We did not plan to hike the GR20. The summer of 2020 was very uncertain and we made up our mind a week before we left. We booked the flights the day before departure, started hiking the day we arrived, and 7 days later we were in Conca, on the other side of Corsica.
If you are thinking about doing it but you don’t have any hiking or mountain experience – we were in the same place in 2020. No experience whatsoever, but we did the GR20, then the Camino, and part of the GR10 (across the Pyrénées), and I am now writing this article to give you all the info you need to prepare for your GR20. 🙂
How long is it? How much vert can you expect? Can you do it without training? Where do you resupply and eat along the way? Is it better to sleep in a tent or in the refuges? Are hiking poles a must-have? Can you find water on the path?
And of course… Hiking shoes or trail running shoes??
You can find the answers in this article, I did my best to gather it all in one place. Happy reading! 🙂
1. The GR20 in 15 stages
In Europe, GR stands for « Grande Randonnée » (literally: « Big hike »). You can find GR routes all around Europe and mostly in France, the Netherlands (Grote Routepaden), Spain (Gran Recorrido) and Portugal (Grande Rota). They are all marked and recognised by the same sign: a white stripe above a red stripe (yep, the Polish flag!)
The GR20 goes from the North to the South of Corsica in 15 stages (although they recently changed the route and you can now do it in 16 stages). The distances and elevation gains in this article were recorded with a Polar watch during our hike, it may vary a little. I have also indicated the summits for each stage a bit further down in the article.
Table of all 15 stages of the GR20
NB: d+ indicates the elevation gain, and d- the elevation drop!
|STAGE 1||Calenzana à Ortu di u Piobbu||12km||1545 d+ 235d-|
|STAGE 2||Ortu di u Piobbu – Carrozzu||10km||850d+ 895d-|
|STAGE 3||Carrozzu – Ascu Stagnu||9km||815d+ 640d-|
|STAGE 4||Ascu Stagnu – Tighjettu||13km||1255d+ 1115d-|
|STAGE 5||Tighjettu – Ciottulu di i Mori||8,5km||880d+ 385d-|
|STAGE 6||Ciottulu di i Mori – Manganu||27km||860d+ 1260d-|
|STAGE 7||Manganu – Petra Piana||10km||855d+ 655d-|
|STAGE 8||Petra Piana – l’Onda||8km||385d+ 755d-|
|STAGE 9||l’Onda – Vizzavone||14km||735d+ 1250d-|
|STAGE 10||Vizzavone – Capanelle||16km||1080d+ 410d-|
|STAGE 11||Capanelle – Prati||20km||970d+ 775d-|
|STAGE 12||Prati – Usciolu||12km||934d+ 221d-|
|STAGE 13||Usciolu – Asinau||19km||730d+ 950d-|
|STAGE 14||Asinau – Paliri||18km||484d+ 807d-|
|STAGE 15||Paliri – Conca||15km||465d+ 1029d-|
Stage 1 of the GR20 : Calenzana – Ortu di u Piobbu
12 km, 1545 m of ascent and 235 m of descent.
The hike starts with a long climb up to the stage’s summit, altitude 1556 m. Up until there you can still see the ocean, but the mountains start to take over and you will quickly understand why the GR20 is said to be the « hardest GR in Europe »… This first stage really humbled us and made us realise how tough it is. We essentially spent the whole day watching where we put our feet ahah. Fortunately, a couple of « rolling » sections allow you to walk while enjoying the view.
Stage 2 of the GR20 : Ortu di u Piobbu – Carrozzu
10 km, 850 m of ascent and 895 m of descent.
The start of this stage is flat(ish) but it does not last. You will have to climb up to 1600 m, then go down a couple metres and climb up again to the highest point of the day, 2030 m high. You will then walk down to 1500 m, with the last few kilometres going downhill allllll the way to the refuge… This is the day we found out that it is harder to go down than to go up!
Stage 3 of the GR20 : Carrozzu – Ascu Stagnu
9 km, 815 m of ascent and 640 m of descent.
The summit is at an altitude of 1900 m between Carrozzu and Ascu Stagnu. There is a fair bit of climbing and scree slopes. You can see Ascu Stagnu from afar very early on in the hike, which can turned out to be really frustrating as it felt like we were never getting closer! You can also see the Monte Cinto, Corsica’s rooftop culminating at 2700 m.
Stage 4 of the GR20 : Ascu Stagnu – Tighjettu
13 km, 1255 m of ascent and 1115 m of descent.
