GR20, Corsica, France. 2022.

I passionately love our paths, bordered by old walls, sometimes even slabs, these roads between men. It is true that we have built neither grandiose cathedrals nor sumptuous palaces. For us, the genius of men has been exercised on paths and bridges, on everything that could connect them to each other, between villages, pievi, pastures, and not towards a distant royal or divine power. But I have never felt such violent emotions as in front of these landscapes tirelessly modeled by the Corsicans for centuries and centuries.

– Fabienne Maestracci, Vita Corsa: Fragments de vies

September 2022

What better way to discover the gorgeous island of Corsica than hiking its ancient paths crisscrossing high peaks, forests, and plateaus, passing through villages, farms, and sheepfolds, in full embrace of the elements. GR20 is a mythical 200km trail that traverses the island diagonally in sixteen stages, from Calenzana in the North to Conca in the South. Steep ascents and plunging drops, exposed ridges and high passes, technical passages and vertiginous traverses, and a mind boggling total elevation variation of 10000m! The stuff of legend, “the toughest trek in Europe” is not for the faint of heart.

While my Corsican host is away in steamy Bangkok to enjoy Thai cuisine and massages, I check the weather and find a narrow window of perfect blue skies for the following week. The hiking season is soon coming to an end by October. Now or never! After six months of Flamenco training in Andalucia – putting my heels and knees to full time labor – 250km in Islas Baleares, and 300km in the Camino of Santiago, my body has never been more ready to take up this GR challenge. Opting for the “easier” second half in the Southern part, from Vizzavona to Conca, I will cover only 88 km in seven stages in a total of twenty-four hours of hiking. Unlike in other treks (K2 Base Camp) where altitude presents a real challenge, Corsican peaks and passes stay below 3000m. Assuming I do not get lost and there are no weather contingencies, the adventurous enterprise seems doable – and enticing. I pack a 5kg rucksack (7kg including food and water) and trekking poles, reserve the refuges online, and pray to the gods that I will pass this ultimate Corsican test!

GR20 South, from Vizzavona to Conca. Corsica. 2022.
En route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Clouds zeroing in by the end of the day. Refuge de Prati, GR20, Corsica. 2022.
A magnificent morning on GR20. Refuge de Prati, Corsica. 2022.

This country seems built by gods, and only pure of gods.

– Fabienne Maestracci and Frederic Arrive. Par les Chemins de la Corse

Day 1 From Vizzavona (920m) to Capanelle (1580m). 14km, 900m+ 220m- 5h30

Five o’clock alarm to catch the first train from Ajaccio to Bastia. By 7:20, I find myself in the sleepy little village of Vizzavona, the starting point for GR20 South, ready for action.

Bonjour, where’s the GR20 trail head? I ask the station master.

Follow the road, you will see a sign. The trail passes through the Nationale highway and then enters the forest… he replies.

A fellow trekker is also looking for the red white blaze mark. I can’t even use the GPS; my phone is dead. I dropped it in the pool! Antoine says. It has been wonderful for the past four days, life without a phone!

We see the GR20 Sud sign and follow the trail. A young hiker in sandals is limping down in the opposite direction. We are abandoning! he sighs. Yes, the Northern part is tough, everyone says that. I am glad I start in the South!

Day 1. Trailhead in Vizzavona. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 1 en route to Refuge de Capanelle. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 1: Antoine heading up a forest trail, en route to Refuge de Capanelle. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

The uphill path is gentle through a gorgeous pine forest seeped in morning light, reminding me of trails back home in Canada. The views are breathtaking and I meet locals enjoying a fine family outing on donkeys. All of a sudden, the wind picks up and I could barely stand still by the time I reach the pass. I snap a few shots and hurry over to the other side for a two-hour gradual descent, a delightful Corsican forest bathing. Stopping to feast on wild blackberries, I take a wrong turn until two German trekkers point out that I am heading in the direction of Vizzavona! Lesson learned: no distraction on GR20!

Day 1 en route to Refuge de Capanelle. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 1 en route to Refuge de Capanelle. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Locals enjoying a donkey ride outing. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
The wind picks up as I approach the pass. En route to Refuge de Capanelle. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Descending into Refuge de Capanelle. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

The first day ends with a steep climb before a final ten-minute rocky descent into Refuge Capanelle. Arrival routine: shower, laundry, and getting everything ready for the night. I have been warned of bed bugs in dorm beds and so reserved a tent instead.

