Rough landscapes, loneliness, extreme heat, bone-chilling cold and an overwhelming lack of drinking water. Every morning at 06:30, the alarm clock will ring and you'll have no choice but to get up, lace up, and get back out on the trail. Sound like a comfortable vacation? Good, because this isn't a feat you attempt in order to relax. This is a challenge, and it's called the GR20 – Europe's toughest long-distance hiking trail.
The trail itself is officially called the French Grande Randonnée No. 20, and it is hiked by thousands of intrepid explorers every year. Covering a total of 111 miles (180 kilometers) around the beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica, this exciting hike rewards all who try it with incredible views of the lush Corsican landscape.
The route itself starts in the north and ends in the south. As you go, you'll hike through dreamlike landscapes as you follow the red and white markers that designate the route. The initial northern stages are generally considered a little more challenging than their southern counterparts, although they're also known to be more beautiful. In the south, deep cirques, snowy valley and glacial lakes await you – which isn't bad, either.
Before you take on this challenge, you'll need to be in peak physical condition and have a well-sketched plan coming in. And remember: as many shelters don't offer food, ensure to pack plenty of drinking water and enough to eat. You'll also need to book all tents, cabins or bivouac spots online in advance.
The weather in Corsica is very diverse: while the Mediterranean coast prevails on the coast – hot summers and mild winters – the Corsican mountains are characterized by continental to alpine climates. So you can meet there even in midsummer on snow fields. The cottages on the GR 20 start their season in May and are managed until October. From a hiking start before April is generally discouraged. In September many springs have dried up due to the summer heat. The months of June and July are perfect for your tour. With sudden weather swings and bad weather days but you have to expect the whole year.
Welcome to the toughest long-distance hiking trail in Europe. The first stage has it all: on the twelve kilometers from Calenzana to the Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu you master 1420 meters in altitude. On the way, however, you will be rewarded with great views of the wild mountain landscape and the blue sea.Find your own pace on the first day and start your 15-day hiking adventure. You always come back to beautiful resting places, where you can breathe deeply and enjoy the breathtaking views.In Calenzana, the starting point of your hike in northern Corsica, you will find a selection of restaurants, cafés and supermarkets. Ideal to treat yourself to everyday comfort before the big tour begins. In your destination today, the Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu, you can choose between a dorm or a tent. A cooking facility is available and a small selection of food is also available.
Mountains, mountains and more mountains. On today's stage, you'll come up high and crack the 2000 meter mark. From the Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu, you will walk about eight kilometers to the Refuge de Carezza.The first half of the stage takes you through the impressive and barren mountain landscape for the greater part of the 600 vertical meters. In the distance you can see the sea, around you steep cliffs and imposing peaks. Enjoy the impressive panorama along the route.Continue along the mountain pass Bocca di L'Innominata, then descend the last two kilometers to your destination today, the Refuge de Carrozzu. Here you can either rent a room in a dorm or stay overnight in a tent or bivouac. If you do not want to cook yourself, you will also find a small restaurant here.
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All good things come in threes: on day three you wander on beautiful paths through the fantastic mountain landscape of Corsica. The path often meanders through the rock formations in the higher elevations, accompanied by a fantastic panorama.The walk is only a good five kilometers long, but from your camp, the Refuge de Carrozzu, it's the first three kilometers steadily uphill. At the beginning you hike over a suspension bridge and then master the 710 vertical meters to the Bocca di Stagnu. Take your time climbing and be enchanted by the beautiful landscape, before hiking downhill to your destination Refuge Haut Asco.At the destination you will find a good infrastructure: You can find hotels, stay in dorm rooms, tents or bivouacs and let yourself be cooked or even cook the cooker. In a shop, you will also find the essentials.
The stage from Haut Asco to the Refuge de Tighiettu is considered to be the most difficult of the entire GR 20. For many hikers, the passage through the Cirque de la Solitude is the highlight of the GR20. 1,500 meters ascent and 1,200 meters descent are on the program. Cirque de la Solitude means "kettle of loneliness" in German. A hard but rewarding stage!The detour to Monte Cinto is not on the official GR20 route. A climb to the 2.706m are still highly recommended!
Stage 10, from Vizzavona to Conca, is part of the southern part of the GR20.Today it goes above the forest of Vizzavona through beeches and pines to the pass Col de Palmente. Then follows a leisurely hike through idyllic forests with less altitude than many other stages. The hike ends with the descent to the Refuge de Capannelle and its sheepfolds.
The last leg of the GR 20! It is mostly downhill towards the sea. Little shade, therefore an agonizing stage especially on hot days. Fortunately, there are always small springs along the way. These are often too warm to refresh, especially in the summer.No matter how many of the stages you've got behind you. The effort, the sweat and the effort have been worthwhile in any case. On Europe's most demanding long-distance hiking trail.