30 Oct 2013

Corsica: the GR 20 from Calenzana to Vizzavona

This will be a post about our holiday we spent in Corsica. I will share some pics of the beautiful landscape and tell a bit about our hike and days on the trail.
  • Part one will be about our hike.
  • Part two will tell a bit about the second part of our journey
  • Part three will feature an overview of the Bergeries (huts) we did and what accomodation they have. This is to help other hikers to plan their trip a bit. We've found that it was hard finding good and thrustworthy sources on this trek, so consider this a small help.

Day 0: Tripping and bussing

I'll start with the day before the first day on the trail. We landed in Bastia in the early afternoon and took the shuttle bus to the city centre. We bought ethanol (alcool à brûler) at the local supermarket (Casino) and from Bastia we took the bus to Calvi. We drove on to Calenzana without having to switch. 
The website www.corsicabus.org is a very big help here. However, keep in mind that the public transport is a mess there. For example, there are only 2 busses per day from Bastia to Calvi. 
Don't forget your pills if you become car sick, we had to make 1 emergency stop (not for us, though).

As we arrived in Calenzana we saw there was only one camping and the 'centre' was more uphill. We went to a restaurant, aptly named: "The GR 20".

After our dinner it was dark and we still had to put up our tent. This is where the adventure starts: carrying only 1 red led bike light, we looked for a spot. To our surprise, there was no grass at the camping so we had to hold down the cords with heavy rocks. A first for both of us, and the added difficulty of darkness made things... exciting.

rock and rope

Day 1 on the trail: From Calenzana to Refuge de Carrozzu


Today we decided to start with a variant of the trail so it would lead us to Refuge de Carrozu and thus combining 2 days in 1 (kudos to Die Beuteltiere).
We passed a bathing spot, which our muscles could already use. Ice cold water would be a constant on this trip, we just didn't know it yet :).
Camping in Calenzana

Sadly, in my misguiding and sloppy reading, I followed the wrong marks after hotel Auberge de la Foret de Bonifatu you have to keep left (we went right and up after the source). We hiked uphill for about 1h30 after it occured to us we were wrong. Making up for a total of 2hours that were lost. Due to this, we had a long and uphill forest climb to Carozzu to make at 15:00.

View after about 2 hours
Little happy dance on a plateau

Being a bit tired and still not seeing any signs of a hut, the first day got a bit heavy for us. 
We arrived at 18:15 and were so happy we we got there. Putting the tent up first (yes, we learnt our lesson) and then we took the coldest shower of the entire hike.

We treated ourselves to delicious microwave rice with mediterrean flavour and around sunset we turned in.
Our Tarptent at Carozzu
Camping Carrozzu
Getting food delivered or evacuated in 007-style

Day 2: Carrozzu to Haut-Asco


You go down a bit and cross a river by a hangbridge. A lovely way to spend the first hour of the day I think.

Yeah yeah, it's a different bridge

After the bridge the walk goes up and up and up. This was our first taste of the GR20's difficulty level. We inclined in altitude on large rock slabs. It was special just hiking on an inclining plateau of rock. Don't forget to look back because you can still see the sea and the village behind you.
We paced at a good tempo and got to the Bocca di a Muvrella where a lot of hikirs where resting. We dind't ;)
Rock slabs

We descended on and after a while, we started seeing the Haut-Asco camping.
When you see the Camping, you can still enjoy a 2 hour long downhill hike :). After a long descent full of sliding rocks and shoe-colouring dust, we arrived in Haut-Asco. We bought some food there and set up our tent. We had some beers and a good meal at the nearby hotel (the snackbar was closed so no junk food sadly).

View on the hike

Sarah was planning on doing a siesta but rain compromised that. Our Tarptent is a dream but in this rain the mesh started leaking. It could be my not so perfect pitch combined with the driving rain but anyway... we spent most of the afternoon drying the tent and holding it up with hand and feet. It looked like an upside down game of Twister.

drip drip drip


Day 3: The Cirque de la Solitude


This is the day people whisper about. This is the day where hikers abandon their guided tour. This is the reason why people carry gloves for the other 17 days and this day is the reason you are happy you choose the heavy duty fabric for the bottom of your Huckepack.

You pass some foresty roads, trees and even the ski piste at the start. We had breakfast on a big rock just before the descent into the Cirque. What a surprise to see the route going down almost vertically, I knew this was a technical day but some sections gave us trembling legs. Seeing how dead you can be if you slip and fall... it makes you think again about calling this a holiday :).

Foresty road
The good

The Bad

We did enjoy the hike a lot, it was really nice seeing people helping each other, telling where to place your foot etc. You have shadow until you come out of the Cirque so you won't overheat and the chains looked secure. We came out of the valley and ate again. We also took care of a deep cut on Sarahs finger.

The Beautiful

You are now on the edge of the mountains and the sunbathed descent can begin.
We decided not to stop in Tighiettu but went on to Bergerie Ballone. A wise decision since we both found it more lovely there. Friendly staff, you can buy food, you have a lukewarm shower and camping is only 5€. The donkeys are for free.