Are you guys camping as well? I ask my neighbours, being concerned about the wind and cold.

We had a tent… I mean, we still have a tent but no poles. We had a big fight and broke the poles! Maxime says, laughing.

We still keep the tent – without poles! – because I have to return it to my father-in-law, little brother Bastien adds, not at all amused. I see a few scars on his forehead!

I imagine the face of the father-in-law in getting back a tattered tent, wondering what transpired on GR20! Mountain trek drama is nothing new. All the preparation, enormous physical and mental efforts, imbalanced meals and sleep deprivation, and accumulated tensions… It takes tremendous wisdom and experience to find one’s own pace and stay zen. Being steady is fast!

Do you happen to have some strap tape? Bastien asks. I see a thumb sized pinkish red open wound on both of his back heels and could almost feel his pain. New shoes! big bro says.

Sorry, I actually don’t, I reply. Wait a minute, let me ask Antoine! Before long, Antoine locates Estelle who gets out her medical kit to help attend to the little emergency.

I am in the middle of a divorce, Antoine tells me at dinnertime.

I’m so sorry…! I say.

Oh, don’t be! he replies. I am in love, with several women, all younger than me…, he beams a big smile.

Ménage à many on GR20! In love as in trails, there are many variants!

I spend my first cozy GR20 evening in the joyous company of a father-son duo, James and Tom, from Bath, England. Over red wine and pizza, country bread and Corsican saucisson, we talk about travels, photography, and international development while Corsican wind slowly whips up a symphony outside.

9pm: bedtime. I wear my fleece pullover and North Face jacket and snake inside my sleeping sheet. For weight reason, I did not pack a sleeping bag. Big mistake! I could hear the rain fly flapping even through my earplugs. The night is not looking good, but tomorrow is another day!

Refuge de Capanelle, GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Dinner on Day 1 from my minimalist provisions! Refuge de Capanelle, GR20, Corsica. 2022.

The wind has become an instrument of knowledge, it is he who indicates the approach of a pass. He changed his sound, his texture. By ridding the air of the thick heat that stuck to it, it changed its flavor. Without hesitation you know that the green forests that spring up there will be pines or larches and before we get there, we will cross a stream. The wind has just deposited an imperceptible taste that wets the lips, they are thirsty, they have recognized the water as the dry nostrils have discerned its smell, and the senses rejoice in advance, they will be satisfied. As for our poor minds, they abandon themselves to emotions without understanding why the nose palpates, the mouth saliva, the ear strains (it seeks only the music).

– Fabienne Maestracci and Frederic Arrive. Par les Chemins de la Corse

Day 2 From Capanelle (1580m) to Prati (1820m) via Col de Verde. 18km, 900m+ 600m- 8h

I slept only half the night, awaking in the wee hours to mobilize my rain jacket and scarf that I had used as a pillow to cover my shivering legs. I learn fast that in Corsica where nature reigns supreme, good weather is no guarantee. After all, I am camping on GR20!

It takes half an hour to comb my hair! a guy in the next tent whines at six thirty in the morning. French style and Corsican elements don’t go well together!

We’re no longer in our 20s, his neighbour quips, having a hard time waking up his uncooperative muscles. The worst is I am still in my 20s!

By 7am, I see Maxime and Bastien ready to leave. How’s your night? they ask.

Halfway in the night… I reply.

Day 2. Refuge de Capanelle, GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, leaving refuge de Capanelle for refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Day 2 begins with a straightforward descent amidst pristine natural pools. Two young French hikers catch up on me; they started at 4am in Vizzavona, doing two stages in one, hurrying to Prati. The three-hour walk to Col de Verdi through pine forests feels long but what a pleasure to meet colourful local hunters and foragers.

No luck this morning, Nicolas, a local villager gathering mushrooms, says. It hasn’t rained for a while. Maybe I will find some next to rivers.

Further uphill, a couple warns, Speak loud. There is a hunter with dogs! You do not want to be mistaken for a wild boar for sure!

