiking the GR20 in the traditional north to south direction, Bastia or Calvi will be your best bet. For those hiking from south to north, Porto Vecchio or Figari will be the most convenient.
Bastia has the largest number of flights from the rest of Europe, with connections to France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and others. For ferry connections, Nice and Marseilles in France serve all the major ports in Corsica .
Getting to Bastia from the airport
Connecting from the Bastia Airport into central Bastia is relatively straightforward. The most cost effective means of transportation is the public bus linking the airport and Bastia. When exiting the terminal at the airport, look for a large, unmarked white bus. You can ask around at the airport information kiosk and they will point you in the right direction.
The bus costs 9 euros and drops travelers off near the port in the main part of Bastia, or adjacent to the train station.
Getting to the start of the GR20 (Calenzana)
For those hiking the GR20 from north to south the trail starts in the lovely town of Calenzana. Calenzana is just inland from the coastal town of Calvi. Your best bet will be to arrive in either Bastia or Cavli, both located in the north of the island. Making your way from either of those two cities to Calenzana is described below:
Getting to Calenzana from Bastia
Most trekkers will enter Corsica in Bastia and then make their way to Calenzana from there. While it is theoretically possible to arrive in Bastia and the start the GR20 the same day, we wouldn’t recommend it. It is much better to give yourself an entire day to reach Calenzana. Here are your options for getting from Calenzana to Bastia:
Getting to Calenzana by bus from Bastia:
The bus from Bastia to Calvi runs twice a day (including Sundays) in the summer season (generally July 1 – August 31st), with departures typically at 10:30 and 17:00. Outside of the summer season, the bus runs once per day at 16:30 (Monday – Thursday, and school holidays) and 17:00 (Fridays). Keep in mind there is no bus service on either Saturday or Sunday outside of the summer season! The route is operated by Les Beaux Voyages.
The bus leaves from the stop just adjacent to the train station in Bastia. Be sure to check corsicabus.org and the Les Beaux Voyages website for the latest bus schedules and to confirm exactly where the bus departs. The staff at the train station are a good source of information for this.
Getting to Calenzana by train from Bastia:
Corsica has a very simple train line that connects Bastia, Ajaccio and Calvi. To get from Bastia to Calenzana via train, you’ll first need to take the line to Cavli. The schedule for this train is highly variable and changes by the season so be sure to check the “unofficial” Corsica Train website here. Trains typically run twice per day, but be aware that services can be greatly reduced or non-existent on Sundays. We paid 16 euros per person for our ticket in September 2019.
Getting from Cavli to Calenzana:
Once you arrive in Calvi you’ll need to take the bus to Calenzana. The bus is operated by Les Beaux Voyages. You’ll want to stop by their office, which is located just up the street from the train station, to purchase a ticket before getting on the bus. The bus then picks up from across the street from the Les Beaux Voyages office. See the map below for locations of the train station, bus office, and bus stop.
Getting to the start of the GR20 (Conca)
For those hiking the GR20 from south to north, you’ll start in the town of Conca. Conca is just inland from the southern coast of Corsica and can be easily reached from either Porto Vecchio (via the Figari airport) or Bastia. As with all travel in Corsica, be sure to give yourself a full day to make it to Conca from any of the major cities in Corsica.
Getting to Conca by bus from Porto Vecchio or Figari airport:
There is no train service in the southern area of Corsica, so you’ll need to take the bus to Conca from either the Figari airport or Porto Vecchio. From the Figari airport you’ll need to catch the bus operated by Transports Rossi to Porto Vecchio. The bus operates only a few times per day, so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to Conca.
From Porto Vecchio you will then take the bus operated by Les Rapides Blues towards Bastia. The bus departs from the Porto Vecchio bus station near the marina twice daily at 8:00 and 13:30. It operates daily from June 15th to September 16th. Outside of that time frame the bus only runs Monday – Saturday.
You’ll get off the bus at the Ste Lucie de Porto Vecchio stop. From there you’ll need to call the Gite La Tonnelle (04 95 71 46 55) in Conca to arrange for their minibus to pick you up and take you to Conca. You can also inquire at the Bar U Colombu across the street from the stop as they can also call the Gite. It is advisable to contact the Gite before you depart to be sure they can pick you up in Ste Lucie de Porto Vecchio. Alternatively, you can always take a taxi from the bus stop to Conca, though this is a pricey option.
Getting to Conca from Bastia:
If you’ve arrived in Bastia, you’ll need to catch the Bastia-Porto Vecchio bus operated by Les Rapides Blues towards Porto Vecchio. You’ll take the bus to the Ste. Lucie de Porto Vecchio and then connect to Conca using the mini-bus operated by the Gite La Tonnelle (04 95 71 46 55). As stated above, be sure to contact the Gite in advance of your arrival to be sure they can pick you up! Otherwise, you’ll have to call a taxi for the ~20 minute ride to Conca.
Where to stay before and after the GR20
Depending on whether you’re hiking the GR20 from north to south, or from south to north you’ll either start in Calenzana and finish in Conca or vice versa. Either way you’ll want to be sure you secure accommodation for before and after your trek. Here are your best options in both Calenzana and Conca:
Where to stay in Calenzana
Calenzana is a lovely, compact town with several lodging options. For those on a budget, the Gîte d’étape Communal offers dormitory accommodation as well as space for camping. It is located at the entry to the town and the bus from Calvi will almost certainly make its first stop at the Gite.
For those starting or finishing the GR20 in Conca you’ll have a few accommodation options. On the more basic end the Gite La Tonnelle offers dormitory and private rooms along with camping. They also arrange transit to/from Ste. Lucie de Porto Vecchio for onward connections to either Bastia or Porto Vecchio.
On the more upscale end, the Hotel San Pasquale has lovely grounds as well as very friendly staff. We highly recommend.
Transportation on the GR20
For the most part the GR20 is an isolated trail, visiting only the occasional road or village. You’ll spend many of your days high in the mountains with no easy options for leaving the trail. However, there are a few points along the route that offer connections to the rest of Corsica should you need to leave the trail for any reason. Here are your main options:
Haut-Asco ski area
From the Haute Asco ski area there are twice daily minibuses that connect to the train station at Ponte Leccia. The service is operated by Corsica Giru (+33 6 26 65 38 00). From the train station at Ponte Leccia connections can be made to Bastia, Calvi, and Ajaccio.
Hotel Castel de Vergio
From Hotel Castel de Vergio, a bus service offered by Autocars Cortenais connects trekkers with Corte. From Corte, onward connections to the rest of Corsica are possible.
Vizzavona is conveniently located on the main rail route, making it easy for trekkers to connect to Bastia and Ajaccio.
Village de Bavella
From Village de Bavella it is possible to connect via bus to Ajaccio and Porto Vecchio.
It is possible to leave the GR20 at the Haut Asco ski area.
Where to take a rest day on the GR20
There is no question about it, the GR20 is one of the hardest hikes in the world. If you’re looking for an easy and enjoyable way to make it a bit more manageable, we recommend taking a rest day to enjoy your beautiful surroundings and recharge your body. Here are our top options for taking a rest day on the GR20:
Vizzavona is the most natural place to take a rest day. It is approximately half-way through the GR20 and has a range of services available including transportation links to the rest of Corsica. You have a variety of accommodation options including luxurious hotels as well as a nice campground. In addition, you’ll have the most options for dining of any of the stops along the GR20 and the chance for some nice excursions from town if you’re feeling up to it.
Here are your best lodging options in Vizzavona:
Hotel Casa Alta: On our GR20 trek we opted to splurge a bit and stay at the lovely Hotel Casa Alta – a beautiful and well run bed and breakfast located in a secluded stand of pine trees on the outskirts of town. We highly recommend it!
Lovely views from a room at the Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona.
Hotel U Castellu: Another excellent option for a break from the campgrounds and refuges of the GR20 is to stay at the Hotel U Castellu in Vizzavona. This hotel gets great reviews for its quiet setting and comfortable rooms.
Vizzavona Campground: While certainly not luxurious, the Vizzavona campground has an excellent shop and laundry facilities. The location is also great, set just outside of the main part of town.
Castel di Vergio
Castel di Vergio and the accompanying hotel make a great rest day stop for those who are feeling the effects of the very difficult first few days of the GR20. For those heading from north to south you’ll have to endure some of the hardest days on the trek, and there is no shame in wanting to take a day off here and recover! While there aren’t many amenities to speak of, there is a nice hotel, restaurant, as well as a bus service that provides transit links to Corte and the rest of Corsica.
