World → Europe → France → GR20
One of the best hikes in the world
Sometimes called …
- Grande Randonnée 20 (French)
- Gran Recorrido 20 (Spanish)
- Grote Routepaden 20 (Dutch)
- Grande Rota 20 (Portuguese)
- Fra li monti (Corsican) = “across the mountains”
It’s spelled both GR 20 and GR20. We’ve used both.
Trek the rocky, rugged spine of Corsica (French: Corse, Ligurian: Corsega)
… The trail (conceived by Michel Fabrikant back in 1970) is long (even if you walk half of it) and tough. Don’t underestimate it! You need to be fit, well trained but most of all you must be highly motivated. …
The path is basic: i.e. there actually is no real path underfoot for 98% of the time. So much that on many occasions if you don’t see the next waymark or cairn you won’t know where to go. Seriously. In addition to that forget the flat path you’re probably used to; most of the time you’ll walk on rugged and tormented terrain, rocks, stones galore, granite slabs … you get the idea. Get used to it. …
The huts are basic. If we leave out the minor exceptions of the decent buildings at Haut Asco and Castel de Verghio, the huts are small rudimentary (some of them) bergerie-style buildings with small suffocating dormitories …
My advice instead is to bring your own tent. …
AT A GLANCE
- one of the best treks in the world
- 15 days (many hike only half)
- 19,000m of ascent and descent
- sleep in tents or mountain huts (refuges or gîtes)
- hiking permit not required. Reservations for the refuges recommended.
- hiking possible from early June through mid-October. June might be the best month as water (snow) are more available
- located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the Italian island of Sardinia
Why We Like This Hike
- fantastic, high vistas
- gorgeous ridge walking
- when the trail divides, stay as high as you can for best views
- high adventure with no risk of altitude sickness
- diverse flowers, birds, lizards, snakes and animals (you might see a mouflon)
- no mountain climbing gear nor experience necessary
- starry, starry nights
- challenging Cirque de Solitude
- charming Lac de Nino
- you can “wild camp” (technically illegal) but not policed
- free cooking facilities available at refuges
- you can eat at refuges without sleeping there
- cold showers at most refuges
- History. French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio
- It can be dangerous. Hikers have died.
- you’ll be scrambling. Bad footing, loose rock and stone and risk of falling is the norm. Only rarely do you find a flat stretch of ground.
- Very little English is spoken on the GR20. You’ll need at least a smattering of French to survive.
- things go wrong: forest fire, flooding, storms, snow and ice. Be prepared for anything. Crampons and ice axes are needed some months of the year.
- route finding is difficult enough when skies are clear, never mind when you are walking in the clouds.
- Many love the refuges. We don’t. Sure you can hike without carrying shelter or much food, but they are problematic: noisy, crowded, filled with drunk snorers, bed bugs (at times). Potentially unsanitary.
- some shelters (for example Ascu Stagnu) have electricity so you might be able to charge electronics
- toilets and showers are basic. Be prepared to “sit in the woods”, if necessary.
- I tented every night in my lightweight Hubba. Others use even lighter (bug proof) bivy bags. Most of the refuges offer rental tents. Personal shelter gives you more freedom to decide where to camp. Privacy. Solitude. But be prepared in case of severe mountain storms.
- lightning storms frequently drive you off the heights by afternoon.
- Refuge de Carrozzu campsite was swarming with ants when we were there
- logistics can be disrupted due to labour strikes (e.g 2005)
- trip reports mention midges. We saw none while we were there. We did have swarming ants — the tent kept them out.
- don’t leave any food out. You might attract dogs, farm animals, foxes or even wild boar
- treat ALL water. Corsicans often pump directly from streams so ALL water is suspect due to heavy grazing. Water is scarce, as well, especially late in the season. Fill 3 litres / person every time you get the chance.
- camping Gaz and white gas are available as stove fuel. But we couldn’t easily find Butane / Propane threaded canisters popular in North America. Happily, at most refuges you can cook on gas stoves for free.
- July and August can be VERY HOT. And crowded.
- though trails are blazed with white stripe over a red stripe, you still get lost quite often. It’s necessary to backtrack many times a day.
Tom Fordyce in The Guardian:
… The Cirque de la Solitude is the most notorious single section of the entire GR20. People are so scared of it that they huddle in petrified groups the night before, exchanging horror stories …
Happily, I found the Cirque reasonably easy.
- no cost for hiking
- accommodation & food prices vary. It’s not inexpensive.
- Food is basic. Good. But expensive. Still — on a trek this rugged and long — it’s better to carry more Euros, less food.
- breakfast & evening meals can be purchased by anyone at most refuges
- staples (e.g. bread, pasta, cheese, tins of ham and tuna) are available. Drinks include coke, wine & beer.