A fine Fall morning on GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Meeting Nicolas, a local villager foraging wild mushrooms. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Mushroom foraging along GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Day 2 along a beautiful forest trail, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
For sale! GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Two trail runners along GR20. Corsica. 2022.
A lucky find! A trail runner packing a wild mushroom away in a ziploc bag. GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

I start to look for mushrooms and enter deep into a pine forest. It is not until I come to a certain impasse when I realize I have been following a double red mark variant that eventually would also take me to Prati. I check my phone and confirm my position: I have veered off for about twenty minutes. Better safe than sorry, I prefer to retrace my steps and stick to GR20. But which way back? I look around and see at least 36 paths in all directions! I imagine what spending the night here would be like… Not particularly enchanting, to say the least. Getting lost on both Day 1 and 2 is a huge lesson. I am determined to stay on track!

Lunch break in Col de Verde before the final steep climb to a 1800m pass with a stupendous view of the entire Eastern coastline. The long day is almost over with only a 15-minute descent into Refuge de Prati.

Day 2: a two-hour steep ascent (600m up), en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 2, en route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
The ascent is over for Day 2! En route to refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Refuge de Prati. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

The wind is blowing strong all the way from Italy and the tents come together as a wind band. I know it will be an overnight concert and ask for a dorm bed. There is an eerie silence in the room; everyone looks so spent. Jean-Guy from Grenoble lying in the next bed refuses to take a cold shower in the rustic plein-air cabin. I have had way worse up at 4000m in the Karakoram or in windswept Patagonia. A cold shower after such a long, exhausting day feels wonderfully refreshing. I even do quick laundry, my hard-to-kick habit so ingrained in trekking body memory.

There is an indoor kitchen with a gas stove and pots. What a luxury! I brew a gigantic pot of light green tea with lemon and pass small glasses around. Everyone is happy!

Sandra and Xavier from Grenoble trek with complete independence with their unimaginable 17-20kg packs. Cereals with milk (from powder) for breakfast, bread with saucisson for lunch, and freeze dried gourmet dinner. They just bought a cheese and share with everyone. Antoine feeds me with slices of saucisson on baguette. He would be doing two stages tomorrow which means we will not see each other again. Lieven, a Belgian father hiking with his teenager daughter, arrives at our table with a surprise.

I bought this cheese at the Bergerie this morning. It’s too strong for us. Would you like it? he asks.

Yessssss, I reply. Who turns down strong Corsican cheeses? All the ones I have tasted so far are among the best ever.

When I open the wrap, I see everyone else – all French, no Corsicans – gaping in horror and starting to leave. It is an ultra-strong and spicy four-month-old cheese with the colour and texture of foie gras. Not being a connoisseur of local delicacies, I do not want to take unreasonable risk and have to part with this unexpected treasure after a few bites. The runs would be the last thing anybody wants trekking on GR20!

A flavorful Corsican cheese! Refuge de Prati, GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Refuge de Prati, GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Prati is enveloped in a fog before tints of flaming orange descend upon the refuge. Tonight is full moon! Will you come?/If the night
Has a moon/Full and bright?/O, will you come?
(Philip Edward Thomas).

Refuge de Prati enveloped in evening fog. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Clouds zeroing in by the end of the day. Refuge de Prati, GR20, Corsica. 2022.

And we leave. I like to walk in this cutting air, on these ridges where nothing stops the gaze, in paths finally free of maquis and brushwood, the wonderful mountain paths.

– Fabienne Maestracci, Vita Corsa: Fragments de vies

Day 3 From Prati (1820m) to Usciolu (1750m). 11km, 700m+ 750m- 6h

It was not possible to charge the phone and my battery went dead in the night. By the time I awake at 6:45am, the room is almost empty. After a slow breakfast with tea and bread with melted dark chocolate, I am one of the last ones to leave at eight.

I know well I have to come down all that I climbed yesterday and have been warned of a few “technical passages.” Day 3 begins with an adrenaline-filled morning of challenging descent amidst rocks and boulders for two full hours, going through pass after pass. Most hikers are far ahead of me, but I see two Belgian couples struggling behind. What a relief to finally see a proper trail!

A glorious morning on GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Refuge de Prati basking in morning light, GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3 en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3: an adrenaline-filled morning descending amidst rocks and boulders! En route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

The challenging descent is followed by a steep two-hour climb up 400m where I find a sheltered corner to break for lunch. A young hiker from Lille is charging his phone with a solar panel while waiting for his father who is still deep in the forest down below. We will go for the famous GR 20 hike in Corsica, his father told him. I had no idea what we were getting into! he says. Neither has ever trekked before apparently! Call that character building or crazy parenting!