There are really only a few accommodation options at Castel di Vergio:
Hotel Castel di Vergio: The hotel offers both private hotel rooms as well as a simple gite. While not the most scenic building, it does have an excellent restaurant, friendly staff, and a great bar.
Castel di Vergio Campground: Adjacent to the gite, this is one of the nicer campgrounds you’ll encounter on the GR20. Hot showers, a covered cooking area, and an extremely well-stocked shop make this a nice place to spend an extra night, even if you’re camping.
Luggage storage on the GR20
Given the difficulty of the GR20 it is essential to carry only what you need and nothing extra. However, many walkers may be traveling with more than just the essentials. When we hiked the GR20 we had plenty of additional luggage that we didn’t want to carry on the trek: a laptop, extra clothes, and some cold weather gear. We knew that we didn’t walk to take it with us on the GR20, but finding a way to store our luggage was difficult.
Our solution was to strategically book a hotel in Bastia that we knew would agree to hold our luggage for the duration of the trek. This meant that we would stay at the hotel both before and after our trek, with the hotel keeping our excess luggage free of charge. You can’t beat free!
For this, we stayed at the Best Western Bastia Centre, which was happy to accommodate our luggage storage request. If you’re traveling through Bastia both ways for your own GR20 trek, we highly recommend staying at the Best Western to solve the luggage storage issue. If you’re not transiting through Bastia, staying at one hotel both before and after the GR20 is likely your best bet to find luggage storage. Just call or email the hotel you are thinking of staying at before booking to confirm they’ll store your luggage.
Luggage transfer on the GR20
For those who are interested in a luggage transfer service on the GR20 our simple advice would be to scrutinize what you are packing and plan to carry it all yourself. The reality is that luggage transfer on the GR20 is very expensive and is likely to require that you not hike the traditional GR20 route. The reason for this is that much of the GR20 is extremely remote and it is not possible for transfer companies to reach the various refuges along the route. Several companies offer guided and self-guided GR20 hikes that include luggage transfer, but be sure to look closely at their itinerary and think hard if you are okay sacrificing hiking the entire route in order to have your luggage transferred.
Money on the GR20
The main consideration to think about regarding money on the GR20 is that it is pretty much a cash-only. There are no ATMs along the route, not even in Calenzana and Conca at the endpoints, nor in Vizzavona at the midpoint.
It is essential that you estimate your expected daily costs (food and lodging), plus some cushion for transportation and other miscellaneous or unplanned items. Keep in mind that if you made reservations for refuges or hire tents, you will have paid in full for this accommodation ahead of time and won’t need to carry quite as much money.
They’re not going to find any ATMs around here!
A small number of places accept credit cards, (such as the campground shop in Vizzavona and many of the hotels) and you might be lucky enough to get cash back in a pinch. In general, things are relatively expensive in Corsica, especially along the trail. Check out our How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 article for more on what you can expect to pay.
Ready to keep planning your GR20 adventure?
Logistics on the GR20 are definitely not easy, but we hope this article provided you with some of the essentials to make sure you have a great trek. Our best advice is to be prepared and be flexbile!
If you’re looking to keep planning the perfect GR20, be sure to check out the rest of our comprehensive resources below:
There are some long-distance hikes in which you can get away with carrying stuff you don’t need. Sure, you may find yourself huffing and puffing a little more than you’d…
There are some long-distance hikes in which you can get away with carrying stuff you don’t need. Sure, you may find yourself huffing and puffing a little more than you’d like and your knees might be cranky by the end of the day, but on the whole you’ll be alright. Maybe you’ll even be glad you brought along that collapsible camping tea kettle or extra fancy toiletries (although we seriously doubt it).
The GR20 is not one of those hikes.
You’ll be thankful you packed smart when you’re up here!
Not only is the GR20 very long and physically demanding, but it also has several sections that are quite technical. When you’re awkwardly climbing your way down a steep gully or hoisting yourself up a sheer slab of rock, you’ll be glad to have as light a pack as possible. Indeed, carrying a backpack that is too heavy is a common cause of hikers quitting their trek altogether. We’re not telling you this to scare you, but rather we want to spread the word about one of the most important keys to success on this trek-your GR20 packing list.
When packing for the GR20, you need to be ruthless. Leave behind everything except for the absolute essentials, and we promise your trek will be exponentially more enjoyable. In this post, we’ll share our best advice for on must-have gear, as well as give you our tried-and-true GR20 packing list, organized into helpful categories and suitable for both campers and those staying in the refuges.
There are limitless ways to hike the GR20; you can carry your own tent, stay in refuges or hire tents, self-cater, eat meals at refuges, hike at a slow pace, double up on stages, and so on. Your GR20 packing list will need to be tailored to your individual itinerary and needs. Someone who is purchasing most of their meals and staying in refuges will have a significantly different kit than someone who is carrying all of their own camping gear and cooking their own meals. Despite all of this variability, there are a few basic truths about packing for the GR20 that apply to everyone. These include:
Keep your backpack as light as possible! (see the next section for more on this)
It is essential to dial in your footwear.
Bring hiking poles and learn how to use them prior to your GR20 trek.
This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…
How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before?
Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues?
As a very general rule, campers (with their own tent) should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. Those staying in refuges should carry no more than 9kg. If you are backpacking for the first time or have a chronic injury, the weight of your pack should be significantly less than these guidelines.
Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for lightening your load:
You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry. Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.
You’ll be happy to have a light backpack on steep trails like this.
Footwear on the GR20
Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the GR20, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!
In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on. I hiked in non-waterproof trail runners, while Ian used traditional hiking boots and we were both very happy with the results. Some people argue that trailrunners can’t withstand the wear and tear of the rough conditions of the GR20, but I didn’t have any issues in this regard, and I was grateful to have comfortable, reliable footwear.
Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.
You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.
If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toe socks.
BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the GR20. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections. Make sure your poles are lightweight and collapsible, as you’ll need to stash them frequently on scrambling sections that necessitate having your hands free.
The type of pack you’ll need for the GR20 will depend on your individual itinerary.
The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the GR20. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying in refuges will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs. Bonus points if the pack has a system for quickly stashing your trekking poles!
Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.
If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the GR20 (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Even if you’re not, you’re likely to have something that necessitates having a full battery. Some refuges will allow you to charge electronics (sometimes for free & often for a small fee), but this certainly isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind.
Charging electronics can get a little crazy on the GR20, if you’re lucky enough to find somewhere that’ll even let you.
Corsica can get extremely hot in the summer months, and you are more than likely to face some sweltering temperatures while hiking the GR20. You should plan on drinking upwards of two liters of water per day- indeed some hikers will need three or even four liters on long, hot day. Staying adequately hydrated is crucial for this trek, as the heat and the physical exertion can take their toll. Although there are water refill points along most stages of the hike, these are not always the most dependable or conveniently located. Instead of relying on spotty water sources, we strongly recommend that you fill up a large hydration bladder with all of the water you’ll need before setting out for the day. We love using our 3L Platypus hydration bladders because they make it easy to fill up on larger quantities of water, their handy straws promote more frequent and efficient hydration while hiking, and they allow you to carry the weight in an optimized way against your back. We definitely feel that a good bladder is an essential item for the GR20.
Camping-Specific Gear List
If you plan on camping along the GR20, there’s a lot more gear you need to think about than just your hiking basics. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered!
Use this camping gear list in conjunction with the personal items list, miscellaneous list, and men’s or women’s clothing list to put together your perfect kit.
In all honesty, we did not actually bring a freestanding tent with us on the GR20. We’re still using our trusty Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, which has lasted us nearly a decade and hundreds of nights out in the backcountry. We typically recommend this tent wholeheartedly for any backpacking trek, due to its high quality design and affordable price tag. Even though we love this tent dearly, there were countless times we wished we had a freestanding tent on the GR20. This is because the ground at most camping areas consists of very hard-packed dirt, making it virtually impossible to get a stake in. Additionally, it can be very challenging to find an even surface to pitch your tent on, and sometimes you’ll realize you need to move it once you’ve already erected it. Unlike with a traditional tent which you have to completely break down to move, a freestanding tent allows you to simply pick it up and put it anywhere you please. Freestanding tents give you the ability to shake out all of the dirt, rocks, and grass that you’ll inevitably track in much more easily than with a traditional tent. And one last reason? Many freestanding tents are designed so that you can pack up the tent while the rain fly remains erected- a complete lifesaver on wet mornings. We met dozens of hikers along the GR20 who were using the MSR Hubba Hubba and absolutely loved it. This is arguably the best backpacking tent on the market right now.