- SPAR supermarket in Calenzana takes credit card. Most everywhere else cash will be required.
- Chris Molloy (logistics & costs 2010)
Two sections: the northern (Calenzana – Vizzavona) and southern (Vizzavona and Conca). Vizzavona is considered the middle as there is a train station. Hikers can start or end half the route there. Some recuperate and/or resupply in Vizzavona. (Cam Honan: “You can supplement your supplies at Asco Stagu, Castel di Verghio, Bavella and do a full resupply at Vizzavona.”)
The northern half is considered the more difficult because of steep and rocky paths. But the south is difficult, too. Don’t underestimate.
Daily stages according to corsica.forhikers:
Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu
Refuge de Carrozzu
Refuge d’Asco Stagnu (Haut Asco)
Refuge de Tighjettu
Bergeries de Ballone (alternative to Tighjettu)
Refuge de Ciottulu di i Mori
Castellu di Verghio (alternative to Ciottulu di i Mori)
Refuge de Manganu
Refuge de Pietra Piana
Refuge de l’Onda
Bergeries de Capannelle
Col de Verde (alternative to Prati)
Refuge de Prati
Refuge d’Usciolu … new refuge before d’Asinao added
UPDATE 2013 from Roger WB Gaff:
Between d’Usciolu and d’Asinau refuges there are now three possible overnight places if a walker wanted to break the long stage. At Bergeries de Bassetta, Matalza and at Bergeries Croce.
Col de Bavella (alternative to Paliri)
Refuge de Paliri
- Possible side trips: Monte Corona (2144m), Monte Cinto (2706m), Monte Rotondo or Ritondu (2622m), Monte Renoso (2352m), etc.
Most do this adventure independently, but you can sign on with a guiding company. Compare a few.
Some offer luggage transfer.
- The easiest, cheapest way to get to Corsica is by Air. Try EasyJet first. There are airports in Ajaccio (SW), Bastia (NE), Calvi (NW) & Figari (S).
- Personally I enjoyed taking the overnight ferry Nice <-> Corsica, saving the cost of accommodation both ways. There are many other ferry options.
- in Calvi I liked the inexpensive Hotel du Centre
- transportation 17km Calvi to the trailhead at Calenzana is by inexpensive “school bus” or taxi (37EU in 2011)
- As of 2010, advanced reservations for refuges via the GR20 Booking System (French) is supposed to be compulsory. See the GR20 Accommodation Brochure (PDF in French) for details. Since we were tenting, we made no reservations. And could decide on our route day-by-day. Normally there’s room to squeeze one more tent into the walled compound, even if you arrive late in the day.
- the GR network is maintained by the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (French Hiking Federation)
- PGHM are the Mountain Rescue gendarmes in Corsica. They can be called on: 04 95 61 13 95. Other emergency numbers include: 18 (fire brigade), 17 (gendarmes), 15 (emergency doctor service), and 112 (the euro mobile help number). Mobile phones do not work over much of the GR 20, however. Check at the refuges.
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Cicerone GR20: Corsica: The High-level route by Paddy Dillon (2010)
- Trailblazer Corsica Trekking GR20 by David Abram (2008)
- A Travers La Montagne Corse GR20: FFR.0067 (French)
Both those books describe the trek north to south, but there’s no real reason you can’t do it in the opposite direction, leaving the most spectacular and difficult sections to the end.
Best Travel Guidebooks
Other Recommended Books
A guidebook is sufficient if you are going to stay on the main trails.
- GR20 – Across the Mountains of Corsica Federation Francaise de la Randonnee Scale: 1:25,000 / 50,000
GPS files for download
Best Web Pages
- Cam Honan – GR20 (updated December, 2015)
- le-gr20.com/gb (French)
- Wikipedia GR20
- Guardian – Europe’s toughest trek: Corsica’s GR20
- Kevin Rushby – GR 20 with an 8yr-old
- Rick McCharles – GR20 (2011)
Best Trip Reports
- BestHike editor Rick McCharles – north (2011)
- Ahmed Almaziad north (2013)
- Antti Rantanen (2011) with video
- Hugs for Hikers
- Tom Fordyce – Guardian – Europe’s toughest trek: Corsica’s GR20
- The Hiking Life – GR20, Corsica (2009)
- Moray Mountaineering Club (2007)
- David Noble (2006)
- trailblaze – 6-day (May 2009)
- Pete (2007)
Click PLAY or watch Corsica GR20 North: Memories of a trekker on Vimeo.
Click PLAY or watch Corsica GR20 North: Memories of a trekker 2: Return to the island on Vimeo.
- hugs for hikers – photos & video
Check our blog for posts tagged “GR20”.
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