Hiking Corsica's GR 20

See azure seas from rocky peaks.
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See azure seas from rocky peaks.

The Perfect Circle: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit | Chile's Torres del Paine Circuit | Corsica's GR 20 | Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu | Italy's Alta Via 1 | New Zealand's Milford Track | England's Pennine Way | Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro | Everest Base Camp, Tibet | Tour du Mont Blanc

Classic cred Europe's toughest trek. That's the reputation of the GR 20–the relentlessly rugged Grand Randonnée (Great Walk) that traverses 112 miles across Corsica, a Mediterranean island off the southern coast of France. This roller coaster of uneven pink granite will make you sweat, scramble, and curse as you grunt up 35,000 total vertical feet. Why suffer? Because Corsica's beauties are legendary, and the only way to savor them is on foot, since the island's undeveloped interior remains an isolated wilderness visited only by shepherds and their sheep. You'll pass blazing blue lakes framed by sawtoothed granite, ramble through oregano-scented meadows, glimpse the Mediterranean to the east and west, and spike your adrenaline levels at Le Cirque de la Solitude, a fin of 400-foot-high cliffs traversed via chains bolted to the wall.

Beta The GR 20 is divided into 16 stages, each with a dorm-style hut at the end offering bunks and meals; some hikers combine stages to finish in 12 days. Most travel south from Calenzana, which lets you tackle the stiffest climbs in the shade. But hike north from Conca (at the southern end), and you'll end not far from Calvi–regarded as Corsica's finest beach. Reach either trailhead by bus (corsicabus.org) after flying into the town of Ajaccio. Hike in June for cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, and pack a bivy sack and sleeping pad in case you arrive at a full hut or crave a night out.

Local's tip Try the mild and creamy Fleur du Maquis, a Corsican sheep's milk cheese named for the brambly shrubs that cover much of the island.

Plan it Visit corsica.forhikers.com/gr20 for Google maps and .gpx files, trekking times, and mileage between huts. Or go guided with Tour Aventure (tour-aventure.com), the only trekking company in Corsica with English-speaking guides. No permits required.

Cost DIY: $ // Guided: $$$$$