We find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.
NOTES FOR CAMPERS:
If you plan on camping in hire tents, you do not need to carry a tent or sleeping pad, as those are included in your rental. You do, however, need your own sleeping bag.
If you plan on self-catering most of your meals, you should bring your own pot and utensils. Many refuges provide pots, pans, plates, cups, etc, but there is no guarantee what you’ll find at any given place. Nearly every refuge has a gas cooktop that you can use, so it’s not necessary to bring your own stove and fuel unless you don’t want to wait in line at the cooking area. You do, however, need to supply your own lighter/matches.
Refuge-Specific Gear List
If you’re planning on sleeping in refuges, gites, and hotels along the GR20, you can keep your pack relatively small. However, there are some specific items you’ll want to make sure you pack. While you don’t need much, there are some essentials that you’ll be glad to have for these communal accommodation situations. Use this list in conjunction with the other lists (except for the camping gear list) to ensure that you’re well prepared for your GR20 adventure.
Note: there are some repeats on this list that we’ve also included on the other lists. However, we wanted to highlight items on this list that are especially important for anyone who is staying primarily in dorm-style accommodation.
We’re not trying to scare you, but the reality is that bedbug infestations are very common in the GR20 refuges and gites. Besides being pretty gross, bedbugs can really put a damper on your trek by covering your body in uncomfortable bites and getting into all of your clothing and gear. Many hikers swear by using a bedbug spray like this Eco-Friendly one to keep the nasty little buggers at bay. This spray comes in a 3.3 ounce travel-friendly bottle and doesn’t have a strong scent. While it may not reduce your risk of bedbugs entirely, it’s definitely worth a shot!
Bedbugs are a common issues in many of the GR20 refuges, but they don't have to be a nuisance if you're prepared.
Every refuge is unique, but you can expect them all to be quite cramped…er, cozy.
Personal Gear List
Whether you’re camping or staying indoors, these items are must-haves for your GR20 packing list. While we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this trek, we’ve left it up to you to determine your personal list of additional self care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc).
Use this list in conjunction with the camping gear list OR refuge-specific list, and the miscellaneous and clothing lists to build your perfect GR20 packing list.
Our most recommended piece of personal gear:Headlamp
As we discussed in our trip report, we firmly believe that getting an early start each day is one of the most important keys to success on the GR20. The Corsican mountains and valleys can get unbearably hot in the afternoon sun, making it so that you’re exerting yourself more than necessary on terrain that is already challenging without adverse weather conditions. Additionally, in the summer months especially, the threat of afternoon thunderstorms is very real and should not be taken lightly. It’s of utmost importance that you’re off the high, exposed peaks and ridges before the storms move in. So why am I going on and on about all this in relation to a headlamp? Because there will be days on the GR20 where you need to pack up and get on the trail before daybreak, and hiking in the dark can be slow, frustrating, and dangerous without a good headlamp. Our Black Diamond Storm headlamps were absolutely invaluable on those early mornings; they are lightweight, long-lasting, have adjustable brightness settings, and they’re totally comfortable. Trust us on this one, you don’t want to leave for your trek without a good quality headlamp.
Keeps your clothes and other items dry in a downpour!
We recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
As any hiker will tell you, it's always better to be prepared! Most of the bathrooms you'll find along the GR20 don't provide toilet paper.
Most bathrooms on the GR20 also don't provide hand soap.
It's a good idea to have a few spare batteries for your headlamp, should you need them.
Miscellaneous Gear List
These odds and ends are the unsung heros of the GR20 packing list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly. Make sure to use this list in addition to the other categories to complete your GR20 kit.
Chances are, you’re getting out on the trail to get a break from the constant demands of screens and technology and that’s wonderful. However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a charged cell phone on the GR20. Your phone can be your navigational device, your camera, your guidebook, and your notepad all in one. Charging opportunities are extremely limited along the route, so a battery backup can be an absolute lifesaver. This one is dependable, relatively small, and can fully charge your phone 1.5-2 times between charges. Check it out here:
Perfect for doing the dishes or washing a few clothing items.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags.
We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking.
When you’re wearing the same clothes for over two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality. Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials. Plus, if you’re anything like us, you have no idea how many pairs of socks to bring. This list is also a handy (and experience-backed) guideline for quantities of items such as shirts and socks.
I recently became a believer in hiking in trailrunning shoes. For ages, I had happily hiked in my Keen Targhee boots (which I still enthusiastically recommend, especially for those with wide feet), but after a chronic injury and ensuring research to try to alleviate it, I decided to make the switch. I can confidently say that I don’t think I’ll ever go back to boots (except for on an extremely wet and boggy trail like the Coast to Coast). I am completely in love with my Altras for a number of reasons. First, they held up to the gnarly conditions of the GR20, and that is no small feat. Additionally, I was grateful for the wide toe box that kept my feet very comfortable, while still feeling supported in the shoe. The zero-drop structure took some adjusting to, but now my feet and leg muscles are stronger and more stable as a result. These shoes are incredibly lightweight, yet I had no issues carrying a large pack while wearing them. The outsole is made of a very grippy rubber and has large lugs to keep you feeling confident on steep and loose terrain. I hiked hundreds of miles in these shoes this summer, in a variety of landscapes and weather conditions, and I never got a blister. Although they are not waterproof, I have come to prefer that, as I like quick-drying and breathable over something that traps moisture for days. If you’re looking to switch to the dark side, I highly recommend Altras as your first trail shoe!
Nice to use for sun protection or to keep your ears warm in chilly temps. Also makes a great headband.
When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality. Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.
After years of hiking and traveling in synthetic tech tees, switching to Merino wool was a major upgrade. Like synthetic materials, Merino is quick-drying and moisture-wicking, but unlike the synthetic materials I can hike in it for days without any funky smells. When I did need to wash it, it would be dry and ready to wear again no time at all. Plus, I find it to be more comfortable and stylish, since it looks just like a normal t-shirt. This was convenient for times when I wanted to wear it off the trail. Smart wool makes an all around great shirt that is well worth the price. Check it out here:
The southern half of the GR20 may have gentler landscapes than the north, but the views are just as beautiful!
Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle
Total time: 4:30
After a rejuvenating rest day spent basking in the sun at the Cascades d’Anglais and being force-fed Corsican delicacies by the amazing owners of Casa Alta B&B, we were excited to get back on the trail. We made quick work of the steady, wooded climb out of Vizzavona, after which the trail hugged the hillside for much of the remainder of the stage. The hike wasn’t too taxing, although the final, sweaty climb up to the Bergeries d’E Capanelle wasn’t the most fun at the end of the day.
When we got to E Capanelle, we were confused about where to camp. (By the way, the bergeries is also known as Gite U Fagone, just to further everyone’s confusion). We knew we could camp at the bergeries, but the guidebook also claimed you could camp for free next to the dilapidated PRNC refuge located up the hillside. After a very difficult conversation (in which my sorry French skills really proved the true extent of their horribleness), we pieced together that we couldn’t camp for free anywhere in the area so we better pay up and pitch our tent before all the spots got taken. Indeed, the small camping area was filling up quickly so we headed up the wooded slope to find a spot.
The PNRC Refuge de Capanelle.
Upon locating a good place to pitch, we were greeted by a large snake. After further inspection, we discovered that there was not one, but two very big, very gross snakes hanging out right next to where we intended to place our tent. Nervously jumping at every twig and root on the ground, we made our way to a different spot, leaving that one for the local residents.
Snakes and confusion aside, Bergeries E Capanelle ended up being a nice place, although strange things continued to occur throughout our time there. To be fair, we witnessed one of the biggest full moons of our lives that evening, so that may have had something to do with it. One very odd aspect was the Refuge E Capanelle, adjacent to the Bergeries. We wanted to use the refuge’s cooking gas, so we decided to hike up there for dinner. Despite the fact that you can pay to sleep there, the place has a very creepy, abandoned feel to it. The tiny building was dark, dirty, and totally empty when we were there, although the gas tank was full enough for us to cook our pasta. Graffiti covered the walls of the kitchen and trash was strewn about the common room. Not wanting to hang out there too long, we hightailed it back down to our campsite as soon as we finished eating.
