Is the 180km Grande Randonnée 20 (GR20), across the high volcanic spine of Corsica, the toughest and most beautiful trek in Europe? In June 2015, the Sole Sisters went on an overseas adventure to find out.
The invitation went out to all Sole Sisters and partners. Five women signed up – Yvonne, Mary, Steph, Tina and Jo, plus Michael the sole man. Unfortunately Mary injured her calf shortly before departure so she had to reluctantly, but sensibly, pull out. We joined a British tour group Exodus in Calvi, Corsica, and were 14 in total in the group plus our two guides.
The GR20 Experience
A week before we left Australia we had heard reports of torrential rain and six killed in a landslide on the GR20, so we were a little nervous. But we were blessed with fine weather – even hot – and not a drop of rain. The part of the track where the accident occured (the Cirque de la Solitude) was closed, so we climbed a new detour route, up to the summit of Corsica’s highest peak, Monte Cintu (2706m) and down to the refuge.
We hiked between 8 to 10 hours per day for 12 days, with one rest day in the citadel town of Corte in the middle of the walk.
The scenery was spectacular with steep rocky peaks, mountain streams, patches of snow, alpine flowers on top and beech and pine forests in the valleys. The views were expansive, along the mountain range, to the coast and even to Sardinia in the south. For much of the time the track was picking our way through rocky terrain following marks painted on rocks – it was too rough to be called a path . Some parts could really be described as rock climbing rather than walking, but there were chains and ropes for security. There were three hour ascents and three hour descents, sometimes on the one day. But we had time for swims in the streams, some fast and freezing snow-melt, others slower and large enough for laps. Even there the water was cool, so baking on hot rocks after the swim, with bright red and blue dragonflies alighting on our wet skin, was quite delightful.
Accommodation was basic – dormitory style in mountain huts sometimes only serviced by donkeys, and one night in a tent. We were served simple Corsican food in the refuges, usually coffee in bowls for breakfast with bread and jam. Lunch was pasta or lentil salad, charcuterie, baguette and a round of Corsican cheese, carried in our day packs and devoured on the track. In the evening, we enjoyed the local Pietra beer, brewed from malt and chestnut flour, or French champagne – how hard can this hike get?
The company was excellent fun. They were a well-travelled lot, so we were regaled with stories of bike trips from Istanbul to Bejing, canoe trips down the Yukon and hiking trips in every continent. Susannah had enough energy to effortlessly bound up and down the mountains singing opera, jazz and other tunes which lifted everyone’s spirits on the long hot stretches. She organized “Corsica’s got talent” on the evening of the rest day in Corte, so at the restaurant we entertained ourselves with songs, juggling, poetry and silly games. There was a lot of laughter.
We all made it to the end in fine form. Our boots not so, and Yvonne’s ended up in the bin. The granite was pretty rough on them. Only one member of the party had to miss the last two days due to a knee injury. There was a birthday on the last day so there was plenty to celebrate on the final night of the trek.
It was a fantastic experience, highly recommended.