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Lets make the GR20 even better!

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10/10/2010 at 22:52


I have created a GR20 Blog, with a bit of difference:
http://gr20andotherwalks.blogspot.com/

I have not tried to chart my day-to-day GR20 in great detail. Many others have done this better than me.

But I have tried to raise some points about some big issues on the GR20. How about rude guardians, out-of-condition refuges, terrible public transport, the booking systems and the seeming ambivalence of the Corsicans toward the walk and its walkers, for starters!

I am not trying to be negative - I really enjoyed the walk - but I was extremely frustrated by how much better the walk could have been. If we just turn up on the GR20, and except the way it is run, we can never improve conditions for future walkers.

I have even tried to suggest that Paddy Dillon - is he reading! - starts to take a stronger stance in his book regarding some of the GR20's deteriating aspects.

Do let me know what you think - maybe we can get a campaign going!
10/10/2010 at 23:37

Paddy Dillon? Who's he?

Well... I read your blog... and I guess you'd like me to deal with your comments...

.........................................................................................................................................

Paddy could use his book to play a campaigning role for GR20 walkers. Instead of harking on about imaginary 'Corsican hospitality', he should be pointing out:

  • the strange, rudeness of the guardians
  • the poor, and crowded conditions of the refuges which surely, at some point, will need a major overhaul
  • the inadequacy of the internet booking system
  • the extremely poor public transport system, particularly the taxi cartels which prevents the running of a shuttle bus from the airports to the beginning of the walk
  • the environmental horror of burning all waste - even metal coke cans and plastics - at the site of the refuges

.........................................................................................................................................

So... let's go...

'The strange rudeness of the guardians'... Fraid I haven't experienced any of this. However, some French walkers have told me that they find Corsicans rude, but I think that's common between French and Corsicans. I have a suspicion that Corsicans have great difficulty trying to guess my nationality, based on my 'French' accent and my absolute refusal to speak English, so maybe they give me an enormous benefit of doubt and treat me nicely!

'The poor and crowded conditions of the refuges'... In my guidebook I say that 'basic is standard' on the GR20, and while it would be great to live in the lap of luxury on the GR20, it would cost a huge amount of money to bring the refuges up to that standard, and that would result in a massive price hike for overnights. Personally, I don't like crowded refuges and prefer to camp. Last time I walked the route, I didn't stay in any of the refuges.

'The inadequacy of the internet booking system'... 100% with you on that one. It was a disaster when it was established and it's been a mess ever since. Personally, I wouldn't use it. Rather annoyingly, the system popped up all of a sudden just as the guidebook went for its last reprint. Of course, I'm keen to hear feedback on the system, then I'll let people know how good/bad the system is in the next reprint.

'The extremely poor public transport system'... Yeah... I wish all mountain roads all over the world had half-hourly bus services... but they don't! As ever, I warn people to get transport information in advance, and I give plenty of other warnings about being in the right place at the right time. You're right... there should be a bus service from the airport... but the taxis have clearly cornered the market there.

'The environmental horror of burning all waste'... Waste has been a bigger problem in the past, when it was commonly dumped around refuges, or strewn alongside the route. The problem is that someone has to do something with it, and if it isn't burnt, it's just going to pile up in heaps.

Anyhow... that's my two-penn'orth... let's hear from others!

10/10/2010 at 23:49

And elsewhere from your blog...

......................................................................................................................................... 

Paddy includes a lot of detours (trips that drop you down to villages etc), suggesting that you take these to experience 'real Corsican hospitality'. In reality, this is a 13-15day walk, that most people need to fit into as close-to-a-fortnight as possible (the limitations of work, family life etc). 90% of the people I met were interested in walking the GR20 - possibly with one day's break - and that was sufficient for them! I think Paddy needs to adjust the tone of his book around the fact that most of us cannot take 3-4wks to do the walk.......however nice that would be!

......................................................................................................................................... 

Well... on the other hand... quite a lot of people have contacted me after finishing the GR20 and told me that they thoroughly enjoyed the trek, often managing to cram it into two weeks, but a lot of those people said they really regretted not making any detours off-route. Some people told me that they intended going back to walk the GR20 again... but intended making detours. So... that's why those detours are in the book... because people hear about them and want to know more. They're in the book for another reason too. Some people can't even manage the two weeks necessary to walk the whole route. Some of them only have a week to spare, and as you know, my book says it takes nine days to walk the northern (and best) stretch. Rather than deny them the opportunity to enjoy the northern stretch, I give them high and low-level options, in case they need to make it easier, and options for leaving the route, hoping that they can make the most of their limited time before they have to head for a bus route. I just believe in giving people options where options are available, but let's face it, I don't FORCE people to take them!