The second oddity occurred sometime during the night. We were woken by the sound of footsteps very close to our tent. We sat up, tensely listening as we heard what sounded like someone or something very big snapping twigs as they made their way through the forest and between the tents. After scanning the darkness, we finally deduced that it was cows. Cows had wandered into the campsite and were walking through the tightly packed tents and trees! Breathing a sigh of relief, we popped our ear plugs back in and were sound asleep in no time.
Stage 11: Bergeries d’E Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi (high-level variant)
Total time: 7 hours
Still feeling bolstered by our rest day and the clear weather, we decided to take the high-level variant for Stage 11. This route takes hikers over the summit of Monte Renosu and along-you guessed it!- a rocky ridge before dropping down to Bocca di Verdi. The climb up to the top of Monte Renosu wasn’t particularly strenuous or technical, and we had the summit to ourselves to savor the excellent views in all directions. After we reached the top, the real challenge began.
Unlike the main route of the GR20, this variant was not well marked at all. Because it involved several tough sections of scrambling, it was especially hard to follow the trail and to know if you were headed in the right direction. After a long series of climbing up and down along the ridge and plenty of backtracking across rocky spires and boulders to rejoin the “trail”, we finally found ourselves on a more recognizable path and began our descent towards Bocca di Verdi.
Peaceful views out to the Mediterranean in the morning light atop Mt. Renosu.
On previous stages, we’d heard that it was common to see pigs rooting around amongst the trees alongside the trail. We had yet to see any pigs, and we were beginning to think we wouldn’t see any on our entire hike (which might not be a travesty for some, but we happen to quite like pigs). But low and behold, as we neared Bocca di Verdi we spotted a large, gray pig walking alongside us near the trail. It trotted ahead of us the remainder of the way, as if it were guiding us to our campsite. How cute! We thought. I hope we see more pigs! We foolishly exclaimed. Well, this is a textbook example of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of scenario.
Many hikers choose to continue for another two hours uphill to the Refuge de Prati instead of stopping at Bocca di Verdi, but after completing the challenging high-level variant, we were definitely ready to stop at Bocca di Verdi! Plus, this was a lovely place to camp. It was spacious, had great facilities, hot showers, a nice bar/restaurant, and wasn’t crowded at all. As we set up camp, we quickly noticed all the pigs that roamed the campground. Most were cute and timid, but one pig quickly made himself known as a total jerk. Campers repeatedly had to chase this swine-bully away from their food or their laundry, as he was determined to wreak havoc on anything in his path.
We thought we did a good job securing all of our food and personal items before heading up to the terrace to enjoy a half-liter happy hour. However, as we sipped our wine, we looked down and saw everyone’s least favorite pig attempting to knock down our tent and get ahold of anything he could find. We sprinted down in an attempt to save our tent from total destruction, yelling and waving our arms at our pig nemesis. You’d think that two adults with raised voices and threatening gestures would scare him away, but that stubborn guy was not phased in the least. It look us charging at him repeatedly with our trekking poles to get the pig to saunter away. Once again, be careful what you wish for!
With the pig crisis narrowly averted, we shared a good laugh with our fellow campers and passed the rest of the night blissfully uneventfully.
The shady terrace at Bocca di Verdi is a lovely place to relax, given the hungry pigs don’t ruin your fun!
Stage 12: Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Uscioulu
Total time: 7:20
While we were glad to stop at Bocca di Verdi the previous day, it meant that today started with a stiff climb up to the Refuge de Prati. From there, the trail undulated for a long expanse along a ridgeline, with scrambling sections reminiscent of the northern half. Speaking of which, if anyone tells you that the southern half of the GR20 is easy, don’t believe them. Sure, all in all it is less demanding than the northern half, but there is certainly nothing easy about it and Stage 12 is proof of that. After the initial climb and slow, technical ridge traverse, hikers have to complete another long, steep climb and maddingly rocky descent before reaching Refuge d’Uscioulu. It’s a big day.
En route to Refuge d’Uscioulu.
When you finally do get to the refuge, however, you’re in for a treat. Refuge d’Uscioulu is a legendary stop on the GR20, known for its charismatic warden and beautiful setting. You’ll likely arrive to music playing, while the warden peddles all sorts of goodies from his tightly packed and shockingly well-stocked shop.
We enjoyed a small feast of fresh oranges, cheese, and homemade fig jam before making the long trek downhill to find a campsite. Many of the camping pitches at Uscioulu are quite far from the refuge itself, meaning campers are in for a literal hike whenever they want to use the bathroom, fill up on water, or access any other facilities. Despite this fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our evening at this ambient place. If you’re looking for a quintessential GR20 experience, this is as good as it gets.
An idyllic evening at Refuge d’Uscoilu.
Stage 13: Refuge d’Uscioulu to Refuge de Matalza
Total time: 4:20
Many GR20 hikers opt to take a variant that allows them to combine stages 13 and 14, cutting out a stop at Matalza completely. Even though we were setting ourselves up for a series of very short days, we decided to move at a slower pace. Why would we want the GR20 to end any sooner than it had to? For us, this was the good life. Hiking in the rugged mountains by day, eating pasta and drinking wine by night, and crawling into our sleeping bags totally exhausted by 9:00pm- that was our idea of a perfect day.
When you start your days with views like this, you may never want your trek to end!
Anyways, the hike from Uscioulu to Matalza offered a wealth of dramatically varied landscapes all in one relatively short stage. It began high in the mountains, where the trail followed a very rugged ridge. The views up here were beautiful, and it was especially cool to see the little village of Cozzano far below, nestled at the foot of the mountains. The trail eventually dropped down from the ridge into an expansive valley. From there it passed through forests and wide swaths of colorful ferns alongside a peaceful stream. By the time we reached Matalza, the high mountain landscape seemed like a distant memory, as we were now deep in the valley in an area that felt distinctly agricultural.
We were the first people to arrive at Refuge de Matalza, and once again we we whiled away a long afternoon with laundry and lounging. Matalza is a small refuge, but we found it to be quite lovely. The showers looked frighteningly rustic-pretty much just a hose hung inside a wooden shack-but they ended up being warm and surprisingly enjoyable. The friendly warden gave us each an “I [heart] Matalza” magnet, which was a surprising but kind gesture. Thoughtful, friendly touches like that were everywhere at Matalza, and we were glad we’d decided to spend an evening here.
The “luxurious” showers at Refuge de Matalza.
Since we were nearing the end of our trek, we decided to eat the last of the instant noodles that we’d been carrying as a backup meal. We were getting ever closer to civilization and assumed that the refuges would be increasingly better stocked with food as the days went on. Keep reading to find out just how wrong those assumptions were! Anyways, as we prepared for bed, we witnessed some of the most incredible stars we’d ever seen. Going slow and taking it all in definitely has its perks.
Stage 14: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau
Total time: 4:50
Since we opted not to combine stages 13 and 14, we were in for another short day today. We woke to a very chilly morning, and we hobbled away from Matalza with stiff legs through the cold, damp riverbed. When we reached the high point for the day, we took a short detour to summit Mount Alcudina. Because it was an out-and-back to get to the summit, we dropped our heavy packs at the base. It was so freeing to scamper up the bouldery trail without any weight on our backs, and we made it to the top in less than twenty minutes. After our fun detour, it was time to strap the packs back on and begin the long and ridiculously steep descent to Refuge d’Asinau.
We met a friendly canine friend on our way down from Mt. Alcudina.
I slipped and fell numerous times on the descent, and we arrived at the refuge dusty, bruised, and a little grumpy. Once we set up camp, we wandered down to the refuge to see what was for sale at the small shop. Being vegetarians, our options were pretty limited along the GR20, but we could almost always count on finding cheese, bread, pasta, and tomato sauce at every epicerie. However, the provisions at Asinau turned out to be extremely limited. We had eaten our backup meal the night before, and we were now facing a dinner and breakfast made up entirely of one demi baguette, a bag of dried apricots, and a handful of peanuts. Sure, we could have eaten the meals served at the refuge, but at 20 Euros for a mediocre plate of (possibly not vegetarian) pasta, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Trying not to panic and actively suppressing our raging hiker appetites, we began devising some sort of food strategy to get us to the next shop at Village de Bavella the following afternoon.