Drying our wet gear

Auberge Ballone

Day 4: Bergerie Ballone - Castellu di Verghio


This day can be considered as a fairly easy one.
You reach the first hut Ciuttulu Di I Mori pretty fast. So fast that it was too early for beers ;) No just kidding, it's an ideal place to drink a cold Iced Tea and enjoy the view.

Ciuttulu Di i Mori
Ciuttulu Di i Mori

Typical road for this day

The walk did take longer than it says in the guidebook. For once, we didn't beat or make the time on the book. This did affect the spirits because after passing Bergerie de Radule there were still 40 minutes left to walk. In real, we hiked for almost 1,5 hours. We paused often, thinking to ourselves that we had to be close to the camping because we heard traffic. We arrived at 14:29 there and to the joy of our hungry stomachs we saw there was a restaurant! Sadly, the kitchen closed at 14:30... Another hiker tip: the some French really do not like to work nor make money, keep it in mind ;)

We walked on to the camping and there was a big store attached to it. We bought some food and drinks there and finally ate our lunch. Table manners were not allowed, too hungry, more food!
We pitched the tent on the vast and flat surface and enjoyed the showers, some beers and relaxed a bit. This camping was really nice since it had multiple toilets and showers, a friendly staff and lots of space.

That night, we saw a fox on the camping and it stole some mayonaise and even beer from another tent! We quickly put all our gear in our tent and laughed with the fox, stealing foods.

Day 5: Verghio - Refuge de Manganu


The hike takes you through a relatively flat forest, a welcome variation from all the rocky days we had. It was almost as if we were in Germany or the Ardennes. This could be the cause that we completed the hike an hour earlier than our guide predicted. 

Fun with the sun


The small chapel of San Pedru offers some nice views and a spot to rest for who needs it. We hiked on over Bocca â Reta which was a nice passage. It took us on the top of the mountains, together with dayhikers and runners. Very cool to know that so many people come and enjoy the mountains here. I know I would if I'd live in Corsica. Sadly, it was too windy to have breakfast there and we saved it until we reached Lac de Nino. 

The windy mountain edge
Lac de Nino
Lac de Nino, ideal for breakfast

Creative with sun protection

This whole section had no height differences to conquer until Manganu! Once there we were one of the very first hikers and we felt good about it. Arriving around 12 o'clock gave us some time to enjoy the shadow and pick a nice spot for our tent. By the time it was 5 in the afternoon the whole camping was full, even the slanting bits. 

Absurdly flat
The height differences...

Then the night came... And with the night came the fox! We heard a tent rip and a German lady complainig that a fox took het bread and ripped her tent to get it. Not nice of the fox, we thought, and took all our stuff inside. 

The whole night we were paying attention to noises and sounds in the bushes. Until... I saw a black shade coming closer to my tent, right to the spot where my nuts were. My  peanuts that is :). I sushed and hit the tent and the fox ran away. I put the nuts safely in the backpack and didn't sleep that thight anymore...


Day 6: Manganu - Refuge de l'Onda


After the ascent, you are treated on warm blocks of stone

 This was our hardcore day, we did 2 stages in one. A firm climb to start, all the way to Brèche de Capitello. The view was nice and we were definitely warmed up! After the top we had our first rays of sun on us and it felt good. On the way to Petra Piana there are some tricky bits of rock slab. The kind of rock where you wished you had sticky rubber on your shoes, but it was fine without. We enjoyed the hike and had breaks where we could. It was noon when we reached the depressing camping of Petra Piana. We had some cokes and cookies as our meal and we decided to hike on!

   Yes, we're that crazy :)

This is the most beautiful hike says the book

Panoramic view before Petra Piana

Looks intimidating, doesn't it


A very firm and long descent later and we were on a foresty road, hiking to Bergerie de Tolla. The ground was soft and grassy, a real treat after the rocky descent! At Bergerie de Tolla we bought bread and lunched there. It was around 3  in the afternoon then. After an hour and a half we finally reached the Refuge de l'Onda. After getting the tent up we waited for the warm shower which was well deserved.


Bergerie de Tolla

Refuge de l'Onda is a nice and flat camping spot, it was also our last night on the trail. We decided to quit in Vizzavona because we still wanted to have a more relaxed vacation. We saw the most beautiful of the GR20 and maybe 7 days of trekking is enough for us. 


On every trip, you learn something about yourself and your comfort zone... 

Refuge de l'Onda


Day 7: Onda - Vizzavona


It's not Nepal but it's still an awesome sight to see


Our final day and we were pumped! On a steady tempo we climbed the steep Crête de Muratello and had a short break there before starting the tricky descent. We saw the shadow of the mountain reaching far into the valley. The morning sun was still low when where on the top but warmed us up on our descent to Vizzavona. Passing a plaqua for a missing skiier that attempted the GR20 in winter, we hiked on.


In Vizzavona we enjoyed seeing some civilization, cars, asphalt, restaurants... We did not even try to resist and ordered some beers and a meal while we waited for our train that took us to Ajaccio. Our great trek ended, we were relieved and happy. relieved that we were giving ourselves some comfort from now on. Happy that we saw the most beautiful part of the GR20. Proud that we did it! 