A long stage with the highest point at altitude 2600 m. This is the highest point of the GR20 and of Corsica: Monte Cinto. You can climb an extra 100 m to get to the very top but we decided not to (it is a 1h45m return trip). The landscape changed drastically passed 2000 m and it felt like we were on the moon: no grass, no tree, no wildlife, just a whole lot of rocks. There was barely a path to hike and it is definitely one of the hardest stage of the GR20. You will finish the day with a very long walk down to the refuge that feels like coming back to the Earth ahah.
Stage 5 of the GR20 : Tighjettu – Ciottulu di i Mori
8.5 km, 880 m of ascent and 385 m of descent.
While the highest point of this stage is at 2000 m high, it felt almost easy after stage 4! You are very often sheltered by trees and walking on the mountainside. Towards the end, you will go down in the valley and hike along the river, where you will be able to fill up your water bottle or go for a swim!
Stage 6 of the GR20 : Ciottulu di i Mori – Manganu
27 km, 860 m of ascent and 1260 m of descent.
This stage will take you up to 1400 m, 1600 m and 1800m. You will walk passed Castel de Vergio, a ski resort where you can eat, resupply and sleep. It is the longest stage of the GR20 but also one of the easiest, and it was good for the soul. You will walk on an actual path with no rock for most of the day, which will take you to the Lac de Nino and its valley. You can either stop at the Bergerie de Vaccaghja, or at Manganu 2 km further.
Stage 7 of the GR20 : Manganu – Petra Piana
10 km, 855 m of ascent and 655 m of descent.
This stage starts with a climb up to 2200 m, then back down to 2000 m and up again to 2200 m high. You will hike along the Lac de Capitello, which you can see from above. You can access it via a detour route, but the water is apparently really cold, even in september!
Stage 8 of the GR20 : Petra Piana – l’Onda
8 km, 385 m of ascent and 755 m of descent.
The second-last stage of the GR20 will take you all the way up to 2000 m. You have 2 options to get to l’Onda: on the mountain ridge (shorter but more difficult) or through the valley (longer but much flatter). We went for the ridge and once again, the GR20 delivered; it was one of the most beautiful landscapes we have ever seen. You can see all around, above and below you, as you can see on the photo. Though it is important to note that this route is not accessible in bad weather!
Stage 9 of the GR20 : l’Onda – Vizzavone
14 km, 735 m of ascent and 1250 m of descent.
Basically 14 km of downhill, and we know now that going downhill is harder than going uphill on the GR20… The last stage of the Northern part of the GR and definitely the one that took us the longest – we decided to do 3 stages on that day, stage 9 being the latest, and it killed us ahah. The last couple of kilometres into Vizzavone are on bitumen too, which does not help with feet pain!
Stage 10 of the GR20 : Vizzavone – Capanelle
16 km, 1080 m of ascent and 410 m of descent.
GR South, here we are! We started the day with a nice climb up to 1600 m and a rather flat track for the rest of it. The difference between the North and the South is really striking. You will still climb a lot, but the path is really nice, with nowhere as many rocks as in the North. You will also see a lot more wildlife and vegetation thanks to the low altitude! This stage is accessible from the road too, which means you can decide to end your GR20 there and go back to civilisation.
Stage 11 of the GR20 : Capanelle – Prati
20 km, 970 m of ascent and 775 m of descent.
Once again a rather uneventful stage going up and down to the summit at 1800 m. You will encounter a resupply ‘store’ on the way, which is always nice. And most importantly, once you are in Prati, you will finally see the ocean for the first time… on the Eastern side of Corsica!
Stage 12 of the GR20 : Prati – Usciolu
12 km, 934 m of ascent and 221 m of descent.
This stage will take you on the mountain ridge and go up to 1900 m, down to 1500 m and up again to 1900 m. It was actually quite technical and some parts reminded us of the North. The refuge overlooks the valley and would be a great spot for the sunset, if you get there in time!
Stage 13 of the GR20 : Usciolu – Asinau
19 km, 750 m of ascent and 930 m of descent.
This stage has the highest point in the southern part of Corsica, at altitude 2000 m. You will get the best view over the mountains as you are hiking on the mountainside.
They added a stage around there: you can now walk from Usciolu to A Matalza (10 km) and A Matalza to Asinau (10 km).
Stage 14 of the GR20 : Asinau – Paliri
18 km, 484 m of ascent and 807 m of descent.
From Asinau, it’s basically all downhill from here! You will hike down to 1000 m, where you have 2 options: the route along the river in the valley, or the route through Bavella’s Needles (Aiguilles de Bavella). We went via the valley because we were short on time (and very tired ahah) but if you can, definitely go via Bavella!