Tents and a resident horse at the Refuge d’Asinau.
We returned to the shop, ready to buy a very weird collection of items, when the warden produced a miraculous package of pasta (the sign claimed it was sold out) from the depths of the dusty shelves behind him. It wasn’t much, but it meant that we’d be eating a hot bowl of food for dinner instead of random handfuls of this and that. We were stoked. That night we feasted on bowls of plain spaghetti garnished with salted peanuts, and it was actually pretty delicious as far as backpacking food goes. Our breakfast the next morning was comprised of an odd assortment of things, but we were fueled and content.
Our two takeaways from this experience? First, never eat your backup meal before you’re sure you won’t need a backup (duh). Second, give pasta and peanuts a try next time you’re out on the trail (or at home, we won’t judge).
Stage 15: Refuge d’Asinau to Refuge d’ I Paliri
Total time: 6:45
We awoke this morning after a bit of a rough night. My sleeping pad had apparently developed a slow leak, and I ended up having to wake up and re-inflate it every few hours throughout the night. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where the leak was coming from, and the pad’s instructions to submerge it in water to locate the hole were entirely unhelpful in the current circumstances. Although we were sad that our GR20 adventure was nearing its end, I was also a little relieved that I would only have to sleep on my deflating pad for a few more nights.
We again opted to take the high-level variant for this stage, excited for the incredible views it was known to offer. After our initial climb, however, we found ourselves deep within a very thick cloud. We were lucky to see just a few feet in front of us, and the chances of seeing any real views seemed slim. But as we continued onwards, the clouds began to break to reveal some of the most incredible scenery of the entire trek. The peaks were so majestic shrouded in the pillowy wisps, and the light was filtered so beautifully through the clouds. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
When the clouds finally parted, the views were completely magnificent.
On our way down, we faced the so-called “Chain of Doom.” Basically, there was a short section on the route that required hikers to hoist themselves up a very large rock face with the help of a chain. As had been the case with most things like this so far on the GR20, it wasn’t as bad as we expected. Getting up the rock slab was actually pretty easy, but the difficult part was the fact that the chain was covered in grease. That’s right, for some unknown reason, the chain that was supposed to serve as an aid was positively slathered in thick, slippery grease. Not only did it make holding on to the chain very challenging, but it also left us covered in sticky, rust-colored goop that was impossible to get off.
Conquering the so-called “Chain of Doom.”
After the chain debacle, we had another long, knee-grinding descent to reach Village de Bavella. Fortunately, our efforts were rewarded when we visited the very well-appointed shop there. After the meager rations of the past few days, we were excited to stock up on some real food. We enjoyed an indulgent lunch at Bavella before continuing onwards to Refuge d’I Paliri. Many hikers choose to stop at Village de Bavella at the end of Stage 15, but if you want to camp you need to head to Paliri, which is another two hours down the trail. We didn’t mind covering a little more ground today, and the final stretch to the refuge wasn’t too challenging.
Even though it was blanketed in a thick layer of fog when we arrived, we could instantly tell that Refuge d’I Paliri was special. It is perched on a stony cliff that overlooks magnificent rock formations and a deep valley far below, with the sea visible on the distant horizon. Clouds and light rain moved in and out throughout the afternoon, but with every glimpse we stole when the clouds parted, we became more amazed by the surrounding beauty.
Refuge d’ I Paliri is one of the most beautiful along the GR20.
We enjoyed one final jug of wine and tried to savor every moment of our last night at camp. It was hard to believe our trek was already coming to an end, but on the other hand it felt like we’d been on the trail for ages. We were certainly sad to see our adventure wrap up, but we were also very excited to celebrate our accomplishment with a real bed and some modern comforts!
Views from the tent at Refuge d’I Paliri…Not a bad way to spend your last night on the trail!
Stage 16: Refuge d’I Paliri to Conca
Total time: 5 hours
We emerged from our tent on the final morning to discover that we were surrounded by a very damp, chilly fog. Neither of us was particularly eager to get on the trail at the crack of dawn, so instead we opted to hang out and sip coffee in the warmth of our sleeping bags for awhile before breaking down camp. A celebratory feeling was already hanging in the air as we finally set off into the morning mist.
Stage 16 started off with a very misty morning.
The trail was nice and mellow for the majority of this stage. It was an easy downhill grade for the most part, and we slowly emerged from the clouds as we lost elevation. The GR20 remained stunningly beautiful to the end. The final few miles of the hike followed a balcony trail that provided gorgeous views out towards the Mediterranean. As we made our final descent into Conca, we enjoyed hearing the tolling of church bells growing increasingly louder as we approached. We finally stepped off the trail and followed a winding road down to the official finishing point in the center of the tiny town of Conca.
We enjoyed fabulous views of the mountains and the Mediterranean until the very end of your trek.
We were all smiles as we approached the finish. The GR20 had tested us both physically and mentally. It pushed us to our limits in terms of our capabilities and challenged us to overcome our fears. We emerged feeling stronger and more confident than ever before. Once you’ve completed something like the GR20, you truly feel like so much more is possible. There are so many treks we’re considering now that we would have never dreamed we could do previously, not to mention other challenges we want to tackle in other aspects of our lives. And the rewards of conquering the GR20 extend far beyond the tangible. I heard a simple expression a few years ago that has really stuck with me: Do hard things. It’s so important to push outside your comfort zone every once in awhile. That’s how we grow and that’s when we feel most alive. If you’re looking for your next Hard Thing, consider the GR20. It will be immensely challenging, it will be profoundly rewarding, it will be unforgettable, and it will change you in all the best ways.
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We were a little intimidated by the GR20 before we hiked it. Scratch that. To be honest, we were totally and completely scared. While reading the guidebooks and blogs in…
We were a little intimidated by the GR20 before we hiked it. Scratch that. To be honest, we were totally and completely scared. While reading the guidebooks and blogs in preparation for our trip, we were confronted by a seemingly endless stream of warnings about the difficulty, the dangers, the scrambling, the cold showers and rocky campsites, and the number of hikers who quit early. But what the books and websites fail to mention? How FUN the GR20 is!
This was hands down the most enjoyable and interesting trek that either of us has ever completed. Many of the same things that make the GR20 infamous as the “toughest trek in Europe” also make it the best. The dynamic and rugged landscapes, the varied terrain, the remote destinations. Heck, even the extreme heat and afternoon thunderstorms that forced us to start hiking in the wee hours of the morning ended up rewarding us with some of the most enchanting sunrises of our lives. Sure, it definitely wasn’t rainbows and butterflies the entire time (like when I dropped my trekking pole into a gorge or when a hungry pig nearly trampled our tent or when our bodies felt shattered but we had another 2,000 feet of descent to go to reach the refuge), but it was so, so worth it.
Read on as we share the good, the bad, and the ugly of our GR20 Nord experience.
Going into the GR20, we thought we were going to be really roughing it for the next 16 days of our lives. We imagined long days that pushed us to our absolute limits both physically and mentally, and evenings spent eating meager rations in basic accommodations. While there was definitely some of that, on the whole our expectations were much more dramatic than necessary. However, not having the benefit of foresight actually turned out to be a good thing as it meant that we enjoyed a blowout, last-days-of-Rome style evening in Calenzana before we started our trek.
The lovely streets of Calenzana.
We opted to stay in an AirBnB in town that was conveniently located near the start of the GR20 and the well-appointed Spar Supermarket in town. The apartment was a little odd, but it had a kitchen, washing machine, and lovely balcony so we were quite content. We enjoyed cooking a meal with lots of fresh veggies (always hard to come by while backpacking), a bottle of wine, and way too much ice cream. I’m happy to report that these choices did not backfire on us the next morning and we felt strong and energized as we started hiking out of Calenzana.
If you’ve read Paddy Dillon’s Ciccerone guide to the GR20, you’ll know that he makes the first stage of the GR20 sound absolutely hellish. He depicts a long, strenuous uphill slog in the blazing sun and even refers to this stage as your “baptism of fire.” In reality, the first stage is tough, but it’s really not that bad. There are some sections that require scrambling, but it’s a perfect way to build your confidence for what’s to come. Plus, if you start at daybreak like we did, you’ll actually be in the shade for most of the climb. It was so fun passing all of the elated hikers who were headed in the other direction and closing in on their final descent of the trek.
