Sunday, 14 December 2008

GR 20 and GR walking routes

"Bon courage!". Those words normally mean it's time for a deep breath. I learned that and a lot more during days on the trail of the famous GR 20 walking route across Corsica. Walkers going in opposite directions wishing each other the best ahead of a steep turn up or down. Last week I was looking ahead to skiing in the mountains, this week I have found myself looking back and while still with thoughts of mountains, its more of walking.

I was looking of pictures taken on a trip for which I joined a friend for the Northern half of the GR 20, which is considered one of the most rewarding walks in Europe. It can take more than two weeks to do the entire length.

My own experience was fantastic. I arrived in Ajaccio and caught a train winding up in to the mountains, to the small town of Vizzavona. I waited beside the track to meet my friend who had walked the week previous from Conca. Conca to Vizzavona is the flatter southern part of the GR20, albeit still some distance and challenge. North from Vizzavona to Calenzana, though, holds greater drama. At its most simple, it's stunning. The kilometres I trod over four days included all from barren stony mountain sides to lush wet forest trails, baking dry sheperds' stone walls to glistening snow. Highlights of the walk are certainly Cirque de la Solitude and views towards Golfe de Porto.

I wasn't dressed for snow in Corsica in August. Indeed the walk meant I also learned there is a lot more to Corsica than sun and a coast line. Things like that sound obvious but we don't always allow ourselves the opportunity to think about them. Rising abruptly from the Mediterranean shores is the back of a island known as the scented because of its rich covering of herbs and flora. The back is broad and full of suprise and contrast. Ski lifts to windswept and set trees. How easy it would be to go to Corsica and see, or smell, none of this. Not to mention the welcoming but hidden mountain refuges.

GR stands for Grande Randonnée in France, or Gran Recorrido in Spain. GR routes stretch across Europe and are easily recognisable by a familiar red and white marking. They do though vary in setting and standard, in terms of surroundings, difficulty and the facilities on routes. Research and planning are, as ever, essential. I walked on the Eastern end of the GR 10 - which stretches the length of the Pyrenees - earlier this year, before turning south on to the GR 11 towards Spain's Cap de Creus. The routes were again hugely scenic but without any of the stopping places (overnight or otherwise) that help make the GR 20 so special.

If GR routes are not enough then think about the longer European long distance paths.


No comments:

Post a Comment