Stage 15 of the GR20 : Paliri – Conca
15k m, 46 m of ascent and 1029 m of descent.
And finally, stage 15. You keep going down and down, all the way to the ocean baby! It feels like you are never going to get there, and the « finish » sign is quite hard to find, but finally, you made it. Congratulations and enjoy your Pietra. :p
I have downloaded all the GPX files for each stage of the GR20 in this Drive folder.
(WordPress does not allow me to insert them in the article).
You will find all 15 GPX files (without A Matalza), as well as the 7 GPX files if you want to do it in 7 days.
The data (and especially vert and altitude) can change slightly from one device to another so don’t be surprised if your watch’s data is sometimes different from those in my article. 😉
2. How to prepare for the GR20
What level of fitness do I need for the GR20 ?
It all depends on your end goal and how fast you want to finish it.
If you are lucky enough to have 15 days off and you want to sit back and relax in the afternoon at the refuge, you don’t need to worry too much about training. A good physical condition will be enough.
If you are up for a challenge, doing it in 7 days is definitely achievable if you’re an active person all year round. However, if you want to do it in 5 days or less, this is where you need to start thinking about a proper training plan. We came across quite a few groups who were doing the GR20 as a trail run (with ultralight gear) and most of them were doing it in 7 days, like us. They were going faster than us and had free time in the afternoon. We asked them why they weren’t going sub-5 days and they explained that the level of fitness you need to do it in less than a week is considerably higher.
As far as we’re concerned, we did not do any specific training. Neither of us had done multi-days hikes before and it was very much a last minute decision (partly because we were in the middle of a pandemic ahah).
However, we are both very active people (cycling and running) and in great health. We love endurance sports and that’s what you need most on the GR20: the ability to walk for hours in the mountains, for days in a row, with little sleep and average food. We did it in 7 days, we could not have done it any faster at that time. If we were to do it again, we would train specifically for it and make our bags lighter too.
Your physical condition is also very important in terms of injury. We saw a lot of hikers who had to stop and go back to the city because they had slipped on rocks or sprained their ankles. The path is almost entirely made of rocks (in the Northern part) and it is really easy to get injured.
GR20 solo or with a group?
Honestly, no right or wrong answer to that one. We saw plenty of groups of all sizes and solo hikers, it’s a very personal choice. We did it together, and I would love to do it solo one day. It’s a completely different experience. If this is your first multi-day hike though, you probably want to do it with someone else.
Is the GR20 really the « hardest GR in Europe » ?
Yes, the GR20 is difficult.
Not the most difficult in our opinion, but still really difficult.
We found that most guides (Topo Guide, GR20 website…) underestimate the northern part of the GR20. There was a lot more climbing and technical sections than we expected, almost dangerous sometimes. It is definitely not suitable for people who have vertigo as you will often be walking on the edge of cliffs. The path is also made up of rocks, of all shapes and sizes, which makes it incredibly difficult not only to climb up but also to walk down the mountains. The first 90 km stretch from Calenzana to Vizzavone is hands down the most difficult section of the whole hike.
We also found that the southern part (from Vizzavone to Conca) was underestimated in the Topo Guide. It is said to be a lot easier than the northern part, almost like a walk in the park. Do not expect an easy hike because it is still very demanding with a lot of vertical metres and some technical passages. Each stage is also a lot longer in terms of distance; if you plan on doing 2 stages per day, keep in mind that it is a lot of ground to cover on your feet. This is especially true if you have done the northern section first, the fatigue you have accumulated along the way will definitely make you feel like the southern part is just as hard!
Is it really the « most beautiful GR in Europe » ?
The GR20 is absolutely beautiful, there is no denying that. The mountains will take your breath away every day on this hike. However, you cannot hike and appreciate the view at the same time on the GR20; you will be constantly looking at the ground to watch your steps and not trip ahah. If you plan on doing it in 7 days or less, you may not have the time to truly appreciate how beautiful it is. If you have 15 days to do it, you will definitely have time to stop throughout the day, go for a swim in the natural pools and enjoy the Corsican mountains!
3. Planning your GR20
The GR20 is supposed to be 180 km; we counted 200 km and 13,000 m of vert. We did 2 or 3 stages every day and walked 8 to 12 hours every day (including breaks). You will see signs on the way that estimate the time needed to cover the distance at an average speed of 1 km/h; if you are reasonably fit you can probably halve those times.