Early morning on Stage 1
When we reached the first bocca, we enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch with views out to the sea. The remainder of the hike to the refuge was pretty straightforward and we made good time. Upon arriving at Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu, we were immediately struck by the scene. The campground sprawled out across a huge slope which eventually yielded to dramatic rock formations and the Mediterranean Sea far off in the distance. We also noted that the refuge itself was nothing more than a burned out shell, having caught fire earlier in the season. It was nearly empty when we arrived a little before noon, but over the course of the afternoon and evening the entire area would be filled to capacity with tents, easily over a hundred of them. We whiled away the rest of the day simply soaking it all in- the scenery, our fellow hikers, the lively cooking area, and the magnificent sunset.
Stage 2: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu
Total time: 7 hours.
In preparing for this trek, we knew that we wanted to establish a routine of getting on the trail early in the day. If there are a couple of things that can make hiking feel way harder and exponentially less fun, it’s being out in the heat of the day and stressfully racing against impending storms. We figured that we could minimize these fun-suckers by covering most of our ground in the first half of the day. Today was the real test though…could we actually get our butts out of our cozy sleeping bags when the 5:00AM alarm went off, efficiently pack up camp in the dark, and get on the trail at a time that could still be considered “early”? Seeing as we chose to carry our own tent and self-cater our meals, we couldn’t just roll out of bed and get going as quickly as our friends in hire tents or dorm beds. All things considered, the morning went smoothly and it felt good to get a solid start to what was going to be a very big day.
Stage 2 started with a fun climb that toed the line between hiking and scrambling most of the way, as we hoisted ourselves higher and higher along huge slabs and boulders. At the top of our initial ascent, we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of the entire trek. Upon cresting Bocca Piccaia, we were faced with a seemingly endless expanse of rocky spires, rugged peaks, and spiny ridges. The landscape on the other side of the Bocca felt like an entirely different world than the one at our backs.
Incredible views from Bocca Piccaia.
Our second day on the GR20 was certainly one of superlatives. After enjoying one of the most magnificent vistas of the hike, we embarked on what would end up being one of the longest, most tiring ridge walks of the whole trek. For hours, we slowly made our way along the undulating ridge trail, scrambling up this boulder and down that gully at a maddeningly slow pace. Don’t get me wrong- it was super fun at the start, but even the most fun things lose their luster after awhile. When we finally reached the long, steep descent towards Refuge de Carozzu, we actually welcomed it.
Midway through the beautiful descent to Refuge de Carozzu.
Upon stumbling wearily into Carozzu, we snagged the flattest campsite we could find. It wasn’t that late in the day yet, but already camping pitches were hard to come by. Our spot was tilted, a little cramped, and swarming with ants, but it was pretty, quiet, and well-located so we were content. We treated ourselves to some excellent goat cheese and mint omelettes for dinner and spent the evening chatting with our fellow hikers and admiring another spectacular sunset.
Views from the terrace at Refuge de Carozzu.
While the evening was quite idyllic, we felt a sense of trepidation building throughout the campground. Hikers heading southbound (us included) would befacing the notorious Spasimata Slabs the next day. These sheer, steeply angled, vertigo-inducing rock faces had the reputation for being one of the sketchiest parts of the entire GR20. To make matters worse, storms were forecasted to move in early in the day tomorrow, and the slabs were slippery and treacherous when wet. If we wanted to get to the end of Stage 3 safely, we needed to get moving early and quickly in the morning. We turned in before it was fully dark that evening, hoping to get some sleep despite the nerves that were buzzing within each of us.
Stage 3: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu
Total time: 4:45
Fueled by adrenaline and instant coffee, we were on the trail and ready to conquer the so-called “Slabs on Doom” by 6:00am. As we slowly followed the narrow beam of light cast by our headlamps along the boulder-strewn trail, the dark sky was repeatedly illuminated by large bolts of lightning in the distance. While not directly above us yet, we could see and hear the spectacular thunderstorms on the horizon. The sun started to rise just as we crossed the sketchy, wobbly suspension bridge that served as a fitting warm up for the slabs. We began climbing our way up and up across the massive rock slabs, sometimes with the aid of chains or holds, but more often without. Despite the fact that the whole situation was a little scary, we couldn’t help but be completely awed by how beautiful it was. We were in a massive gorge, surrounded by towering walls of rock, and the distant storms conspired to produce a gorgeous sunrise. Orange and pink clouds framed the top of the gorge and the indigo skies in the distance were turned gold by the continual bursts of lightning.
Indigo clouds above the Spasimata Slabs.
The slabs themselves? Truly not that bad (and actually pretty fun). As a self-confessed wimp when it comes to sketchy things involving heights, even I never felt uncomfortable or wigged out. To be fair, I believe the slabs are MUCH easier and less scary when you are heading uphill. We heard from several hikers who said they were significantly more vertigo-inducing and physically challenging on the descent. If this is something that worries you, it might be a good idea to hike the GR20 in the southbound direction.
After reaching the end of the slabs, we were faced with a short section of scrambling and a steep descent to Ascu Stagnu. Our excitement grew as we neared the finish of the hike, as we knew the ski area would have plenty of delicious food options on offer. Just as our anticipation was building, so were those forecasted storm clouds. Luckily, we had just finished setting up our tent and taking the most amazing hot showers when the weather moved in. We napped in our tent while the storm raged outside, occasionally venturing out to triage the streams of water moving across the hard, rocky ground and threatening to flood our tent.
Ascu Stagnu is a real treat for weary GR20 walkers, and we spent the evening enjoying French fries, wine, and other hiker delicacies in the spacious, well-equipped refuge.
The PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco.
Stage 4: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone
Total time: 7:30
Everyone will tell you that the first few days of the GR20 (especially when hiked north to south) are by far the toughest, and they are not lying. By our estimation, Stage 4 of the GR20 is the most challenging stage of the entire trek. This is the section that was rerouted after the Cirque de la Solitude was permanently closed. Now the trail takes hikers near the summit of Monte Cinto, the highest peak in Corsica, via an incredibly tough and steep ascent. From the top, you walk along a ridge (of course you do, it’s the GR20 after all) that mostly easy, save for a few sketchy places. The whole day is topped off with a long, steep, scramble-filled descent.
All in all, we enjoyed this stage. The ascent, especially the final steep stretch, was rewarding and exhilarating and the high mountain views were unbeatable. Some badass superhumans opt to take the detour to summit Monte Cinto, but we were happy to sit that one out as this was already going to be one of our longest days on the trail.
Disaster nearly struck on the way down, when I managed to lose hold of my trekking pole. We watched as it bounced its way down further and further before coming to rest on a rocky ledge a hundred feet below us. This is somewhat pathetic to admit, but I truly can’t imagine doing the GR20 (or any hike with long, steep ascents and descents) without my trusty trekking poles. I am way too clumsy to survive even 10 minutes without trekking poles in hand to stop my inevitable, frequent falls. Fortunately, Ian volunteered to take off his pack and scamper down the steep slope to retrieve my pole. If there’s ever been a way to get brownie points with your wife, this is it!
When we finally reached Auberge U Vallone far down in the valley, the sun was high in the sky and it was HOT. We were ready to find a snack, some shade, and a cold rock pool to dip in. The Auberge was different than the PNRC Refuges we’d camped at up to this point, and we weren’t sure if we liked it. Although we scored a great spot to pitch our tent, there was a lot of trash around and we didn’t receive the friendliest welcome.
Our great pitch at Auberge U Vallone.
However, as we spent more time there, we came to appreciate the hot showers and nice terrace, and the staff warmed up to us. Plus, there were some lovely rock pools just below the camping area in which we could relax and soak our tired feet. The first four days of the GR20 had been mighty tough, but we were both totally in love with this hike and couldn’t wait to get back on the trail.
Stage 5: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio
Total time: 6:20
Our trusty guidebook promised that today would finally be a bit easier than the first four, and it really should have been if the circumstances had been different. We woke to cold, gusty winds, which would turn out to be an ominous preview of what lay ahead. Early into the day, we nearly faced catastrophe when our toilet paper supply ran dangerously low and our required pit stops occurred at a higher rate than usual. From there, things seemed to take a turn for the better, as we enjoyed a long, peaceful stretch of walking in the woods. But alas, the GR20 demons would rear their ugly heads at us again.
