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 GR-20 is one of the most demanding mountain hiking trails in Europe, which winds its way from north to south through Corsica's mountains. Every year, 8,000 to 10,000 people hike around. Of course, the GR 20 is not always as impassable as, for example, stage 4 suggests. Following the well-signposted red-white waypoints, the route continues over boulder fields and high pastures, through lush meadows and fragrant pine forests, past deep blue lakes and over wobbly suspension bridges.Stages 1 to 10 are among the more popular northern part. The stages 10 to 15 summarize the southern part of the long-distance trail. The individual stages can be modified depending on your mood. If you want to master the complete 15 stages, definitely a simple training as a preparation to do so.Stage 1 starts in the village of Calenzana, which is picturesquely situated between vineyards, orchards and olive trees and ends at Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu. From the middle of this stage you also follow the steep path through pine and oak forests to the "Bocca", grassy saddles. The head for heights is already put to the test in this stage. Although the path is partially secured with ropes, you should always be sure-footed and considered.Have fun!
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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.