Mark and Lou's Excellent Adventure travel blog

With Colette and Michel - town of St Lucie, Corsica

Start of the GR20 South in Conca

The little town of Conca with the mountains behind

Climbing higher on the trail

GR20 - Corsica Sud - Day 1 and 2

We arrived in the morning into Bastia, Corsica, on the overnight ferry 'Moby Corse', a big ship - somewhat incongruously decorated with Warner Brothers Merrie Melody characters. Life sized statues of a few favourites were dotted around the ship - Wile E Coyote, Lola Bunny and Yosemite Sam. Despite resembling a large floating theme park, the boat had a restaurant serving great food. An entree of octopus, served with potatoes in squid ink, was pretty special. We resolved to enjoy a good meal before venturing off into the wilds of the Southern Corsican mountains.

We found the bus to Porto Vecchio, which would drop us into St Lucie, a lovely little coastal town, for a connecting bus to Conca - the start of the GR20.

The GRs are walks throughout France. GR stands for Grande Randonnee or big walk. The GR20 is one of the top trails in the world and billed as the toughest endurance trail in Europe, broken into two parts - North (Nord) and South (Sud), winding 190kms throughout the rugged mountains from Calanzana in the North to Conca in the South.

We decided to tackle the whole lot but from South to North. In retrospect, it was probably a little ambitious of us to take ourselves off into a wilderness area in a foreign country, without a guide or the ability to speak the language, but what the hey? It was all part of a great adventure.

Back to day 1, we met Colette - a French woman who was doing the GR20 Sud. She spoke a little English and we got chatting. Michel and his wife, Chantelle, a lovely couple from Lyon, were also on the bus and we all alighted in St Lucie. Luckily we were with them as the process of ordering a mini bus to Conca wasn't that straightforward. Michel ordered one on his mobile and we were on our way.

It was extremely hot. We ordered l'hamburger to share and some leau gazeus (sparkling mineral water). We checked in with Colette and Michel to see what their plans were. It was too hot for Michel and Colette was worried about bad weather in the afternoon. They would leave first thing the next morning.

We set off at 1.00 PM, stopping in at the little store in Conca to get supplies, which were minimal. We packed a box of muesli bars and were on our way. It was the least amount of food we have set off with for a through hike, but we felt confident that we would reach our first refuge - the Refuge d' I Paliri - before sunset.

As it turned out, our pace was much slower than the estimated time frames in our guidebook. Steep climbs up in the intense heat took a long time with big packs. At the end of the day, we were still some hours away from the Refuge and needed to bivouac in an old ruin. We found a nice shady spot near la source and under some trees. Dinner was some dry toast biscuits left over from our Italy hikes, drizzled with the olive oil I couldn't bear to part with, despite its extra 250g in weight. It was better than nothing.

Breakfast was a muesli bar and some fresh water from the spring, then we were on our way again. The scenery was literally breathtaking, up and up, higher and higher into the mountains, with views back to the Coast. We rapidly became accustomed to greeting everyone on the trail with a cheery 'bonjour' - always returned with equal cheeriness. Occasionally, people would approach and speak to us in French, expecting, no doubt, a coherent and civilised reply. We had to apologise and try and find a way to communicate. Many times this trip, I would lament not being able to converse in this beautiful language. True my vocab was improving, but being able to enjoy a conversation was beyond our grasp. I could listen to French being spoken all day.

We made it to the Refuge d' I Paliri mid morning, where the young Gardien reclined in a chaise lounge, sunbaking. We ordered a baguette, a tin of tuna with tomatoes and sat to eat. I don't know how it's possible to produce the most perfect baguette in a little timber shack on a mountain top in the middle of nowhere, but it was delicious.

While we sat, Colette arrived. She had done the walk in super quick time, stopped for a quick break and then was gone again.

We set off too, eventually arriving in the Village de Bavella, alt 1218 metres. It was a picturesque little town, surrounded by the mountains that would be ahead of us in the days to come. We checked in to the Gite, offering dorm accommodation and a 3 course meal (noted in the Michelin Guide 2010). The meal was delicious and we remarked on our evolving fortunes, dry biscuits one night - three course gourmet meal the next.

Who should be sharing our dorm but Colette? She was aiming for the same place as we were the following day. We retired to prepare ourselves for Day 3.

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