Find the path! Day 3 en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3, the interminable ridge traversing, en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
A diagonal path! Day 3 en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3, one of the many passes. En route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Finally, time to tackle the beast: the notorious ridge to Usciolu where one often has to second guess the next red white mark and discern the path amidst indiscernible rocks. After the head-spinning descent followed by a 400m straight up climb, your thighs are trembling and your ability to concentrate faltering. Now the wind picks up on a highly exposed crest! There is nowhere to hide except to plod forward, one sure-footed step at a time. At one point I face two large slanted triangular slabs with vertical drops on both sides and a cross nearby to the right indicating the highest point. I am holding on to whatever rock with all my strength and pull myself up to cross onto the other side, daring neither to look nor to stop. Legs still shaking, I continue the traverse with the refuge still nowhere in sight. Finally, it takes a 45-minute descent to the well hidden site of Usciolu. Jean-Guy from Grenoble is enjoying a rest in the sun when I arrive. It was an extremely windy and cold traverse this morning, he says. Oh well, because he did it at 9am, hours before me. By now all GR20 hikers know what Corsican elements are like!

I am trespassing on their territory! Day 3 en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Find the path! Day 3 en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
So happy to see the trail… before it disappears again! Day 3 en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Standing on top of one of the many passes on Day 3, en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3, the interminable ridge traversing, en route to refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3: one of the scariest passages in the South with vertical drops on both sides. Be sure-footed and don’t look! GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 3: still more traverse before reaching refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Arrival routine: hot shower – a total luxury – laundry, queue to charge phone, and dinner reservation with Jerome who mans the store and kitchen. Then I go see Nico, the manager, to inquire about the next stage.

There will be one to two technical passages like today in escarpment, then an easy descent before finishing in a plateau, he reassures me. I have a hard time imagining anything worse than today. Now, of course, I have not done the North!

The Belgians finally arrive at 5:30pm, looking overwhelmed with exhaustion. They are exploring the option to quit GR20 tomorrow, by walking 1.5 hours straight down to the nearby village of Cozzano. It sounds like a wise decision!

A young couple is taking a late lunch next to me. Where are you heading tomorrow? I ask.

We have not finished today yet! he replies, slurping some whatever freeze-dried meal and gulping down copious amount of water.

Where are you going now?

To the first bergerie after the ridge! he replies. Honey, what’s the name of the bergerie? he asks his girlfriend.

Hurry up, darling! she replies. It is 4pm and it will take them 4.5h to reach their destination, barely making it before night fall.

Everyone – so famished – is waiting for dinner. Alas, Jerome’s pasta is one of the worst I have ever tasted, even if the magnificent view more than compensates for his failing culinary skills. Julio Iglesias’ lush voice blasts over the refuge, thanks to Baptist, the music-loving owner. Just as you cannot find all the qualities within a person, you cannot expect a perfect refuge. Ten for ambience, zero for dinner at Usciolu!

As I get ready to retreat to my tent, Nico brings me the good news that there is one last dorm bed available. Hallelujah, a warm night!

Jerome manning the kitchen and store. Refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Jerome’s infamous inedible pasta! Refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Time to call it a day! Refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Day 4 From Usciolu (1750m) to Croci (1550m). 14km, 600m+ 650m- 6h

At 6am, everyone starts jiggling. The pack of three guys next to me moves with army discipline and precision. In no time they are gone, headed for the trail.

After a 3-minute climb, there is a sign for various options. An hour and a half descent into civilization on the right or a beautiful but menacing crest on the left. Day 4 begins with an exposed traverse for two full hours, with lots of in-the-face boulders where you wonder where the path is: left, right, or centre straight ahead of you with both sides falling into the void.

Huffing and puffing, I finish the leg-shaking traverse and descend into the forest, running. After all the tension of the crest, I feel I have wings. What a sensation!

