Hiking Europe's Hardest Walking Trail | EUROtoday

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It is taken into account Europe's hardest strolling path – the legendary, difficult GR20 route that slices by means of Corsica. Hike it and uncover there’s extra to the island than beautiful seashores.

“You are ascending 600m in 2km… are you climbing a wall?!” The textual content emitted disbelief, as if I should be making all of it up. I had simply begun the second day of my four-day journey on the northernmost a part of the GR20 mountain climbing path in Corsica, and my good friend's textual content, in reply to the itinerary I'd shared with him, got here simply as I used to be about to do precisely that. Climb a wall. “I would not call that hiking,” got here the ultimate reply.

Commonly thought-about Europe's most troublesome hike this Great Hike (therefore the 'GR' in GR20), is understood domestically as Fra li Monti, which implies 'throughout the mountains' within the Corsican language. It stretches 112 miles (180km) from the city of Conca on the southern finish of the island to Calenzana within the northwest, crossing excessive plateaus and dipping low into valleys throughout floor that’s uncovered to the tough parts.

The full path often takes a little bit over two weeks. For the sake of time, I needed to pattern simply the best elements of this legendary route, which meant selecting its most troublesome northern sections to finish.

Camping at Auberge u Vallone

A mountain within the sea

On a transparent sunny day, Corsica appears to be saturated with all shades of shade. The Isle of Beauty, because it's affectionately identified, is surrounded by seashores of lustrous white sand washed gently with the pale sapphire blue of the ocean – it's little shock that most individuals come right here for the shoreline. I caught a glimpse of the wonderful Mediterranean on the drive from the airport to my start line on the Hôtel Castel di Vergio, from the place the subsequent day I’d hike north again in direction of Calvi. The sight was alluring and postcard excellent: this shoreline is a sunseeker's playground, from household resorts providing beach-access rooms and full-board menus to the safer bays the place the wealthy and well-known have their very own personal estates and yachts.

My driver was on and off telephone calls, animatedly chatting away in Corsica as we sped by means of the coastal areas earlier than having to decelerate because the roads narrowed to single lanes that wind into the mountains. Wedged between excessive cliffs on one facet and a ravine on the opposite, I used to be handled to a preview of the hike I used to be about to embark on.

The Île de Beauté is commonly described as 'a mountain within the sea', and the abrupt rise of the mountain ranges from the shoreline makes for dramatic surroundings. We drove on deeper into this breathtaking, rocky inside till the ocean disappeared from view. There was no turning again now.

Footbridge crossing a small canyon alongside the GR20

No peculiar hike

I arrived at Castel di Vergio late within the afternoon. Europe was experiencing an unprecedented heatwave and I felt the scorching solar threatening the remainder of the week. Picking a shady spot, I ordered a chilly drink to chill down on the terrace and listened to the conversations taking place round me.”…it was so steep, I couldn't even come down usually… I used to be scared I’d break a leg… You actually need to focus whenever you come throughout these sections… This is my second time… it doesn't get simpler… I hear a prime path runner did the entire course in lower than 40 hours…” For the vast majority of individuals, this may be the final levels of their journey in the event that they have been following the GR20 from the south to north. I guessed my fellow friends had been on the path for greater than per week by now, judging from the muddy sneakers and barely pungent physique aroma, all of which made me really feel insufficient and nearly responsible for having the luxurious of unpolluted garments and recent toes.

“You know, they say from tomorrow it's the hardest three days of the GR20…” whispered one of many different solo walkers close by, “and it's going to be very hot. We better start early.” It was good recommendation, and the subsequent day I had an early breakfast and set off simply because the temperature started to rise – at 7am it was already 23°C. I trod briskly, eager to make use of the cooler hours to realize a long way.

The first few miles handed by means of a beautiful pine forest, and the morning air was recent with earthy scents. I quickly fell into a snug rhythm, left, proper, left, proper, buzzing a cheerful tune on the identical time, unaware that I had reached an altitude the place the bushes have been starting to fade away and the panorama was quickly changing into harsh.