Edited: 10/10/2010 at 23:50
11/10/2010 at 06:43
Can't say anything about the route or Paddy's book but one thing I agree with Paddy on is that the attempt to speak the language is important.
I've spend many a summer in corsica and when I'm with italians, speaking italian or Brits speaking english I have often been treated differently to the times I have been alone and speaking french (even my french which is terrible). It would be the same anywhere I think.
Edited: 11/10/2010 at 07:05
11/10/2010 at 09:04
woozle wrote (see)
Can't say anything about the route or Paddy's book...

The whole intro to my book (2006 edition anyway) can be seen at Google Books.

Can't say the notion of naming names and shaming refuge guardians sits easily with me. Again referring to Y Garn's GR20 blog, he has good reports of some refuge guardians, and bad reports of others. Unfortunately, not everyone would agree, and if you check a range of online reports, you won't find complete consistency in the way that people rate the refuges or the staff.

11/10/2010 at 10:18
You mention  nick-picking in your blog. I can do it as well. Three times you refer to Conca when you really mean Corte !
11/10/2010 at 20:45
Hi Paddy,

Many thanks for your comments, and for taking the Blog in the spirit it was intended. I was trying to provoke discussion as it seems to me that issues such as 'should a major overhaul of the refuges take place' etc are worthy of more discussion. The taxi cartel is an example. I am certainly not asking for high-speed rail all over the island. But the Corsican authorities do need to hear of the consequences of handing so much power to their taxi drivers, to the detriment of buses and trains.

Re-reading my Blog in light of your comments, I can see I made some points a little too strongly (!) - perhaps a result of a late night rush to publish! I'll probably be editing a bit in retrospect. Certainly, I would like to stress that your book was not only very useful, but also an illuminating guide.

Paddy - you'll see that I have put a link to this thread on my blog, as it is only fair that readers should also see your response.

Pedro - your reading is, indeed, 'magnifico'! Some edits to Conca/Corte coming up!

One final comment: I also speak pretty good French, and used it throughout when speaking to the locals (I also appreciate the importance of doing this). I even have a friendly face, so nothing really to inspire the ire of the locals!

Edited: 11/10/2010 at 20:52
12/10/2010 at 11:27

There are some things that need to be borne in mind about the GR20. First and foremost, it's an excellent route, and as a result, it attracts people from all over the world. Some of them have clearly bitten off more than they can chew, and others arrive with very high expectations about the level of services along the route, which clearly aren't met. Then again, you can get food and drink all the way along the route, which you couldn't when it was first established. No, you had to carry a week's worth of food to set you on your way!

The other thing about the GR20 is its essential artificiality. Many long-distance trails are created by linking 'traditional' cross-country routes together. The GR20 does include some 'traditional' routes, but most of its high-level stretches were pieced together by trial and error, literally forcing routes through the most formidable places. No-one in their right mind would have tried to get through the Cirque de la Solitude in the past, and I gather it took a team of mountaineers three visits to discover a route that was just about passable for a fit and agile walker with a good head for heights.

Given that the route is 'artificial', there weren't many 'traditional' places offering lodgings, such as existing farms or villages along the way. So, refuges had to be built, and then had to be staffed. Most of them are staffed by Corsicans, but you seldom meet any Corsicans walking the GR20. So, you have to imagine how things must look from the standpoint of the refuge guardians... People come from all over the world, carping and criticising the lack of facilities, clearly ungrateful that they're lucky to have ANY facilities at all, but they grudgingly stay for one night at a time, dump all their trash and expect someone else to clear it up, shake the dust off their feet and go home. I think if I was a refuge guardian, I'd probably last for about three days before throwing everyone out of the refuge and locking the door!

When I try and think of occasions where Corsicans have been brusque or offhand with me, I can only think of two. One is a hotel, and I guess most people know which one. The other was a bergerie, where people were sitting around eating bread and cheese and drinking wine. I asked if I could buy a small slice of cheese, and a young woman stomped off to a nearby hut and returned with a HUGE cheese, demanding that I either buy the whole thing, or nothing at all. Simple choice for me... nothing at all!

There have been other instances where I've tried to buy bread, cheese, fruit, and been rather surprised to be handed the goods without any payment demanded. I mean, I tried to offer payment, but in each case was simply shooed away with the goods. In one instance, having tried to pay for bread and cheese from an old farmer, he actually grabbed a big knife and waved me away with it. I was grateful for the bread and cheese, assumed it was being given out of kindness, unsullied by an exchange of money, but all the same I'm sure it could be misinterpreted as being rude or even violent by some people! I have heard similar stories of people being 'terrified' by Corsican 'kindness'.