Day 4: a quick, improvised breakfast of hot green tea and stale bread with melted dark chocolate. Refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4: first rays of light on refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4: leaving refuge de Usciolu. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4 with a bit of scrambling, en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4: find the trail! En route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4: going through a burnt patch, en route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 4: always so happy to see a nice flat trail! En route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Shortly before arriving at Refuge de Basseta, there is a beautiful natural pool. The water is cold but not glacial like in Canada, yet no one stops to enjoy a dip maybe because lunch is near. Finally, on Day 4, I have my first real hot meal: heavenly BBQ entrecôte and fried potatoes. I join Sandra and Xavier from Grenoble who are finishing their steak with a huge satisfying smile. Xavier talks about his GR5 experience last year, crossing 600km of the French alps in 26 stages! Sandra, in remission from breast cancer with a burnt lung from chemotherapy, has a hard time breathing anywhere above 2000m like Monte Cinto, the highest peak in Corsica. Everyday on GR20, I meet inspiring people who keep on walking no matter what!

The last hour and a half to Croci feels like a Sunday stroll due to a heavy stomach! The wind has finally stopped and the Corsican sun is shining strong. Hot shower, laundry, and by 5pm, I am already in my tent writing my diary. I inspect my feet. Thank heaven, no blister. I listen to Ami McKay, Before My Time, and doze off before night falls…

Day 4: a natural pool (no one is swimming!). En route to refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
An irresistible entrecote with potatoes! Refuge de Basseta. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Enjoying a heavenly nap! Refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
A tent with a view. Refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Regaling Chef Paul’s famous lasagna. Refuge de Croci. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Day 5 From Croci (1550m) to Asinau (1530m). 7km, 665m+ 545m- 4h

The night was surprisingly cold. I awake at six thirty and am ready to leave at 7:20am. The first two hours are an easy stroll through the beautiful plateau du Coscione, climbing steadily towards a pass where a trail on the left leads to Monte Alcudina, the highest point in Southern Corsica, while a steep descent on the right brings one to Refuge d’Asinau.

Day 5: beautiful plateau de Coscione. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 5: crossing plateau du Coscione. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 5 en route to Alcudina. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 5 en route to Alcudina. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 5 en route to Alcudina. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

The 500m descent to Asinau is notoriously difficult. Though not as vertiginous as the stages before, it is widely regarded as one of the tougher passages on GR20. By now, the accumulation of fatigue, sleep deprivation, and imbalanced diet start to have an impact not only on one’s over-exerted body but also on the mind: I have enough of these ridiculous leg-shaking and knee-breaking descents!

Steep descent to refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Descending to refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Steep rocky descent into refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

What a relief to finally arrive in Asinau where I find the burly owner and chef, Aimé, preparing dinner. There is a sliver of light from a window on his left, Corsican sausages and cigarettes spread across the table, and Aimé in his element, enjoying his work and nourishing all passing trekkers. It is one of my favourite GR20 still life – and culinary – moments. Stephane, the manager, lets me try all kinds of saucisson that go into a classic Corsican dish, lentilles au figatelli. When I recall Jerome’s pasta in Usciolu, Aimé gives out an exasperated sigh, What a shame!

Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
GR20 trash collectors on horses. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Aimé preparing dinner. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
All the Corsican sausages that go into the lentilles au figatelli. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
A calorie-filled classic Corsican dish, lentilles au figatelli. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Dinner menu. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Corsican flag and Tibetan prayer flags, only in Refuge d’Asinau! GR20, Corsica. 2022.

Piping hot shower, laundry, and much needed rest despite a circling helicopter practising for rescue. People arrive as late as 11pm, Stephane says. That’s crazy! How many people break their legs – and even die – on GR20 each year? What draws people to take such risks? I need to ask myself the same question! To confront my fears, challenge my mortality, or simply get the thrill of a GR adventure…?

Nostalgic Corsican songs blast through the aromatic dining room. I ask Stephane about the trail for tomorrow. It is a five-hour long but straight forward descent to Col de Bavella before climbing two hours towards Refuge de Paliri. Do not take the alpine variant! he advises.

GR20 trash collectors on horses. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Helicopter rescue practice in the valley. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
A tent with a view! Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Dinner is ready! Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Aime’s signature lentilles au figatelli. Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Night falls fast! Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Refuge d’Asinau. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

At night, nothing is more beautiful than to contemplate through the branches the interplay of shadows and clouds, in the wind which carries to you an exquisite smell of recine and bark. Just keep your eyes open to see chimeras and winged monsters, steeped in black and gray, born and dying in the moonbeams. A world of forms that overlap, stretch, swallow each other and gallop beyond the mountains. Motionless spectator, lying in the embrace of a root, you dream of the country where the clouds go.

