Corsica – GR 20 Nord, 14 – 22 June 2016

Stage 1 – Vizzavona – Refuge de Onda

Early flight AMS – Ajaccio. Train Ajaccio – Vizzavona. Buying fuel for on the way: bread and sheep cheese.

Route stage 1

Long stretch through the forest, before the climb to 2100 m starts. From the summit Onda is visible but descent is still long and very windy. Arrival at dinner time, just in time. Cold and windy shower, and then the snoring orchestra in the dorm. Bienvenue a GR-20!

Lisa at highest point stage 1


Stage 2 – Refuge de Onda – Refuge de Petra piana

Easy stage, we leave late. At breakfast the first Frenchman is already having wine and sausage. It appears to be extremely windy at Petra piana so we take the low route. Pain et saucisson along the way at a lovely bergerie. The weather in the valley is great and we enjoy the sun and bathing in the river.

Route stage 2

Upon arrival at Petra piana it appears that a lot of tents have been blown away or torn apart due to the extreme winds. We’re lucky that we sleep in the cabin and the wind has calmed down.

Stage 2

Breakfast for next day is picked up after dinner. Idyllic location with magnificent view although cabin is small!

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Stage 3 – Refuge de Petra piana – Refuge de Manganu

Difficult and long stage, though one of the most beautiful.

Route stage 3

After an initial climb on a rocky path we arrive at a windy saddle. Cloud patterns are different every day and an absolute dream for a meteorologist.

Panorama

Then, suddenly, a magnificent landscape unveils.

View on the lakes

We cross several snow fields even though it’s end June and we’re at around 2100 m. The sticks help to poke in the snow and spot potential holes.

Snow path   Sioux

Lunch at a beautiful spot, shielded from the wind, together with the Fellowship, many birds, and Corsican delights. More highlights follow; the Sioux, the three sisters. The final climb to the ‘keyhole’ consists of chains and almost vertical rock faces.

Vertical rock climbing with chains

We’re just in time back before fog sets in. Dinner is pasta which disappears in seconds after the photo was taken. The refuge owner is an enthusiastic guy and calls me Benji. Let’s consider it a compliment.

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Stage 4 – Refuge de Manganu – Hotel Castel de Vergio

Breakfast for Benji readily picked up at the refuge – we spent the night in one of these superquick Quechua tents, quite small and uhhh small.
After breakfast we head out, as usual we’re one of the lasts to go. But the stage will not be too difficult, and the arrival will be at a hotel (yes a hotel) with a proper bed and all other good things in life.Route stage 4

We’re not there yet and the first thing we discover when we walk down the river that we’ve been situated in a stunning green valley that was not visible yesterday due to the fog.

Valley close at Manganu

We arrive at a beautiful bergerie, where there is – surprise – cheese and some bread. There is only a single man here at the bergerie, together with his dog and cattle, and he looks perfectly happy in this silent and beautiful corner of the world.

…where the time has stood still

We continue and arrive at some meadows and lakes, another bergerie (which we skip), see more horses and cattle and take lunch at the shore of a lake. Just too cold to swim but still – this is a very idyllic place.

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After lunch we speed up and via a small climb we arrive at a crest along which we have  great view on the surroundings. The wind seems to blow steadily from one direction.

Lisa and the tree

The descent through the forest is relatively easy but we are seeing fata morganas already, so eagerly wishing warm shower and good food.

The hotel! It’s real and it’s great. After refueling at the local store we have a serious dinner for two with real BREAD and VEGETABLES. It’s amazing how 4 days can turn simple things into heaven.

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Stage 5 – Hotel Castel de Vergio – Refuge de Tighjettu
Route stage 5Having seen cars and many living beings again it’s not difficult to get on route again for day 5. The route goes through the forest and then into more open area with a nice river and tempting pools. But the day will be long and we save the pools for later.

A climb out of the valley leads us to a refuge where we have lunch – omelettes! Upon departure the sun has disappeared and we need full equipment on, including gloves. A long and steep, difficult descent follows. Like most of the GR, there is not really something you can call ‘the path’, its more just the mountain as it is with some paint on some rocks. This is tough for the knees, even with the sticks that we use.

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The steep descent is followed by a never-ending stretch through the forest, and eventually we arrive at Auberge U Vallone. From here it’s still a climb to Tighjettu, which becomes visible higher up in the mountains.

