How we plan a trip: hiking across Corsica on the legendary GR20

How we plan a trip: hiking across Corsica on the legendary GR20

Instead of presenting you with a finished article, we’ll let you follow this story as it unfolds: coming up with the idea, fine-tuning it, doing the research, leaving home, hiking the trail and reflecting upon the trip after we get home. You are also welcome to actively take part in this experiment: ask us questions, suggest solutions or even hike the trail together with us.

07 Feb: Let’s do Corsica!

We first heard about hiking across Corsica a few years ago at a birthday party from someone who’s done the tour. He said it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Europe but also one of the toughest. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “how tough can a tour of a small Mediterranean island be?”, and filed the idea somewhere in the back of my head.

But last week Katja and I were at Globetrotter in Hamburg where we came across a book with a cool picture of some rugged mountains on the cover. The book was about the GR20 which is apparently a legendary hiking trail across Corsica. We started casually flipping through the pages and quickly realized that this could be the destination for our 2015 summer vacation. Woo-hoo!

Once home I googled “hiking GR20”:

hiking_GR20_google

That’s all it took — just reading the words “the toughest long-distance trail in Europe” and “ultimate adventure” — and I was hooked!

Quite a quick decision, right? Are we not scared when we read things like “the toughest long-distance trail in Europe”? Well, we’ve done a 5-day hiking tour in the high Andes (reaching an altitude of 6040 meters ASL), so we sort of know what we are getting into. Surely it won’t be easy, but we are looking for adventure and we want to test ourselves and some of our gear, so we’ll definitely try it out.

Are we going to fail or succeed? Stay tuned and find out!

08 Feb: Figuring out the trip’s character

I didn’t know much about Corsica then, just that it’s a medium-sized island in the Mediterranean and that it’s part of France. (Mental note to myself: cool, they use Euro there, so we won’t need to change money.)

My first step as always was to check Google Maps and Wikipedia. I looked for general information, for how to get there (major towns with airports) and for climate charts.

Then I found a great GR20 description with tons of practical information gathered in one place.

Route

Apparently the GR20 is quite tough, with 180 km of rough mountain terrain which usually takes 15 days to hike. If you calculate a couple of rainy days as well as a day for getting there and a day for getting back home you are looking at 3 weeks. Which is kind of long for a hiking trip where the scenery doesn’t change much…

But then I found out that there is a point roughly in the middle where you can get back to civilization. Also I found out that the northern half of the trail is more spectacular than the southern, so Katja and I quickly hatched this plan: we’ll start in Calenzana in the north, hike the first 9 stages of the GR20 and finish in Vizzavona. Yes! This way we can do the whole thing with two weeks of vacation (including 1–2 rainy days and 2–3 days for getting there and coming back home).

tent rainbow Iceland

When to go, where to sleep, what to eat

Apparently the trail is well marked with huts conveniently located about a day’s hike from each other. These are open year round, but you can only get water and food between June and October, and this is when most people hike the trail. After reading about large crowds in July and August and rainy days in October, Katja and I decided to schedule our tour for early September.

I then read that the huts fill up fast (so reservations well ahead of time are recommended), but you can also camp in your own tent in the vicinity of the huts (not on the trail though!). Since we have an excellent easy-to-carry two-person tent which we love using, we unanimously decided that we are going to camp. We’ll surely go to the huts for hot water and showers, but we’ll try to live outside as much as possible.

The final point was about food. According to most reports the huts serve food, but it’s nothing special and some felt that it’s overpriced. So for now we are planing to mostly cook our own meals on a portable gas cooker. How romantic! 🙂

15 Feb: How to get to Corsica

Googling for “airports Corsica” I found out that we could fly to Bastia, Calvi, Ajaccio or Figari. But all connections that Swoodoo found were too expensive, required too many transfers and took too many hours to reach our destination.

But on Google maps I saw that there are many ferry lines going to the island. And then I found this excellent diagram, which showed me that we could fly to a multitude of cities and then catch a ferry. In fact there were so many options that I spent 2-3 hours exploring all the options (different airports, different days of the week, etc.).

ferry sunset clouds storm

The flights to Rome were inexpensive but the way to the next ferry terminal seemed too long. The flight to Florence was too expensive. I found great prices for flights to Pisa, but the times of the flights and the ferries didn’t fit very well. Finally I explored Nice and found inexpensive flights which fit very well with the departure and arrival times of the ferries.

Katja and I spent some time debating about how long our trip should be. Ideally we would have liked to be away for 12 or 13 days, but the best flight-ferry combinations were for 11 or 15 days, so we chose 15. Eleven days would have been too short and we would have risked missing our return flight.

Fifteen days gives us plenty of time, so if we finish the tour earlier we can spend a couple of days in or around Nice enjoying the famous Côte d’Azur, relaxing our sore muscles…

So we paid 254 EUR for the two of us for a flight from Hamburg to Nice on 26 August and back to Hamburg on 09 September. Then we bought two tickets from Corsica Ferries from Nice to Ile Rousse for 56 EUR.

corsica_ferry

We’ll buy the tickets for the return ferry spontaneously, depending on when we finish the hike and on whether we have a day or two for sightseeing.

Next Steps

We’ll be extending this report as new things happen, so stay tuned for these next steps and more:

  • choose a portable gas cooker,
  • decide on what to cook and how much food to carry in our backpacks,
  • decide on which gear to take and what to leave home,
  • train with a fully loaded backpacks for the 1290 meter altitude gain on the first day of the tour…

Do you want to join us for this memorable 10-day hike?

You’ll have to buy your own flight and ferry tickets to Corsica, and you’ll have to carry your own backpack. But we’d love to have 3-4 people join in the fun.

It will also be Katja’s birthday during that trip, so there will even be a small party towards the end! 🙂

Flight dates: 26 August — 09 September
Hiking days: 28 August — 06 September (10 days)
Approximate costs: 150 EUR for a return flight, 50 EUR for the ferry, plus food and lodging (tent or mountain hut) for 14 days.

4 Comments

  1. Tobias

    Carrying food for about 11 to 12 days, tent, sleeping bags etc.?
    Did you do such a long walk, yet?

    I personally did underestimate the implications of deciding against the huts along a trail in favor of a tent once.
    Will never do it again …

    I normally also do need more time then “advertised” in public descriptions, particularly on harder trails.

    But that is just me.

    1. Bojidar

      Hi Tobi, thanks a lot for all these important points.

      This is definitely not going to be an easy trek, and we’ll have to do a fair bit of research ahead of time, decide how much and what kind of food to carry, optimize the gear that we carry, etc.

      On the very first day of the hike we’ll have to gain 1290 meters altitude (with full backpacks!), so we’ll need to be very fit already on day 1. But we have the advantage that we are two people, so we can split the pots, gas cooker, camera gear, etc among the two backpacks.

      @everyone: We’ll keep extending the article with all these questions and decisions, so stay tuned as all this unfolds…

    1. Katja

      Hi Oliver, happy new year!

      Yes, the GR20 is as beautiful and amazing as advertised and absolutely recommendable. But it also has some pretty tough sections – especially in the northernmost parts. A certain amount of fitness, a head for heights and sure-footedness are absolutely necessary. We hiked for 9 days from Calenzana to Vizzavona plus 2 day-hikes to some peaks we passed on the way. In these 11 days of hiking we got a real good impression of the trek and the wonderful countryside, and we didn’t have the feeling that we missed out on something. Do you plan to go there this year? Do you already have some hiking and camping experiences?

      We are working on a detailed trip description for the hike with lots of practical tips – would this be of interest to you?

      Best wishes, Katja

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