A beautiful start to Stage 5 on the GR20, but those clouds signal trouble ahead!
As we reached the highpoint of the stage, the weather conditions completely deteriorated. Wind gusts of more than 50 mph threatened to knock us over and our bare hands and faces quickly went numb in the cold. It was one of those times where all you could do was put your head down, keep moving forward, and remind yourself that it would be over soon enough. Thick fog made it challenging to see the next trail marker, and obliterated any chance we had of enjoying what were supposedly wonderful views out towards the Golfe de Porto.
Fortunately, the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori is located about halfway along the high ridge we needed to traverse, and it provided a much-needed respite from the cold and wind. After lifting our spirits the best way we know how (by eating a few chocolate sandwich cookies), we forced ourselves back out onto the trail and hoofed it towards the valley. Although the conditions in the valley were significantly better than on the ridge, it was still cold and windy. The remainder of this “short” day seemed to last forever before we finally reached Hotel Castel di Vergio.
Although it’s a pretty weird place, the hotel, gite, and campground provide a level of luxury that is rare on the GR20. We enjoyed hot showers, which were an absolute godsend after being in such frigid conditions all day. The campground had a large grassy field, a big treat after camping on hard-packed dirt for so many nights in a row. And the shop! Oh my goodness the shop! The small store at the gite was the best-stocked we’d seen so far, boasting rare and valuable items like fresh fruit and still-warm bread.
We capped off the evening by splitting a bottle of wine in the cozy confines of our tent. It had been a very difficult “easy day.” The GR20 was beginning to reveal one of its most basic truths: you can’t expect anything to be easy on this trek, but with enough stellar views, camaraderie, and red wine, it will all be worth it.
Stage 6: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu
Total time: 5:15
Day six began with a leisurely change of pace. We slept in to an indulgent 5:30am alarm, and then we each enjoyed our own cup of coffee. Let me explain this last part. You see, in order to keep our pack weight down, we had only brought one cup for two people and had been sharing up until this point, but the well-stocked cooking area at the gite had extra cups, thus no sharing today! Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that are the most luxurious. (Side note: If you want to really strengthen your marriage in an unorthodox manner, spend two weeks sharing one cup, one bowl, and one stick of deodorant!)
The trail immediately headed downhill from Castel di Vergio, and our cold stiff knees screamed at us in protest. After we got going, however, the day was absolutely lovely. The trail was much mellower, and we ambled along at an easy pace enjoying the sunshine and the views. We were making good time, so we stopped along the glorious Lac de Ninu to enjoy a snack break.
Lac du Ninu makes a lovely lunch stop.
We arrived early to Refuge de Manganu, meaning we could spend the afternoon eating a lunch of local cheese on the terrace and a long dip in the nearby rock pool. The mood at Manganu was festive. Hikers basked on the large, rocky outcropping in front of the refuge, sipping beers, stretching out stiff muscles, and swapping stories. Everyone seemed energized after making it past the initial challenges of the trek.
As the days wore on, we got to know our cohort of fellow hikers a bit better. The cool thing about the GR20 is that nearly everyone is stopping at the same place at the end of each day, so you get to know people quite well after a few days of seeing them on the trail and hanging out at camp. We whiled away the evening chatting with so many incredible people from all over the world, including Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, and more. Perhaps one of the best parts about completing a thru-hike like the GR20 is the way that the shared experience brings together people from all walks of life to bond over their love of moving in the mountains.
Stage 7: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra de Piana
Total time: 5:15
Another big day and another ominous weather forecast meant that, yet again, we started hiking in the dark in an attempt to beat the afternoon storms. Just like on Stage 3, the cloudy skies produced a stunningly beautiful sunrise. Today was pretty characteristic of most stages of the GR20: a long, tough ascent to a bocca with ridiculously awesome views, followed by an undulating ridge walk requiring some awkward scrambling to reach the next bocca, and capped off by a steep descent to the next refuge that took longer than expected. Check, check, and check.
Lovely Lac du Melo en route to Petra de Piana.
Refuge Petra de Piana is known for being perpetually stuck inside a cloud. It’s foggy, windy, and chilly there more often than not. Many campers choose to double up and complete the next day’s stage, just to avoid spending the night high up in these harsh conditions. When we arrived, it was cold and misty, but the wind was mercifully mild and we were worried about the impending weather that was moving in. We pitched our tent, restocked our pasta supply from the tiny shop, and settled in for the evening. Petra Piana ended up being a lovely place to stay. The little A-frame refuge had the coziest kitchen where hikers gathered at picnic tables to share food and hang out in the warmth. Between reading books we borrowed from the communal shelf and hanging out in the refuge, we had no problem passing the afternoon and evening in a comfortable, relaxing, and low-key manner.
Refuge de Petra Piana up in the clouds.
Stage 8: Refuge Petra de Piana to Refuge de l’Onda
Total time: 4:50
Today started out with a technicolor sunrise and a cozy breakfast in the refuge. It was another stage that the guidebook promised would be easy, so we approached it with cautious optimism. As it turns out, it was nothing but relaxing and mellow the whole way. We engaged in some “forest bathing” as we meandered through the tall pines towards the Bergeries de Tolla, where we’d been told we absolutely must stop for some excellent food and drink. Upon arriving at the bergeries, we found the offerings to be less than inspiring, and ended up the proud new owners of a very large and very mediocre loaf of bread. However, the friendly proprietor brought us fresh figs from his nearby tree and we decided it was worth the stop after all.
You’ll pass through beautiful mountains and forested valleys on Stage 8 of your trek.
We arrived at the bergeries de l’Onda before noon, as the hike was much faster than we expected. Without much in the way of entertainment, the day stretched out before us. We envisioned the minutes slowly ticking by as we twiddled our thumbs under the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s pretty remarkable how you can pass the time at camp, though, and somehow we had no problem staying busy. Between taking cold showers, exploring the nearby rock pools, doing laundry, setting up camp, repairing gear, and plenty of people watching, it was time for happy hour before we knew it.
We headed up to the refuge to indulge in what had become a nightly tradition of splitting a half-liter of wine before dinner. Typically, this wine (a great value by GR20 standards) is served in some sort of jug or carafe. This time, however, the bergeries owner grabbed an empty, used plastic water bottle and proceeded to fill it with wine. He then presented it to us with two tiny plastic cups. While it wasn’t our classiest or most eco-friendly happy hour of the trek, it was certainly one of the most memorable! We ended the night as we did almost every night of our trip; we ate pasta for dinner and were asleep by 9:00pm.
Stage 9: Bergeries de l’Onda to Vizzavona
Total time: 7 hours
We awoke this morning with visions of Vizzavona dancing in our heads. Reaching Vizzavona meant many exciting things for us; it would mark the halfway point of our trek and it would also mean we’d be treated to a rest day and a couple of nights in a B&B. We happily roughed it throughout the GR20, but we decided to splurge on a real bed and a rest day at the midpoint of our hike. We had the gift of time, so we figured we’d take an extra day to relax and enjoy a different side of Corsica. It was a freaking awesome idea, if we do say so ourselves, and highly recommended for anyone who has an extra day to spare on their trip.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First we had to get to Vizzavona and believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t a cakewalk. The day started off well enough, with a short, unremarkable climb followed by a fun descent over huge rock slabs. Then the fun descent turned totally un-fun, and stayed that way for hours and hours of picking our way down slippery, rocky trails that seemed determined to slow our progress at every turn. We’ve always been the type to prefer hiking uphill over down, but today was especially rough.
It’s all downhill to Vizzavona from here!
Fortunately, we found the most idyllic spot in the shade, next to a perfectly clear pool, in which to enjoy a lunch of stinky cheese, crusty bread, and canistrellis, which are kind of like Corsican biscotti. Up to that point in the day, we’d been cursing the hike and getting pretty demoralized, but stopping in that perfect little oasis made it impossible to stay in a bad mood. The GR20 is just too beautiful to stay mad at for long.
We finally tore ourselves away from our cansitrelli-filled paradise and continued our relentless march down to Vizzavona. Upon arriving, we stopped in at the campground’s well-stocked shop and immediately indulged in some cold beers and fresh fruit. Feeling refreshed, we walked further on to the beautiful Casa Alta B&B, our luxurious home for the next two nights. Here, we were greeted by the friendly host who stretched our high school French to its outer limits as he walked us through the amenities of the place. We proceeded to take some of the best showers of our lives and were asleep before 10:00pm.
