In this post, we’ll share our experiences from the southern half of the GR20. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first half of this two-part series,…
In this post, we’ll share our experiences from the southern half of the GR20. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first half of this two-part series, in which we documented the good, the bad, and the ugly of our adventures hiking the infamous GR20 Nord. Read on to get an idea of what it’s like to trek the challenging and beautiful GR20 Sud.
- Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle
- Stage 11: Bergeries d’E Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi (high-level variant)
- Stage 12: Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Uscioulu
- Stage 13: Refuge d’Uscioulu to Refuge de Matalza
- Stage 14: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau
- Stage 15: Refuge d’Asinau to Refuge d’ I Paliri
- Stage 16: Refuge d’I Paliri to Conca
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
Want more GR20 resources? Check out all of our GR20 posts below:
- Ultimate Guide to the GR20 – The complete resource
- How much it cost us to hike the GR20 – Know what to budget
- GR20 | Maps
- The GR20 Nord: Trip Report
- GR20 Logistics: Don’t forget the small details!
- GR20 Packing List: Be sure you’re bringing the right gear!