13/10/2010 at 10:18

Hi,

After reading YGarn's blog and being pointed to this thread, I'd just like to add my 2 cents on what could be stressed on Paddy's book (which I plan on buying after reading the Google's first pages - next year I'm doing the southern section).

I'm talking about the "unsafe" water sources. After having experienced first person some gastroenteritis, and having found out this is not random nor sporadic, but, on the contrary it keeps affecting many fellow trekkers (expecially between Verghio and Manganu - see here http://corsica.forhikers.com/forum/p/3637 ) - the reason being very often the fountains from where trekkers fill their tanks/canteens provide water channelled not from proper sources (like a spring) but from nearby streams - I think a word of caution on the matter in the book ought to be in order: all water should be treated.

Expecially because the locals don't seem to care about giving out any warnings.

Mike

Edited: 13/10/2010 at 10:34
13/10/2010 at 10:36

Sorry Mike, but I don't agree that 'all water should be treated'. If there's a problem around Verghio, then by all accounts its only manifested itself in 2010. I NEVER treat water, and I NEVER suffer from drinking water, but I ALWAYS satisfy myself that it's safe to do so. It's up to individual walkers what they choose to do with their drinking water. On the other hand, if a source is known to be contaminated, then sure, stick a notice on it warning people about it. The Corsica for Hikers forum seems to point to a suspect water point, and I'd hope someone would check it, and take necessary action.

A few years ago someone contacted me in a very urgent manner saying that I should tell ALL my readers to pack FULL WINTER GEAR on the GR20, based on the fact that a French woman had perished in a blizzard on the GR20 in the month of June. I checked the circumstances in which she'd died, and it seemed that she didn't have so much as a pac-a-mac when the blizzard started, and that might have been all that was needed to save her life. But full winter gear... there's no way I could recommend that!

13/10/2010 at 11:16

Thanks for your prompt reply, Paddy.

While I agree with you that maybe I exaggerated saying that "all water should be treated" I still believe the area between Verghio and Manganu should not be trusted.

I also sent an email to equipemontagne@parc-corse.org about this issue (and pointed them to the thread I started on corsica.forhikers.com)  and they replied with a googletranslated (barely understandable) unsatisfactory email:

Thank you for us to prevenir are gone back up(raised) the information to the
concerned persons and we are sorry for the caused désagrements
Cordially the team mountain of Pnrc

I'm not sure if someone will really check into the matter. From what I see, only people who have been severely bitten by this are sensitive to the problem. And for many of them once the trek is over, it's all gone and forgotten

Mike (or Michele) from Italy

Edited: 13/10/2010 at 19:52
15/10/2010 at 20:55

Sadly all that YGarn says about COrsica is true.  It is noteworthy that Padstowe has never been!  I have successfully completed the GR20, the finest long distance walk I have ever done.  However I have backpacked and hutted in the Alps, in New Zealand as well as GP.  Corsica is unlike any mountain area I have ever visited.  The islanders do not welcome visitors, their rudness makes this plain in spite of it being a poor country.  The guardians particularly seem to take a delight in their uncompromising rudeness.

Huts are dirty, food is inedible and that is in comparison with high Alpine huts where everything has to come in by helicopter, it is not in comparison with hotel accomodation.

Speaking the language does not help unless you speak Corsican as the Corsicans dislike the French most of all.

Public transport is in hock to the taxi cartel so does not run on Sundays, then the taxi drivers can charge double.  Unlike NZ or the Alps there is no airport to GR20 shuttle buses nor can one book transport on-line.

All this is so sad because the GR20 and surrounding landscape have the potential to transform the economic climate of Corsica.

15/10/2010 at 21:06

Crikey Christopher... you must have been to a different Corsica to me!

I've always had a completely brilliant time there and enjoyed meeting Corsican folk.

Mind you... I tend to steer clear of trekkers who gripe all the time.

17/10/2010 at 23:11

Paddy great book, my friend and i are doing the trek in june 2011 (just booked our flights!) and have found your book so very useful in the planning of our trip. From the tone of what some people have written i am not all that suprised that they have found corsicans rude.                                                          

As for dirty huts and cold showers..........WHO CARES- its the walk your going for surely and any such facilities should be appreciated

I agree tht the optional trips in the book are a bad idea........as now were gutted on missing out on these too! seriously people you cant blame a guy for giving you options.

Anyway just my opinions.