Tighjettu is quite a place to be, not in the last place due to the friendly owner who has decorated the place as if it could be a party place (as last according to the signs).  Dinner is spaghetti, lots of spaghetti, but when it’s still not finished we decide to take the remainders for next day’s stage.

All talking is about tomorrow’s weather, which might be bad – rain, possibly thunderstorms. We have to take a the difficult route via the … since the old route via Cirque de la solitude was closed in recent years due to stone slides. Decision is to rise early and leave at dawn, around 5:30, when it’s light enough to see and atmosphere still calm.


Stage 6 Tighjettu – Haut Asco

route_etappe6After a bad night of sleep (Ben ending up on a mattress in the dining area as a consequence of deprivation of oxygen and overdose of snoring and heat), we head out early together with the Fellowship, the red cavalry, and Cameron, the friendly Californian who can be a bit pessimistic – ‘rain will come, it has been decided’. We – the light weights – make good progress, and rather unexpectedly arrive within 2 hours at the pass. Clouds have been rising from the valley in beautiful patterns, while we climb out of it.

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Given we’re fast, we decide to take the round trip to Monte Cinto, the highest point on Corsica. But the route is much longer and more difficult than expected and half way we hesitate to continue, also given that clouds have surrounded us from all sides, making the weather unpredictable – still afraid for thunderstorms. In the end Cameron passes by and convinces us to continue – ‘the blind leading the stupid’ according to Cameron.

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The summit is, disappointingly, surrounded by clouds, so the view is close to zero – except for some precious moment with blue spots – nicely photographed by Cameron – and Mars bars. The descent goes rather quick but is not easy.. although his photo looks like an easy walk in the park…:

Lunch at the bag spot, then the long and tough descent to Haut Asco. Full rain gear is needed and we’re crossing along snow, slippery rocks, but also incredible views. Last nights backup spaghetti is a ‘warm’ welcome to give us fuel for the last kilometers. We’re happy when finally the ski village of Haut Asco appears, with our ‘own’ room, tea and pie, and dinner in a normal restaurant.


Stage 7 Haut Asco – Carozzu

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Today’s stage promises to be a little easier and like usual we take breakfast when everybody has left already. The main issue for today are the Spanismata slabs at the end of the stage, which, when wet, are extremely dangerous to cross.

Lunch is at a small lake just after the highest point of the day.

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The slabs are dry when we cross so we’re lucky. When crossing the footbridge we take a dip in the river. The refuge is around the corner but rain comes and the refuge is cramped. At dinner, weather improves and we have an amazing sunset with view on the Mediterranean.


Stage 8 Carozzu – Ortu di u Piobbu

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Bad stomach vibes today makes this stage one to remember. In any case, after the initial climb to the pass, we have wonderful views all around and try to spot the mountain goats – mouflons – to no avail. The path along the crest is superb. Mt Cinto lies far away, surreal that we climbed just some days ago.

During descend, it becomes warmer and we get closer to the normal, inhabited world. The refuge of Ortu di u Piobbu lies at an amazing spot and we opt for a tent instead of the bunk beds, best choice of the week.

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Goodbyes to the Fellowship, they almost choke when we tell them the Fellowship designation we have given them.


Stage 9 Ortu di u Piobbu – Calenzana 

route_etappe9The last stage gives us mixed feelings. Happy to go back to normal beds, food, warmth and dry conditions, but missing already the peace and quietness of the mountains. Day starts strange with stolen breakfast.

While we descend, it gets hot, very hot, something not experienced during last week. We get back in a different climate zone. Views on Calvi are stunning.

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Arrival in Calenza is unreal; houses, people, cars. In the one restaurant of the village we meet – of course – the fellowship and the red cavalry. Pizzas made in heaven are well deserved. We made it!

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A short taxi ride to Camp Raffali, where we first take a dive in the Mediterranean, the big blue pond that was teasing us for many days. It is so divine that we miss the last train and find a hitchhike with two boys that is faster than the train and more dangerous than the last 9 days. We survive and arrive: Ile Rousse!

The aftermath

9 days of limited comfort is enough excuse to enjoy luxury for days. We take it easy and enjoy north Corsica and Italy. Food is great, and so are the sun, the sea, and the people. Exit canistrelli, enter ice cream.
img_20160623_121517Train to Bastia, we spend the night and morning sightseeing, then take the ferry to Livorno.

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Delays make we arrive late in Lucca, but we enjoy a great last night anyhow on the anfiteatro plaza. Last full day is sightseeing Lucca, sightseeing Pisa, and then a delayed flight back to Amsterdam.

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