Fast-Track To The Finish…
Time for celebrations! Rather than feeling a little melancholic that it was all over, this time we were all smiles as another long distance hike came to an end. Yes, we can proudly say that we successfully completed the GR20 across Corsica, and boy were we relieved to have done so without injury or incident!
It was by no means an easy 100 or so miles – in fact, at times we wondered if we would ever reach Calenzana, let alone complete Europe’s toughest hike in just 12 days! But we were satisfied to have reached our end goal; notably with some route tweaks here and there to enable us to achieve it in such a tight time-scale. Finishing with a double-stager, from Carrozu to Calenzana; here’s a round-up of our final day on the trail…
We made it! Enjoying celebratory beers at the GR20 Bar in Calenzana after a long morning’s walk.
Friday 14th August 2015 – Stage 12 – Refuge de Carrozu to Calenzana – 7:30am – 1:30pm (6 hours)
*Low level route to allow us to double up two stages.
After some painstaking hours deciding on our route options and where exactly we were going to double up stages to allow us to complete a 16-stage hike in just 12 days – we had little choice than to end our thru-hike with one last double stage. But to soften the blow and make for a less demanding final day, we decided to take the low-level route option into Calenzana, whereby we descended from the Refuge de Carrozu on the ‘Yellow’ liaison route.
Having already pushed ourselves to our limits, walking our way over the gruelling Corsican mountains during the previous 11 days, we didn’t consider this cheating. It maybe so, if you’re just starting out in Calenzana and heading off – but as we were hiking south to north – we thought it was a perfectly justifiable option to take the low level route, which ultimately saved us an entire day and extra night on the trail.
Leaving the Refuge de Carrozu early morning. We were excited to be facing our last day on the GR20!
Choosing the low-level route option to Calenzana meant we had an easy downhill start to the day.
Just when we were getting used to navigating giant boulders and had mastered the skills needed for such rugged terrain – our Corsican adventure was coming to an end…
No fear… Another swing bridge to cross on our way to Bonifatu – our first rest-stop of the day.
Wayne confidently takes it in his stride…
The low-level route, following gentle, downhill switchbacks took us to Bonifatu and the Auberge de le Forêt, where we stopped for cold drinks and shared a Camembert baguette (our second breakfast of the day!) It made for easy early-morning walking, so we made good time reaching the refuge in around one and a half hours.
Although heading to Bonifatu we followed the ‘yellow’ liaison route, you can still see the regular GR20 white and red flashes marking the way too. (Now we definitely didn’t feel like we were cheating!)
A serene view as we exited the mountains and headed towards the forest.
The low level route is very well marked and sign posted.
Having gotten used to rocks, you know you’re getting closer to civilisation when a bench is provided to sit on!
Reaching the quaint Auberge de le Forêt, where we stopped for a second breakfast!
The sandwiches in Corsica are huge! You do really have to share – even with unabating hiker hunger!
After leaving the refuge, we followed the road, then joined the ‘Mare e Monti’ Orange Route for a while, which took us to a forest track. (Namely – the ‘Route Forestière du Sambuccu’.) Up to this point there is largely good forest cover providing you with adequate shade from the sun. After this however, you become very exposed to the elements whilst following a dirt track around the ridge of the mountains. It’s one of those tracks that seems never-ending as there is not really much to hold your interest – particularly if all you’re intent on right at that moment is reaching Calenzana in time for lunch and to catch the 3pm bus to Calvi! Thankfully, there was plenty of cloud cover above us, relieving us of the intensity of the sun, and whilst the track seemingly led to nowhere – with each passing footstep we were getting closer to civilisation.
We followed the ‘Mare e Monti’ for a while, another Corsican long distance trail. Instead of miles or km, points along the trails are measured in the number of hours an average person takes to reach them. So just 5 hours to go to reach Calenzana!
Crossing the riverbed, which was virtually dry in mid-August. Thankfully, we had plenty of drinking water left after topping up our supplies earlier that morning.
Following a dirt track around the mountain ridge. Flat walking enables us to have a walking pace of at least 3 miles per hour, so we made good time on the section.
The first signs of civilisation come into view.