Best time to go: June to September
June is the ideal month for the GR20: fewer people, perfect weather (not too hot), and the longest days of the year.
July and August are more crowded and a lot hotter, you have to plan in advance for water and be careful with thunderstorms.
We did it the first week of September and pretty much had the perfect conditions for it: no rain, sunny every day but not crazy hot, and a bit windy sometimes. We were able to find water in most natural sources because it had rained a lot in the weeks prior. There was also not many people, but mostly because of Covid and the travel restrictions.
Not only is the weather better between June and September, it is also the time of the year when you get the most daylight. This is especially important if you plan on doing it fast. We never had to use our head torches and we knew that we would always get to the refuge before sunset (which was around 21:00-21:30). Passed September, the days get shorter and you will probably have to hike at night at some point.
However, the night were freezing even in summer. It would get to 0°c every night, which is not that surprising since most refuges are around 1800-2000 m of altitude. We really advise you to bring stuff to wear at night or a sleeping bag that can handle sub-0 temp!
Risks on the GR20 : thunderstorms, wildfires, snow, altitude sickness…
2 days before we left, some sections of the GR20 were closed because of a wildfire and 2 days after we arrived in Conca (end point), it rained massively all over Corsica. The weather can change a lot over the span of a few days, especially in summer with thunderstorms, heavy rain, extreme heat – but also in winter with the snow, ice and rain again. Always check the forecast before leaving in the morning, and check this website for bushfire alerts.
You should also be careful when climbing above 2000 m if you have never done this before. You can feel out of breath if you go too fast – slow down if you need to and allow more time in the day when you know you will be doing a lot of climbing. My hands would also get swollen over 2000-2300 m so don’t be surprised if that happens to you too ahah! Be prepared for the fog too, passed a certain point you will go from really sunny to not seeing anything 2 metres ahead of you – it can be scary at first but you get used to it after a few days. 🙂
Southbound or Northbound?
The ‘official’ GR20 goes from North to South and we did it that way. There are a few things to consider when making your choice.
If you start in the North (Calenzana), you start with the hardest sections. When you are struggling in the first 90 km, it does help to think that the second half of your hike will be easier than what you are doing right now! You will also accumulate a lot of fatigue, no matter which way you go – I honestly don’t know if I could have done the Northern sections after doing the Southern sections, it was much better to start with the hardest bit when you feel nice and fresh and rested.
If you start in the South (Conca), you are essentially warming up in the first 90 km before the Northern sections. If you are sensitive to the sun, it’s good to note that the sun will be behind you most of the time when you go South to North (although the sun really did not bother us when we did it from North to South ahah).
It’s good to check the forecast before making your decision, too. For example if there are thunderstorms in the North as you are about to start the GR20, then you might as well start in the South and hopefully by the time you get to the North, the storms will have passed. You can also choose to only do half of the whole hike, and catch a train to/from Vizzavone.
How long should I take? Where can I do double or triple stage days?
Our initial plan was to do it in 10 days. Once we were there, we realised we could quite easily do double-stage days (hike two stages in a day) and still have enough energy left to continue the next day. We even did triple-stage days and finished it in 7 days.
The Southern stages are undoubtedly the easiest one to ‘double’. They are longer in distance but much less difficult: there is less elevation gain and the path is nowhere as rough. However, you can definitely double in the Northern part as well, as long as you allow enough time for it. Don’t underestimate how slow you will be ahah. I remember seeing a sign: ‘Ascu Stagnu – 2 km – 2.5 hours’ and wondering how one could possibly take 2 hours to walk 2 kilometres… Well, it took us 3 hours. 😬
If you are on any GR20 Facebook group, you will have noticed that a lot of hikers tend to preach about hiking slowly and taking your time. While this is a rather nice idea, not everyone has 2 weeks off to dedicate to a hike nor the budget for 15 days of hiking where you will eat double the usual amount of food and sleep in refuges every night. And even if you do have the time and money for it, maybe you just like a good challenge, like we did. Maybe you want to see how far you can push yourself before you collapse and that is okay! Don’t listen to what anyone is saying; you don’t need to go ‘slow’ to enjoy the GR20. Do whatever you want, whether it be a slow hike or a personal challenge. Your hike, your pace! 😉
GR20 in 7 days (our plan)
NB: d+ indicates the elevation gain, and d- the elevation drop!
