Heading towards Corte, we had booked a small bnb for 2 nights called Casa Vanella in Casamacciolo, which looked like an architectural combination of classical French gite mixed with modern Scandinavian modernism. It was a great stopping point between Piana and Corte.
The place was quite lovely and more spectacular in real life.
The gite housed the bedrooms with the modern structure used for communal dining space. As the bnb was relatively remote, it offered an evening meal as an extra service.
It was excellent!
The next day we did what turned out to be our last hike in Corsica (more to come on that). We sought advice from the host of the gite and planned to do a 5 hour hike to a lake on top of a mountain (Lac de Nino).
The hike as per usual that we had experienced was a mixture of terrain starting with woodland, followed by a heathy mix of rock scrambling, exposed ridge line and ending with a stoney descent. Reassuringly familiar. (Click for 360 view from the top)
This final hike joined up with the northern section of the GR 20 for a few km.
Seeing the red and white stripe markings was like catching up with an old friend: a kind of friendship which had rocky moments but never the less it was really special.
It reminded us of what we had achieved earlier in the month- 90km through hike walking halfway across Corsica. It made it clear that we would be back some day to finish the northern section.
Distance 14.24 km
Time 5.31 min
Elevation 970 ascent 1021 descent
So why did we cut our Corsican adventure short? The answer is simple, after 3 weeks on this beautiful island with exceptional hiking, glorious weather and delicious food, we decided to make the most of being in Europe by picking up a last minute flight to…..Amsterdam.
After spending a day in Ajaccio doing laundry we collected our rental car and headed north along the west coast to the Golfe de Porto. We’d had multiple recommendations from GR20 hikers that this was a spectacular part of the island so we ventured forth to see for ourselves.
Piana is known for it’s dramatic red rocks which hug the coastline for several km (it’s Part of a UNESCO world heritage site) whilst the town itself, with a population of around 500, is a quaint red roofed stop off point with many restaurants and pretty vistas.
Further down the hill which consists of a very narrow winding 2 lane road, is Porto, another small town who’s main industry is boat tours around the spectacular coastline and the nearby nature reserve of Scandola and small village of Girolata (only accessible by foot or boat)
We found a great campground called Sole E Vista which had great accommodation options from the traditional camping (BYO tent) to basic ‘yurts’ (Lodge Club Village) to simple cabins (50m2 bungalows) with basic interior, shower, toilet, beds, mattresses, kitchen equipment for 50euro / night : #itsabargain: although something to note is that it has no linens, towels or soap. There is a SPAR 4 mins walk away for the eating and drinking essentials and for sleeping, we had our sleeping bags, and towels. Great low cost option for those wanting a big step up from sleeping in a tent.
We stayed for 4 nights and used it as a base to explore further.
Day 1: We climbed Cap del Ortu followed by lunch in Piana. (Fun Score: S-1 / T-1 )
Day 2: Boat tour around Cappo Rossi, Scandola (Fun Score: S-2 / T-1 )
Day 3: T went for a hike and I stayed home (reading/yoga)
Day 4: Headed inland to Casamaccioli (with a short hike down the Gorges de Spulunca).
We planned on the full monty, but were happy with the Southern half. After 7 days on the trail, here are some tips we’ll use when we come back for the Northern half.
Whilst we did a lot of research and prep for this through hike, there are some things that you only learn on the job (so to speak). Here are our nuggets of wisdom:
Pack light: Everyone says this, because it’s true. Our packs were light but could have been lighter. As per the comments below, we could have ditched the tent and the sleep mats straight off and would have been ok.
Book ahead and reserve a Refuge tent: These are in place, set up and ready for hire. They cost around 10e/pp including a sleep mat compared to 8e/pp if you BYO. You save the tent weight in your pack as well as set up/breakdown time. They are also in the prime locations of the Refuge and not down a hill by the cheap seats. Downside is that it reduces flexibility and means you have to stick to a hiking agenda (no impromptu rest days). Another tip: take rest days 😁
Take a lightweight sleeping bag and liner: We hiked in the first half of September and it was still warm. At night the temp dropped to around 50F/10C which meant you could pack a super light sleeping bag and wear clothes if you were cold. My sleeping bag was super warm and most of the time I was on top of it.
Breakfast is not worth the cost at 8e/pp (hot drink, bread and jam): Take energy bars or packs of ready oats. Most of the Sud refuges had gas to boil water. We had porridge and a kettle with us but didn’t pack them in our packs as we wanted to save on weight. Mistake I think. Ahead of some of the big hikes it would have been great to have a bowl of porridge to start with.
North South vs South North: This is a tricky one. Starting at the North means that you get the heavy climbs done in the first 4 days and there is a promise of easier days ahead. Starting in the South, however, gives you time to get used to the trail, get stronger, understand the landscape, potentially, so that the Northern part is more manageable? I don’t know on this… 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. I’m sure there’s pros and cons to both. The psychology is interesting, if you start in the North you have the promise of easier days but could be put off immediately; starting in the South you have threats from everyone walking the other way about how hard the North is.