After skirting the mountain, the track begins to ascend taking you over Bocca a u Corsu. Calenzana is conveniently signposted from the top of the bocca, after which it’s downhill all the way into the village. You can see the village from quite some distance away – and the great thing about it is that it looks a lot closer than any refuge in the mountains ever did! You seem to reach it quickly as you snake your way down the mountainside; the Spasimata slabs and the woes of the high routes going south to north, long since forgotten.
Not far to go… It’s downhill all the way to Calenzana.
Covering a lot of ground in record time – we hot-footed it down the mountain!
The village is in sight and beckons us on.
We seem to reach it much quicker than we did any refuge in the mountains!
After 12 days in the Corsican mountains we were looking forward to sampling some Corsican wine!
We walked straight downhill onto the cobbled streets of Calenzana.
Which way now? We were eager to find the GR20 bar to celebrate the end of our thru-hike!
We headed towards the end of the main road and found it without too much trouble!
And of course we treated ourselves to pizza!
A celebratory lunch before catching the bus to Calvi!
We had intended on camping at Calenzana; then the following morning we would take the local bus to Calvi. However, as bus times in Corsica are completely random to say the least, we would in fact have had to take a taxi to Calvi the following morning, which would have cost around 40 Euros. Being the thrifty hikers that we are, and as we had arrived in Calenzana with plenty of time to spare, we decided to take the 3pm bus to Calvi that same afternoon. (In doing this, we were just keeping our fingers crossed that we’d be able to find accommodation or a campsite available for the evening once we arrived.) As Calvi was only 7 miles away, I had actually suggested to Wayne that we could walk such a short distance, as it was still only early afternoon. But he was having none of it!!! He was already intent on having a few more beers and planning our customary ‘party night’ to celebrate our achievement!
We soon found Calenzana’s central square – Le Place d’Iglais, and catching the bus to Calvi was the easy part! Finding a place to stay in Calvi however proved much more difficult. It was a busy weekend in what is one of Corsica’s most popular seaside spots, in the middle of the August holidays, so we were unable to find a bed and breakfast or budget hotel anywhere in Calvi within our price range. Inevitably, we had to spend one last night in the tent after we secured a pitch at the ‘Camping International’ Holiday Park. It wasn’t all bad though, as across from the campsite there was a large ‘Casino Supermarché’, where we stocked up with a whole array of goodies to get our campsite party night into full swing!
After a quick shower and change of clothes we toasted a successful thru-hike with a bottle of sparkling rosé!
The next morning, we left around 10am and headed into the town centre for a spot of breakfast and some sightseeing before catching a bus back to Bastia. We had pre-booked a hotel for the night in Bastia in readiness for our return flight home to England the following day and were very much looking forward to some home comforts.
Looking for a full English breakfast in Calvi!
Sightseeing with the rucksacks in tow!
Corsica is a fusion of French charm and Italian hospitality.
We enjoyed wandering through the streets and discovering some hidden gems.
Quite possibly the perfect size bottle for Wayne after abstaining for 11 days!
Cappuccino and cake – yes please, we’ve earned it! Indulging in one of the many patisseries in Calvi.
Next stop – Bastia! We enjoyed another session of over-indulgence feasting on ice-cream sundaes, Corsican wine and mammoth portions of pasta before heading home the next morning. That’s another great thing about thru-hiking – you don’t have to count calories for a few days after completing a long distance hike. Your metabolism is so high you can eat whatever you like without feeling guilty!
“À salute!” As they would say in Corsica.
This time two weeks ago we were just about to embark on our toughest hike to date!
Safe and well at Bastia airport ready for our journey home.
Luckily we had a window seat and enjoyed fantastic views of the island.
Farewell Corsica, what an incredible experience we had!
We often read on social media that ‘it’s all about enjoying life and making memories’. Well we certainly grabbed life with both hands on this hike. From the burning sun, to the crack of dawn wake-up calls, to scrambling across rugged ridges, whilst facing dizzying drop-offs, traversing the Corsican mountains was a challenge like no other – testing both our personal fitness and resolve to complete one of Europe’s toughest trails.
There is no doubt in our minds – for us, the GR20 was monumentally hard. But what that did was prove to us how much we are capable of, how much we have learned in such a small space of time, how much we will never give up, and just how much we love to walk just for the sake of adventure!
Yes, life is certainly about making memories – so grab your trail shoes and head for the mountains… There’s no better place to be!