DAY 1: 20 km (GR20 stages 1 and 2)
- Start: 10:30
- 9h of walking, 11h with breaks
- Calenzana – Ortu di u Piobbu – Carrozzu
- 2305d+ and 1125 d-
- Summit: 2036 m
DAY 2: 16 km (GR20 stages 3 and 4)
- Start: 9:00
- 10h of walking, 12h30 with breaks
- Carrozzu – Ascu Stagnu – Tighjettu
- 2005d+ and 1650d-
- Summits: 1982 m, 2600 m
DAY 3: 25km (GR20 stages 5 and 6)
- Start: 9:00
- 8h30 of walking, 12h30 with breaks
- Tighjettu – Ciottulu di i Mori – Manganu
- 1775d+ and 1700d-
- Summits: 2045 m, 1880 m
DAY 4: 32 km (GR20 stages 7, 8 and 9)
- Start: 9:30
- 7h30 of walking, 11h40 with breaks
- Manganu – Petra Piana – l’Onda – Vizzavone
- 1940d+ and 2630d-
- Summits: 2300 m, 2100 m
DAY 5: 34 km (GR20 stages 10 and 11)
- Start: 8:00
- 8h of walking, 11h with breaks
- Vizzavone – Capanelle – Prati
- 2035d+ and 1150d-
- Summits: 1629 m, 1840 m
DAY 6: 31 km (GR20 stages 12 and 13)
- Start: 7:30
- 7h of walking, 10h with breaks
- Prati – Usciolu – Asinau
- 1660d+ and 1100d-
- Summits: 1980 m, 1967 m, 2000 m
DAY 7: 33 km (GR20 stages 14 and 15)
- Start: 7:00
- 7h of walking, 11h with breaks
- Asinau – Paliri – Conca
- 1050d+ and 1200d-
GR 20 in 5 days
- Day 1: 29 km (stages 1, 2, and 3) – 3210 d+ and 1770 d-
- Day 2: 34 km(stages 4, 5 and 6) – 2900 d+ and 2035 d-
- Day 3: 32 km (stages 7, 8 and 9) – 1975 d+ and 2660 d-
- Day 4: 46 km (stages 10, 11 and 12) – 2984 d+ and 1406 d-
- Day 5: 52 km (stages 13, 14 and 15) – 1679 d+ and 2789 d-
GR 20 in 8 days
- Day 1: 22 km (stages 1 and 2) – 2305d+ and 1125 d-
- Day 2: 16k m (stages 3 and 4) – 2005d+ and 1650d-
- Day 3: 25 km (stages 5 and 6) – 1775d+ and 1700d-
- Day 4: 18 km (stages 7 and 8) – 1240 d+ and 1410 d-
- Day 5: 30 km (stages 9 and 10) – 1815 d+ and 1660 d-
- Day 6: 30 km (stages 11 and 12) – 1904 d+ and 996 d-
- Day 7: 20 km (stages 13 and 14) – 747 d+ and 1048 d-
- Day 8: 33 km (stages 15 and 16) – 1050d+ and 1200d-
4. Budget for the GR20
Our budget for 7 days (per person)
- Transport, €142
- Gear, €265: 180 (shoes) + 20 (bag) + 15 (hiking poles) + 50 (clothes)
- Food, €210 (about 30 € per day)
- Accommodation, €165 (each) : 180 (refuges) + 150 (hotels)
You can get to Corsica by plane, flying to Bastia (to start in Calenzana) or Figari (to start in Conca). You can also fly to Ajaccio, on the West coast. Volotea has very cheap flights, we paid €67 for our tickets from Paris, but you can find much cheaper, depending on where you are flying from.
If you live in the South of France, you can catch the ferry over. It takes a couple of hours (8-12 hours depending on your route) and costs between €40 and €120. You can book it on the Corsica Ferries website. If you are in the North of France and you want to catch the ferry, you can get the Ouibus bus for about €10 to get to the South of France, but that is a bit of a mission ahah, you are best to catch a plane.
When we arrived in Bastia, we caught a shuttle to the city centre (€9) and a bus from Bastia to Calvi (€16 and a 2-hour drive). From Calvi, the best way to get to Calenzana is to hitchhike, or you can catch a taxi. Alternatively, you can also hike the 10 km from Calvi to Calenzana, I guess that’s a good way to warm up before the GR20… 😬
If you have a small budget, you should at least invest in a good pair of shoes (trail or hiking shoes, I’ll talk about it later one in the article). And if possible a good pair of socks. For the rest, you don’t need the best gear or clothes to do the GR20. As far as I am concerned, I bought a pair of trail shoes for €180, a second-hand hiking backpack for €20, and about €50 worth of clothes in Décathlon. I already had a lot of stuff that I could take with me.