Read up on water sources so you only carry what you need per hike: Some routes have water sources en route and some don’t . If there is water available you can start with 1 ltr and pick up as you need it. This can lighten your pack by around 2kg.. If there is no water on the hike, then take what you need. There’s definitely a strategy to this.
Don’t carry food (unless you are on a budget and you don’t mind carrying everything): There is plenty to buy on route although it is significantly marked up. (Pots of tuna/rice salad are 3.50e but make a good lunch. Baguette is around 2.5e (over priced but who doesn’t like bread). There are no energy bars to buy / some places have snickers or candy but not many.
For evening meals most of the refuges served something whether it was lentils, pasta or pots of stew: It’s ‘ok’, it’s not a gourmet delight but you don’t have to prepare it, cook it or clean up afterwards so it’s worth the money… just (18e/pp +/-). You also have the chance to sit and chat with other hikers and hear their stories, although stories about dislocated thumbs or broken noses are not really the stories you want to hear when debating whether to continue. Saying that, we met some really, really nice people along the way and we hope to stay connected.
Clothes: I was pretty happy with what I took and I’d maybe only change 1 thing.
Fjall Raven Hike pants – wore these in the evening to keep legs warm and to have something not sweaty
Hooded down jacket – wore this at night and first thing in the evening. Also doubled as my pillow.
Rain shell – Used it on the rest day when it rained.
Mountain Hardwear Hike shorts – wore these nearly everyday for hiking
2 hike shirts – wore these in the evenings / could have just had 1. These are lightweight and quick dry so didn’t really add to the weight
1 hike t shirt – Icebreaker and excellent – wore it every day. Washed as needed
3 pairs of Smartwool socks – 1 clean pair for camp / sleeping – 2 alternating for hiking
3 pairs Exofficio undies – rotated and washed
2 Icebreaker bras – rotated and washed
Camp shoes – ugly but received so many compliments from fellow hikers. Take that Fashion people who laughed at my shoes…..
Asolo Hiking boots – Amazing – best shoes ever – never had a blister in these. We saw a lot of people with trail runners on, but T + I really appreciated having ankle protection. Note, the trails are MUCH rougher than those in North America.
Baseball cap – wore it everyday (to cover my unwashed non green/grey hair)
Wooly hat – didn’t wear it on head but used it to relieve pressure on my shoulders after my collarbones bruised from carrying the pack.
2 bandanas- wore one to guard the back of my neck against the sun and used the other for the other collarbone (see above)
Backpack: Osprey, Lumina + Levity (male and female version) Exceptionally light and VERY comfortable for both of us.
Hiking poles are a must. Just ask the grumpy dudes carrying heavy ass pieces of wood. We used Black Diamond carbon fiber – super light. We made a lot of people jealous.
Trail bars / Cliff/Pro Bar – Good to have for lunch and trail snacks
Nuun tablets – we took too many I think. Used them but not obsessively
Toilet paper – most necessary
Headlamp – yes – used everyday
Hand sanitizer – yes
Sunblock – yes
Bag of medicine (migraine tabs, ibuprofen, Imodium) yes – used in most cases
BabyWipes – Most places had showering facilities (mostly cold) so we could have reduced the amount of baby-wipes we took. I overpacked – haha
Liquid Soap for Body, hair, + clothes (Camp suds): Yes, this does exist and was amazing. Saying that, I chose to avoid using it on my hair as I didn’t want my natural highlights to turn green from the soap.. : ). Only those with grey hair would understand this dilemma. Another thing to note that there were a lot of well groomed hikers. Blokes shaved their faces and ladies shaved their legs… Made T + I feel scruffy.
Although a GPS is not necessary, having a GPS app on your phone with all the maps allowed us to plan the days. Also having the GR20 guide on the phone was really helpful to read ahead.
Clothes pegs: we took 10 and they’re were SO handy to peg out our smalls of an evening.
Sam Splint: We took one of these but thankfully didn’t need it. As far as first aid is concerned we were never more than 100yds from another person.
This was a relatively ‘easy’ day in terms of the path and the route. The weather was warm and sunny and the wooded areas gave some nice shade and breeze. The ascent was gradual and most of it was shaded. We left around 8.30 am and took our time. Our proposed train was due to leave Vizzavona at 17.56 and we had estimated the hike would take around 5 hours so we took it really easy.
When we reached Vizzavona we headed to one of the 3 restaurants located at the station and ordered Steak Frites and wine to celebrate our accomplishment. It was pretty sweet.
And just like that, we boarded the train and headed to Ajaccio to collect our bags, have a shower, shave my legs, trim T’s beard, and to sleep in a proper bed.