Hiking along the GR20 is the best way to uncover the island of Corsica and its wild, deeply-rooted charm.
It takes courage and maybe even a dash of folly to attempt it, not to mention thighs of steel and unwavering endurance. GR stands for Grand Randonnée, or great hike.
The GR20 runs over 200 kilometers and takes hikers from the shade of chestnut trees to the sweltering heat of granite cirques, each landscape more grandiose than the next.
With a little luck, adventurers may even encounter some of the Mediterranean’s rare and untamed fauna: wild boars, mouflons, salamanders and raptorial birds guarding their prey...
Created in 1972 at the same time as the Regional Nature Park of Corsica, the GR20 only recently made the list of tourism musts.
Previously, it was reserved solely for athletes with steadfast resolve, those able to withstand heavy backpacks and minimal comfort. Rest areas were rare and sparsely equipped; the need to bring your own kitchen was enough to dissuade even the most fearless hiker!
Over the past 15 years, however, this trail has started to attract more and more trekkers from around the world, which has led to investment in infrastructure. Camps are now well furnished and can supply evening meals and assorted beverages.
Guides and muleteers are also on-site to help make the adventure more accessible.
While the comfort level of the rest points may be greatly improved, the hike itself is just as demanding. With a 13-kilometer difference in altitude, the trail traverses Corsica from north to south, crossing the mountain range at the heart of the island and following the route of ancient shepherd pastures.
Though accessible from both ends, it is often recommended to begin in the south, for two reasons.
First, the southern half is easier and allows hikers to get used to the trail’s difficulties.
Most importantly, it is best to walk with the sun behind you in order to observe the entire spectrum of Mediterranean scenery in full sunlight.
The best time of year to take on this trek is anytime from June through September. Snow and bad weather can make the experience unpleasant and the trail’s red and white landmarks harder to follow.
At a pace of six to seven hours a day, allow yourself a good 15 days to complete the hike. If you have less time, however, it is also possible to stop halfway, at the Vizzanova train station.
But some hardcore athletes have been known to do the various stages in half or even a third of the time. The current record goes to a Spanish runner who completed the hike in less than 33 hours!
But to truly appreciate this legendary trek, there’s no need to rush through it. Every small step on this wild island has its own reward.