A phrase of recommendation in case you are tempted by the GR20: by no means let your self change into complacent, as a result of simply as you suppose you might be getting the grasp of issues, you find yourself hitting a wall. In this case, fairly actually.

Still inside the tree line the place forests shade the fierce solar

Climb, scramble, slide

I appeared round for the crimson and white path blazers. Had I made a mistake? Did I miss a flip? No, there they have been, freshly painted crimson and white markers clearly going up… Up the primary boulder, adopted by the subsequent boulder and the subsequent till the pile of rocks drew a line on the horizon above.

Corsica's inside is much more mountainous than most individuals understand. There are greater than 400 named mountains on the island, with 20 of them peaking at greater than 2,000m. The GR20 follows the mountain vary that snakes its method diagonally from the south-eastern nook to the north-west of the island, with a route that requires fairly extra than simply the power to hike.

I took a deep breath, threw my strolling poles as much as the subsequent ledge, gripped the rocks with my arms and started to climb. Having repeated this course of a number of occasions, I lastly reached the highest of the rocks. A area of scree paved the subsequent mile – this may not be simple going. It was a furnace by now and I sucked greedily at my water provide hoping I wouldn't drain it earlier than the top of the day. Still ascending at a pointy incline, I scrambled and slid on stones that have been too sizzling to the touch, and made my method, slowly however absolutely, to the highest.

Mountain prime views and strolling alongside a ledge

On prime of the world

There is little doubt about it: Corsica is gorgeous. Yet nonetheless, I wasn't ready for it to take my breath away at every flip. Time after time as I conquered the highest of a ridge, I used to be rewarded with the startling great thing about my environment: the horizon dominated by rows of mountains dressed within the dusty olive inexperienced of the robust maquis (shrubland) that grows plentiful on this harsh atmosphere, and the silver edges of numerous granite peaks rising and falling like a line on a seismogram. From pine forests that wind their method across the base of the mountains, chilly streams move into river rapids by means of waterfalls and pure water swimming pools. Occasionally the bleating of the wild mountain sheep might be heard echoing throughout the valley; I even noticed a pair of peregrine circle the sky.

At Pointe des Éboulis (2,607m), the very best level of the GR20 close to the height of Corsica's tallest mountain, Mount Cinto, I felt a wave of feelings. My toes have been lined in blisters and my arms have been sore with bruises and cuts from climbing on sharp rocks; but from this vantage level, the place different peaks appeared to be of no consequence and the sweeping views expanded all the way in which to the glittering sea, I needed to giggle, cry and yell . Taking my time to descend the equally vertical drop again to floor stage – which was, in truth, even more durable than the ascent – ​​I had time to essentially take into consideration the expertise.

I’ve to say, I echo my good friend's emotions: I’d not name the GR20 a hike both. It is an impediment course, an journey and an adrenaline kick. It challenges the physique and the thoughts, exhausting and refreshing you on the identical time. Above all, it’s testimony to what we’re all able to. And an opportunity to know what it means to really really feel on prime of the world.

Waterfall alongside the Manganellu river enroute


The GR20 ought to solely be tried by skilled hikers.

Corsican Places supply packages for self-guided mountain climbing on the GR20. Itineraries might be tailored based mostly on selections of sections and variety of days, with the choice to fly a constitution flight with BA Cityflyer from London Stansted direct into Calvi departing each Sunday morning between May 14 and October 1. Packages embody return flights, lodging on the hike with full board, baggage transfers the place doable, map and route notes.


For extra info on Corsica, go to www.visit-corsica.com

From France Today Magazine

Amy close to the summit of Cinto

Lead picture credit score: The northern a part of GR20 in direction of Calvi is difficult

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Hiking Europe’s Hardest Walking Trail