There are endless ways to fail at the GR20. It’s got a reputation for being the toughest trek in Europe, and for good reason. In fact, some statistics indicate that…
There are endless ways to fail at the GR20. It’s got a reputation for being the toughest trek in Europe, and for good reason. In fact, some statistics indicate that over half of those who start the GR20 don’t complete it. There are a ton of genuinely legitimate reasons for quitting, and those are totally understandable.
Want to know the stupidest, least excusable reason for quitting the GR20? Running out of money.
There’s plenty of delicious food available along the trail, but it’s definitely not cheap!
Nearly everything you purchase on the GR20 will need to be bought with cash. There are no ATMS along the route, not even in Calenzana, Vizzavona, or Conca, and most establishments do not accept credit cards. If you’re prepared, this is no problem at all. However, without advance planning this could be catastrophic to your trek. Indeed, when we hiked in 2019 we met multiple hikers who were forced to leave the trail due to a lack of cash. Don’t let that happen to you.
Since you’ve clearly got your act together enough to find this article (and hopefully you checked out our Ultimate Guide to the GR20 too), we feel pretty confident that you won’t earn a place in the GR20 Hall of Shame (at least not for this reason…we can’t vouch for what anyone will do after a couple of Pietras!)
Now that you know you need to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses along the trail, you just need to figure out exactly how much cash that will be. That’s what we’re here for.
Camping is a fun and budget-friendly way to do the GR20.
Below we’ve outlined what you can expect to pay for all sorts of common goods and services on the GR20. Obviously, you can expect some variation in prices from place to place, but this should give you a general idea of things so you can more confidently estimate your budget.
The GR20: Average Price List
Dorm bed in a PNRC Refuge: €15
Hire tent at a PNRC Refuge: €11 tent rental fee + €7 per person
Camping (bivouac) with a personal tent at PNRC Refuge: €7 per person
Dorm bed in a gite d’etape: €20 per person (€45 per person for half board)
Camping at a bergerie with personal tent: €8 per person
Camping at a bergerie in a hire tent: €20 per person
Double room in a hotel: €100
Food and Drink:
Evening Meal at a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €22
Breakfast at a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €8
Picnic lunch from a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €8
Meal at a nice hotel restaurant: €30
Large can of Pietra Beer: €6
Half liter of wine: €6
Large coffee or tea: €2.5
Can of soda: €3.5
A-la-carte omelette or sandwhich: €7-9
Charcuterie or cheese plate: €10
Large chunk of local cheese: €11
Bag of pasta: €2
Jar of pasta sauce: €3
Can of ravioli: €3
Saucisson (cured Corsican sausage): €10
Bag of peanuts: €2
Bar of chocolate: €2
Loaf of bread: €2
Bus from Bastia Airport to Bastia city center: €9 per person
Train from Bastia to Calvi: €16.2 per person (see the full list of train prices here)
Bus from Calvi to Calenzana: €8 per person
Navette from Conca to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio: €4- €6 per person (depending on number of passengers)
Bus from Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Bastia: €23 per person + €1 per bag
Train from Vizzavona to Bastia: €14.6
Hot shower: €2 for 6 minutes (This varies quite a bit; some refuges offer free hot showers, while others only offer cold showers
Electronics Charging: €2 per device (this is also free at some refuges and unavailable at others)
Stove fuel: €6
Roll of toilet paper: €0.50
Compeed blister bandages: €9
Hike all the miles, eat all the snacks.
How to estimate your expenses on the GR20
First, think about the type of accommodation and meals you plan on purchasing. Are you going to sleep in refuges and hotels as much as possible? Are you going to eat most meals at the refuge or will you choose to buy provisions to self-cater? Will you pay for any of your accommodation in advance? (PNRC reservations require full payment when you make your booking). Don’t forget to account for your meals and lodging in Calenzana, Vizzavona, and Conca. Once you’ve taken all of these variables into account you can get a general idea of what you plan to spend on accommodation per day.
Next, consider all of your other miscellaneous expenses. These include transportation to and from the trail, electronics charging and hot showers, any needed toiletries or other necessities that arise. Use our list of average prices (above) to determine the amount of money that will cover all of your miscellaneous items. Our advice? Expect the unexpected and give yourself a little extra cushion here!
Before you get any further, be honest with yourself about what you’ll want and need on the trail. It’s easy to think you’ll adhere to a strict budget, but once you’ve been hiking all day in the blistering sun that cold beer or bag of crisps is going to be awfully tempting, and you’ll get far greater enjoyment out of your GR20 experience if you allow yourself a few indulgences here and there. Plus, you’ll be exerting yourself much more than in your typical day-to-day life and therefore your calorie needs will be significantly greater. Keep this in mind when calculating your food budget- hiker hunger is no joke!
That block of local cheese may be calling your name after a long day!
Finally, the amount of money you’ll need will depend on how long you plan on being out on the trail. If you are hiking for longer, that’s more days of food and lodging you’ll need to pay for. We recommend building an extra day into your itinerary to allow for bad weather or other issues that may arise.
Here’s a breakdown of average daily costs for a few different budgets. Drinks, treats, and unexpected necessities have been accounted for in the “Miscellaneous” category.
Food & Drink
Average Daily Expenses
NOTE: All hikers, regardless of their budget, should add at least €65 to their overall estimate to account for transportation costs.
Luckily, the best parts of the GR20 are completely free, like this perfect spot for soaking tired feet.
Okay. I made my budget, but WOW that’s a LOT of cash! Is it safe to hike with that much money?
Generally speaking, yes. The GR20 attracts a really awesome community of humans who just want to conquer a challenge and savor the outdoors. There is a sense of camaraderie among GR20 hikers, and people tend to look out for one another. Plus, pretty much everyone you meet on the trail is in the same boat as you, so you really shouldn’t be any more susceptible to theft as the next trekker.
That being said, you should take the same precautions you would take in any other situation where you’d be walking around with a big wad of cash. These include:
Keep your money on your person or within sight at all times. Many hikers choose to wear a fanny pack for easy and safe access to their valuables.
If traveling with others, split up the money among the members in your group.
Report any suspicious activity to the warden.
Listen to your instincts if something doesn’t feel right.
Keep your money and valuables in a waterproof pouch.
Making new friends on the GR20.
Can I even take that much money out of an ATM, especially in another country?
Yes, sort of. It will depend on your specific institution, but some banks limit withdrawals to €500 at a time. If this is the case for you, you may need to make a series of withdrawals over the course of a couple days or use multiple accounts. Hopefully you are using a card that reimburses you for ATM fees! And of course, make sure to notify your bank prior to any travel to prevent fraud alerts and/or getting your account frozen.
Don’t forget to factor in your transportation costs when estimating your budget!
So are you going to share how much you spent or what?
Time for the big reveal on how much the GR20 cost us! But before we do, we’d like to preface it with a few important points. These are very necessary to take into account in order to truly understand our expenses:
– Our spending number only accounts for what we spent whileactually on the GR20. It does not include our flights to Corsica or any gear we purchased for the trek.
-This number is based on the cost for two people who camped on nearly every stage with our own tent. We were on the trail for 17 days, including a rest day in Vizzavona.
-We brought about four days’ worth of meals, which we purchased ahead of time. The cost of that food is not accounted for in this total, and reduced our on-trail spending.
-We are vegetarians who were happy to cook our own dinners every night (seriously, we ate so much pasta) and snack on peanuts and bread. Due to our natural frugality in this area we tend to spend much less than the average person on meals.
-A great way to save money, which we made sure to employ on a near-daily basis, is to drink wine. Too good to be true? Not at all! Two people can happily split a half liter of decent wine for the same price as just one beer. Who can pass up a value like that?
So, in total, we carried €1200 with us on the GR20.
We actually only spent around €700 of that, but we tend to do things very, very frugally. Most people will spend significantly more than this, but this shows that it’s definitely possible to hike the GR20 for this amount or even much less!
Whatever your budget, we know you’re going to have an amazing trek!
It is totally possible to hike the GR20 on nearly any budget and have a great time doing it. With a little advance planning and a good sense of your personal travel style, you can eliminate many of the stressors that come with managing finances while on the trail. If you found this article helpful, make sure to check out our other great GR20 content. Happy trails!