Vizzavona train station



Part 2

Getting to Ajaccio was easy, an airconditioned train took us there in no time. But then we had to take the bus to Bonifacio. Sadly, he only stopped 10 km before Bonifacio. No problem, we thought, we'll just hitchhike then. 


Then, the bus stopped for a traffic jam.. We stopped for half an hour and then we heard there was an accident. 2 bikers drove into each other and there was a helicopter on it's way. Our spirits sank when we heard it could take an other 3 hours... This morning we were still on the trail, now we were stuck on a bus. Probably too late for our ferry to Sardinia, where we planned on staying for the rest of our trip.


After 2 hours of waiting, we started driving. It was around 9 in the evening when we arrived 10 km before Bonifacio. The bus did not drive further and there was no taxi. We just stepped of in the middle of a highway where it was pitch dark. We were not risking our lives hitchhiking here, that's for sure.


Then something happened my atheist spirit cannot grasp in words... a taxi, with green light, stopped right on the intersection of the highway... We both looked like we saw a spaceship and I ran towards the taxi, asking if he could take us to Bonifacio. 40 euros lighter, we were there and we slept on a camping again. Just when we spent the day saying we wouldn't sleep in a tent any more this holiday :) But since hotels were so expensive according to the 140km/h-where-you-can-do-70-driving chauffeur, we opted for a camping.


After pitching our tent we walked to the centre and there it was... Pure decadance! Boats, yaghts, streets full of restaurants... It was like heaven after such a tiresome day. We ate the most unhealthy, saltiest, fatties thing we could find and enjoyed the evening. This is what we were longing for...


Our ferry to Sardinia took us without any problems to the island where we would spend the rest of our holiday. Relaxing, enjoying the weather and each other. 
Then the day came where we had to go back home. But first we had to get back to Corsica because we booked our flight there. There was a lot of wind that day and we packed all our stuff and left our appartment. 
At the ferry office we asked for 2 tickets to Corsica and the clerk answered in his own accent 'No ferry today'. We didn't believe what we heard. Our flight was leaving in some hours and there were no ferries. Not now, not today, 'maybe tomorrow', he said. We did some phonecalls and eventually we rebooked our flight home, this time leaving from Sardinia.

In order to get to our flight, which was the next day, we had to get to the capitol which was a six hour bus drive... We were in the most northern point of Sardinia and the capitol was the most southern point. We took it the best way we could but you can probably tell this wasn't a relaxed ending of a holiday. After a good nights sleep in a B&B in Cagliari we got to the airport and took our flight to rainy Belgium.



Part 3


As promised, an overview of the huts, their supplies and sanitary.
This list only contains the huts we did. The prices were all around 14 euros except for the cheap Ballone.

Gîte d'étappe Calenzana: Warm showers, good toilets. Bring a torch because early in the morning there are no lights in the sanitary block. 
Price: 14 euros for 2 persons.
There is a shop nearby but you won't have an early start if you wait until it opens.

Refuge de Carozzu: Ice icecold showers, 4 dry toilets (normal ones).
Price: 7EUR per person
We did not use the shop there, but the guide says you can buy some snacks there.


Refuge de Haut-Asco: Not warm, but not icecold showers. Toilets have no toilet seat.
Normal price
Bread is €2 for a whole, €1 for a half (yes, they are big). You can also buy fruits, meals, toilet paper, snacks, sweets, crisps,... a lot of choice and not so expensive!


Refuge de Tighiettu: We just passed here so we can't say a lot. The toilet is just a hole in the ground.


Bergerie Ballone: This is a spoil! Warm shower, normal toilet with no seat or lock.
Price: 5EUR for 2!
You can buy crisps, chocolate, nuts, no bread though.


Ciuttulu di i More: Normal toilets with a lock, but no seat. They have showers but we didn't use them.
You can buy cookies, pastas, nuts, crisps. But no meals or bread.


Castellu di Verghio: This was a luxury. Lots of normal toilets (with seat), lots of warm showers. And everything locks.
The shop is almost a supermarket: beer, cheese, meat, pasta, First-Aid kits, chewing gum, fuit, toilet paper, they absolutely have everything that a trekker would need. Bread is 2,5EUR and very yummy.


Refuge de Manganu: The showers are 'doable' cold, the toilet is a hole in the ground (French toilets).
They sell toast bread for 4EUR. And nothing much else really. Some chocolate, some nuts,...


Petra Piana: This is a bit of a depressing camping. My suggestion is to skip it when possible. The soil is soaked, French toilets only and not so friendly hosts. We did not shower since we skipped this place.
The shop has some choice in meals, cookies, drinks, pasta, etc. But it is a bit more pricy.


Bergerie de Tolla: Here they sell cheese, honey, drinks and bread (€3). Friendly staff. You can't sleep there but they have a shadowy garden. We didn't notice a toilet but you have lots of trees here ;).


Refuge de l'Onda: The cowboy camping with the horses. Cold showers and French toilets unless you pay €2 and wait in line for a hot shower and a normal toilet.
They have a small shop with some cheese, sausages, drinks, snacks. But not much choice.


Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed the report and our pictures.

No comments:

Post a Comment