– Fabienne Maestracci and Frederic Arrive. Par les Chemins de la Corse

Day 6 From Asinau (1530m) to Col de Bavella (1217m). 15km,440m+ 910m- 4h

With a warm tummy and no gusting wind, I sleep the best night, dreaming about the end of GR20. There is something extremely motivating about descending a mountain to complete a long, difficult trek. Even your body knows it, like clock work. After all the extended efforts and exhaustion, discipline and endurance, it is time to bring everything to a close and rejoice.

I awake excitedly at 6am, enjoy a sustaining breakfast of hot tea and melted dark chocolate toast, and head for the trail. A couple ahead of me sets a perfect brisk pace for the first hour before they take the alpine variant that would save them two hours. After five days of challenging ascents, descents, and traverses, coming down the mountain along a decent forest trail feels like a gift! The sense of liberation is so immense that I literally feel I have wings and catch myself running downhill, which is a totally new experience. Alas, that really is not my cup of tea. I trip and fall about two thirds through, fortunately on a soft patch of sandy path with no major damage other than a few blues and possibly a bruised rib due to my dangling camera! My mood is so ebullient that even the fall does not stop me to charge forward, arriving at Col de Bavella at 11am.

Day 6: Refuge d’Asinau in daybreak. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 6: everyone running down the mountain. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 6: feeling ebullient running down the mountain. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 6: the Aiguilles of Bavella. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 6: arriving at Col of Bavella. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

What a shock to see mass tourists after days high up in rustic Corsican mountains. Like a Chinese ink painting, the view of the Aiguilles of Bavella is truly breathtaking. Right there and then I decide to end the trek instead of climbing another two hours to Refuge de Paliri for one last camping night and descending another 1000m tomorrow to Conca. Six days of GR20 are plenty, with some of the most challenging miles I have ever walked. Above all, I am content to have known a bit about Corsican mountain paths, plateaus, and valleys, pine forests, wild flowers and berries, pigs, rams, and sheep, and all the Corsicans who labor hard to keep their beautiful island remain authentic and unique.

Day 6: arriving at the Col de Bavella. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Aiguilles of Bavella. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Aiguilles of Bavella. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Day 6: ending my GR20 trek at Col de Bavella. GR20, Corsica. 2022.
Aiguilles of Bavella enveloped in a fog. GR20, Corsica. 2022.

I enjoy a long lunch of baguette, cheese, and saucisson with the stupendous million-dollar view in Col de Bavella before sticking my thumb up to hitch a ride to Zonza and Porto Vecchio. Finally, I arrive in the gorgeous coastal city of Bonifacio and head to a waterfront restaurant to order a big pot of moules marinieres/mussels cooked in white wine sauce to celebrate. All the hotels are fully booked in this warm September weekend. I decide to bivouac in the port, in front of the magnificent citadelle, enjoying the thrashing waves mixed with club music blasting through early morning. After GR20, everything feels easy!

Celebrating the end of GR20 adventure with moules marinieres! Bonifacio, Corsica. 2022.
Bivouacking in the port of Bonifacio! Corsica. 2022.

Too many emotions, feelings, thoughts that bombard us in the moment. Too many images to engrave in the memory which ends up giving up; it no longer registers, it dries up, shrivels up, becomes very small under the onslaught. It is the nose that will revive it later, in the calm, between the thick walls of a kitchen when the hand crumples a twig of thyme picked up there. It is the mouth, polishing a mushroom that will send back the smell of earth from the bivouac, one evening. It is the ear that will hear a fir tree rustling in a park and say: “Oh! Do you remember?”

– Fabienne Maestracci and Frederic Arrive. Par les Chemins de la Corse

The legendary GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Equally legendary Corsican pigs on GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Wild mint. GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Wild berries. GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Wild berries. GR20. Corsica. 2022.
Monte Alcudina, GR20. Corsica. 2022.

I think freedom is not just an idea. It is also a series of sensations that have nothing abstract about them. We can talk about it, dream about it, fight for it, but above all we have to know how to taste it. It is the movement of one’s own body, which one feels robust and loose in walking, it is the intoxication of a good shared wine, the ardor of a powerful loving embrace and the awareness of participating in this immense landscape of stone, water and wind, and which has no master.

– Fabienne Maestracci, Vita Corsa: Fragments de vies

Next: Croatia!

All Content © 2022 by Jennifer Chan