You can find the full list of gear and clothes I took further down in the article!
Food and accommodation on the GR20
Hiking is pretty simple.
You only really need to worry about 2 things: what to eat and where to sleep.
You can (and will) resupply in every refuge you come across because there is nowhere else to get food, apart from a few ski stations on the way. Obviously, everything is super expensive (food is delivered to the refuges via helicopter). Breakfast costs €10-12, dinner around €20 (basic plate of pasta), and you can buy sandwiches, biscuits, cakes, canned food, coffee… The ‘official’ GR20 website has a full article with all the prices and they update it quite regularly.
Your calories’ intake will probably double, maybe triple, during the GR20. As an example, we were averaging 6000-8000 calories per day! It’s hard to estimate a food budget but count at least €35-40 per person, per day. In the morning, breakfast starts around 6:30 and you have to tell the refuge’s guardian the day before whether you will have it or not. As for dinner, you need to get to the refuge before 18:00-18:30 to have it.
As far as refuges are concerned, they have a set price; I have put a table a bit further down with all the details. We spent €180 in refuges (2020 rates) and €150 in hoteld (Vizzavone and Conca).
5. Accommodation on the GR20
Refuges on the GR20
There is a refuge at the end of every stage on the GR20, and 2 or 3 times you will come across a ski station on the way. The refuges are very basic but they have all you need, included (cold) showers.
Refuges – Northern stages
- Refuge de Calenzana (sea level)
- Refuge d’Ortu di eu Piobbu (1520 m)
- Refuge de Carrozzu (1270 m)
- Refuge et station d’Asco Stagnu (1422 m)
- Refuge de Tighjettu
- Refuge de Ciottulu di i Mori (1991 m)
- Refuge de Manganu (1600 m)
- Refuge de Petra piana (1800 m)
- Refuge de l’Onda (1430 m)
Refuges – Southern stages
- Refuge d’E Capannelle (1586 m)
- Refuge de Prati 1820 m)
- Refuge d’Usciolu (1750 m)
- Refuge d’A Matalza
- Refuge d’Asinau (1530 m)
- Refuge du Col de Bavella (1218 m)
- Refuge de Paliri
- Refuge de Conca (sea level)
- Vizzavone (halfway point): Refuge at the train station; L’Alzarella; Camping du Soleil
2021 rates in refuges
|Internet booking||No booking|
|Bed in a dorm||15||20|
|Camping spot |
(with your own tent)
|Rent a tent for 1 person||18||23|
|Rent a tent for 2 people||25||35|
NB: the rates seem to increase every year, I will update them for 2022 soon.
14 days, internet booking:
- €210 for a bed in a dorm
- €98 camping spot (with own tent)
- €350 rent a tent for 2 people
14 days, no booking:
- €280 for a bed in a dorm
- €168 camping spot (with own tent)
- €490 rent a tent for 2 people
7 days, internet booking:
- €105 for a bed in a dorm
- €49 camping spot (with own tent)
- €175 rent a tent for 2 people
7 days, no booking:
- €140 for a bed in a dorm
- €84 camping spot (with own tent)
- €245 rent a tent for 2 people
Should I book in advance?
You can either book every night online on the website or not book anything and just rock up to the refuge every day. During the busiest month, it is highly advised to book in advance, especially if you want to sleep in a bed. It also really helps the guardians if they know how many people will be there every night and you will pay significantly cheaper when you book in advance. The only issue is that your plans may change and it is hard to know exactly when you will be in a given refuge.
To sleep in a dorm, you’re going to have to book in advance as it is pretty much booked out every night.
If you have your own tent, you are the winner; you can easily pay as you go every day, there will always be a spot around the refuge to pitch your tent.
We decided to rent a tent at the refuge, and we did not book anything in advance. We paid €180 in total (2020 rates). Again they will always have a spot for you, however if you are doing it during the busiest month, you should probably book at least one night in advance every time to make sure they do have a tent for you.
If you have booked and paid everything online but are running (hiking) behind schedule, give the refuge a call and thy will arrange everything for you. You get service at least once during each stage, often when you are in altitude (and very rarely at the refuges).
It is good to know that no matter how busy it gets, the guardians won’t let anyone sleep out in the wild. If you arrive at a refuge and everything is booked out, they will find a solution (but don’t do this on purpose please). Wild camping is strictly prohibited on the GR20, you have to camp around the refuge or bergeries.
If you need more information, you can contact the national park office in Corsica: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tent or refuge?