23/10/2010 at 10:54

Oh dear when one can't answer the criticism then just shoot the messenger!

My 30 years experience of mountains, backpacking, hutting, remote hostelling in N.Z. as well as GB and Alpine huts, I think allows me to warn potential GR20 walkers that whilst the walk is probably the finest high level mountain epic that they will ever do they will also find Corsica unlike any other mountain region they've ever visited. 

I found the walk technically easy and physically well within my capabilities however Corsica is at best ambivalent toward walkers and tourism, at worst quite obstructive.  Why else leave piles of rubbish and half burnt out incinerators around refuges in pristine mountain scenery?  Alpine huts recycle and send out rubbish on the food-drop choper.  Why serve food that would disgrace an Alpine guardian?  Better to do as in NZ does and not serve food at all.  Why employ guardians who obviously loath their job?  Why have no public transport on Sundays although most walkers arrive then?

My views alone?  Our "friends" along the way, Danes, Ukranians, French, Belgians, Australians were even more vociferous in their adverse comments!

23/10/2010 at 15:22

Christopher... I take it you didn't like the pig liver sausage and lentils then? On the other hand, it's filling stuff and it's already up there. And no-one's forcing anyone to eat it either. You're still allowed to carry all your own grub up there.

While I'm sorry that you and the Danes, Ukranians, French, Belgians and Australians didn't meet any nice Corsicans, is it really MY fault that I haven't met any nasty ones? If you could name some names I could look out for them next time.

Incidentally, when I DO come across nasty stuff in my travels, it gets mentioned. I'm just finishing off a guidebook at the moment and there are some nasty things that need to be mentioned in it, as a warning to those who follow.

23/10/2010 at 15:40
Christopher Bennett wrote (see)

Why have no public transport on Sundays although most walkers arrive then?

Probably because, like most of Europe, Corsica has a long Christian tradition. I use public tranport wherever I go, and I work with whatever the available level of service is. I'm always warning people to watch out for timetable variations, and yes, that frequently means 'no Sunday service'. Now, you could claim Christianity was on the wane, but in some countries they still like the idea of a day off, and Sunday seems to fit the bill. If the Moorish conquest had gone to plan centuries ago, it would be 'no Friday service'. So... instead of insisting on Sunday transport, do the sensible thing and plan to travel on one of the other six days in the week. It works for me! Don't get me wrong... I'd love to have buses every 20 minutes, every day of the week, early until late, wherever I go. But it doesn't work like that.

05/11/2010 at 12:19

If only we had been offered pig liver sausage and lentils!!  The cooked food on offer at refuges was ALWAYS pasta based, served with a thin gruel of a sauce but no proper meat or veg.  We gave up on Guardan cooked food, except for the hut making home made bread and that guardian was Swiss!  Our Expedition meals were looked upon enviously, even by the French, in comparison with what they were served by the refuge.

As for the public transport argument, sorry not true, Southern Europe is Catholic where services have always been available on Sundays in contrast to the protestant North.  I would not have made my criticism without knowing the situation in other mediterranean countries where Sunday travel is not a problem.

05/11/2010 at 15:40
Christopher Bennett wrote (see)
As for the public transport argument, sorry not true, Southern Europe is Catholic where services have always been available on Sundays in contrast to the protestant North.  I would not have made my criticism without knowing the situation in other mediterranean countries where Sunday travel is not a problem.

Well... speaking as someone who travelled all the way from the Catholic south of Europe to the Protestant north this year... I can only reiterate that it's usually a waste of time trying to get from one place to another on a Sunday. Use one of the other six days!

29/01/2011 at 20:01

Hi guys,

My Dad and I are off to walk the GR20 in June this year. If anybody is able to help with my questions below it would greatly assist with the planning. Thank you!

1. Do you need your own plate, mug and cutlery if eating in the refuges?

2. Is there food available to buy from the refuges to make up a lunch for each day or do you have to carry more than one day's worth in some sections?

3. What do the breakfasts generally consist of?

4. Does it get cold in the refuges at night?

5. Do you know if you can take hiking poles on a plane in your hand luggage?

6. Does anybody have or know of a good set of waypoints (under 500 for my Foretrex) for the route? The Corsica.forhikers.com set, though impressive, is far too big for my Foretrex!

For info, having noted the problems with Sunday public transport my travel plans will probably be to fly on a Friday- Leeds to Nice (Jet2), then Nice to Calvi (Corsica Air).  Return Figari to Nice, then Nice to Leeds.  Both legs are doable in a single day's travel. Does anybody have any experience of flying with Corsica Air?

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