We rented a tent every night and did not once sleep in a refuge. They are more comfortable, surprisingly, and they come with air mattresses so you don’t actually need to carry one. You also have a more peaceful sleep as opposed to sleeping in a dorm with several other people. However, it does get really cold at night and if it is raining or really windy, you will definitely not have the best sleep of your life. One night we had a helicopter fly above us for what felt like hours, as well as dogs barking all over the campground, so be prepared for that sort of things ahah.
We talked to a lot of people who were sleeping in the dorms and to be honest, all they talked about was the bed bugs. They are apparently everywhere on the GR20! Other than that, it is essentially a hostel: you get a proper bed but no privacy, a lot of noise and you won’t get to sleep until everyone is in bed. 😅
Bergeries on the GR20
Bergeries are not part of the national park refuges network. They are private accommodation (usually the same price as refuges though) and you can find them on the way. To book a nignt, you need to call the owner directly. Here is the list with the phone numbers:
- Bergerie de Ballone (30min away from Tighjettu) : 06 12 03 44 65
- Bergerie de Vaccaghja (photo) : 04 95 48 00 48
- Bergerie de Croci : 06 75 49 60 59 – 09 82 12 33 10
- Bergerie de Basseta : 06 27 25 95 33
- Bergerie de Asinau Chez Aline : 06 17 53 98 92
Hotels on the GR20
You will find hotels at the start (Calenzana and Calvi) and the end of the GR20 (Conca). Story time, when we arrived in Conca, the owner of the San Pasquale hotel was driving past and she offered to take us with her! The hotel was really nice, with a restaurant at the back and a big terrace. Here are their phone numbers: +33 04 95 10 47 30 and +33 07 86 98 79 21.
Tu peux aussi trouver quelques hôtels sur la route. Le premier est à Ascu Stagnu, qui est en fait une station de ski et propose hôtel et restaurant. Puis tu trouveras l’hôtel Castel Vergio, à 1400m d’altitude, où tu pourras dormir et manger si tu le souhaites. Puis à mi chemin, plusieurs hôtels à Vizzavone : Casa Alta, U Castelli (là où l’on a dormi) ou encore Monte d’Oro. Il y a également des hôtels et gîtes à Bavella, qui a un accès par la route et accueille beaucoup de touristes.
You can also find some hotels on your way across Corsica. There is Ascu Stagnu, a ski resort with a hotel, refuge and restaurant. You then have the Castel Vergio hotel, another ski station where you can resupply, sleep in a bed and eat a meal at a normal price. You will then find several hotels in Vizzavone, the halfway point: Casa Alta, U Castelli (where we stayed) or Monte d’Oro. All of those have road access too, which is always good to know, in case you need to get back to civilisation for any reason.
6. Food and water on the GR20
Two options to resupply
Refuges / bergeries: overpriced food, but food nonetheless. It has quite a large range of options too: canned food, biscuits, hot meals, sandwiches, breakfast and dinner…
Self-supported hike: you can choose to carry all your food with you for the whole hike (or at least most of it). The good news is that refuges have kitchens, so you can cook and eat hot food every night. Freeze-dried food is also a great option, both because it does not weight much and does not take up too much space in your bag.
We wanted to travel light, and decided to resupply in refuges every day. We would eat biscuit and sandwiches throughout the day and a big breakfast at the refuge every morning. We also carried some canned food with us just in case (beans and tuna). We’ve never had dinner at a refuge but it seemed to be pretty basic: pasta or rice, sauce and meat.
NB: refuges are not open all year round, during the winter most of them close their shops; you can sleep there but cannot buy food. They usually operate from June to September at least.
Water on the GR20
You will see many water sources on your way, however most of them are dry in summer. We were able to get water from 2 or 3 of them. Do not count on them, unless it is a particularly rainy summer (in which case you don’t want to be doing the GR20 ahah). We were carrying a 1L bottle each as well as one 2L pouch.
The rule of thumb: fill in your water bottles every time you come across a source or a refuge.
7. Full list of gear for the GR20
The gear you take will depend on the season, the weather and how long you plan to be there for. We did it the first week of September, with no snow and no heat wave. However, take some warm clothes even in summer as it does get cold at night!
Here is the list to hike the GR20 in summer:
- sports bra
- a pair of hiking socks (X-socks)
- a hat
- Polar Ignite watch
- a 45-50L backpack
- a pair of trail shoes (On Cloudventure GTX)
- spare T-shirt
- long sleeves top (thermal for the night)
- 3-4 pairs of underwear
- spare shorts
- 2 spare sports bras
- 2 pairs of hiking socks
- thongs (useful for showers at the refuges)
- rain jacket
- warm jacket
Hygiene + first aid
- roll of toilet paper
- anti-inflammatory pills (to use with caution)
- anti-chaff cream for your feet, like the Nok cream
- Strapping tape (for muscle pain)
- water purifier (pills, I use Micropur)
- small towel
- pads / cup
- sunscreen (50+)
- lip balm (great when it’s cold)
- phone + charger
- battery pack + charger
- wall plug
- head torch + battery/charger
- (a camera if you want)
- sleeping bag
- electrician tape
- Passport (or any form of ID)
- Credit card (withdraw cash before you get to Calenzana)
- hiking poles (optional)
Food + water
- snacks / bars (Cliffbar)
- dried fruits
- small plastic bags (to put food in)
- freeze-dried food
- fork / knife
- water bottles
8. Gear Q&A for the GR20
Self-sufficient or not?
Being self-sufficient is fun when you can go wild camping. However, this is strictly forbidden on the GR20 so you cannot be self-sufficient there. Since they will give you a tent and mattress, we felt it was unnecessary to carry those and preferred carrying less stuff. I had a sleeping bag that could go down to 10°c and I did get cold almost every night. You can either get a sleeping bag that goes down to 0°c or wear several layers at night.
Hiking poles or not?
Everyone on the Facebook group was saying how essential it is to have hiking poles. I bought some in Calvi, attached them to my bag and literally never used them. I left them in a refuge on day 3 or 4. We realised that people who were doing the GR20 ‘fast’ (7 days or less) did not use hiking poles; they honestly slow you down as you have to look not only at where you put your feet, but also where you put your hiking poles. I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but seriously, if you are wondering whether you should bring some, I really suggest that you try hiking with some and see if you actually use them at all!
In winter, you will probably need some mountain gear like studs. There are plenty of people who did it in winter and wrote articles about it, if you Google it!
In summer, you only really need sunscreen and sunglasses (in winter too I guess). Being in the sun from 6:00 to 20:00 definitely damages your skin and eyes ahah. You can also bring a pair of gloves, they can be useful if you walk at night or even when you need to use your hands to climb up some sections of the GR.
Hiking shoes or trail running shoes?
Another never ending debate.
I had trail running shoes (On Cloudventure) because I like how light they are, and I don’t like high shoes. Everything went perfectly fine and I did not sprain my ankle. However, trail shoes have a very short lifespan compared to hiking shoes – mine only last about 300 km. The GR20 is rough and will absolutely destroy your shoes, I cannot stress this enough ahah!
Simon had high hiking shoes, a pair of Merrell. He likes sturdy shoes and thicker soles. At the end of the day, we did this hike together at the same pace and neither of us wish they had had different shoes. We did another hike together in 2021 (the GR10 across the Pyrénées) and we chose the same shoes.
All in all, a very personal choice and you really won’t know until you try them!
What kind of sleeping bag?
We were there at the end of August and the nights are COLD. It will go below 0°c so prepare for that, either with some clothes to put on at night or with a decent sleeping bag. This is the kind of extra weight that you will be glad you carried!
What size / weight for my backpack?
Rule of thumb: do not carry more than 20% of your own weight.
For 7 days (without a tent), my bag weighted around 8 kilos, 9 with water. If you want to carry all your food and camping gear, you can add a good 2-3 kilos to that. A 10-kilo backpack seems to be the sweet spot for most people we talked to. It adds up pretty quickly too, and you might have to invest in some lighter gear if you want to hike faster!
The size of your bag depends on what you want to bring with you.
With a sleeping bag but no tent, a 50L bag was more than enough. When we did the Pyrénées in 2021 with both tent and sleeping bag, we found that a 70L bag would have been better.
Now, what kind of bag should you get? The most important thing is to have a bag that rests on your hips (and not on your shoulders). It’s also nice to have a bag that leaves a gap between your back and the back of the bag (wow, that was a heavy sentence). Always good to have pockets on the outside too, to quickly access the stuff you need during the day. I also found that the bigger the bag, the more stuff you want to take… Having a smaller backpack helps you pack less, because you have very little room to start with!
Ok this is it!
Good luck for your future GR20, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.
To remind yourself that you can cross mountains but most importantly you can move them.
And do so much more than you thought you could.
I hope this article was useful and made you want to pack your bag and jump in a plane to Corsica.
If that’s the case (or not), don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, it’s always useful to hear your opinion so I can improve! 🙂
And if you have any other questions, you can contact me there.
See you in the next article!