GR20 Stage 5* – Auberge U Vallone to Hôtel Castel di Vergio, Corsica, France

June 22, 2014

Woke to a pretty, dry morning, rather warm and still windy. We were planning to breakfast at the refuge but with the number of patrons already in the dining room when we arrived decided that it wasn’t worth the wait and that we would get coffee at the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori. Instead we downed a couple of fig bars and headed down the trail.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The morning started delightfully – an easy walk through the forest with clear skies and the peaks beautifully lit. Then we hit the long slog up to the Bocca di Foggiale.

Climb to Bocca di Foggiale

Climb to Bocca di Foggiale

After traversing the Cirque de la Solitude the day before, recovering from a cold, and missing breakfast, I had little energy for the steep ascent up the stony track with frequent rock scrambles.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The views were lovely and taking photos gave me a good excuse to take an extra moment before the next burst up. A military regiment of some sorts, Belgian I found out later, trudged up the hill past us, making the track up look far easier than it was. They had been at our camp the night before and we saw them later at the next refuge preparing for a rock climb exercise in the peaks above the refuge.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

Finally we reach Bocca di Foggiale, but this is not the top of the track. We plod up another 100 kilometer and see the refuge in the distance. The track is finally mostly downhill from here, but still not easy with stony steep sections both up and down.

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori

At the refuge I ask the grumpy guardian with a coarse graying beard and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth if I can order something to eat. He asks rather sternly, “what do you want?” I timidly reply, “an omelet?” With that simple request I get a heavenly cheese omelet, two slices of fresh bread and a café au lait. The splendor of the setting, the warm food in my belly and coffee in my veins, the fatigue starts to ease.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

We run into a young Frenchman we had seen several times on the southern half of the trail. He had waited out the thunderstorms in Ajaccio and then restarted the GR20 again in Vizzavona 4 days later.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The hike down into the valley from the refuge starts gradually, and although there is a steep section of loose rocks to reach the river it’s over rather quickly.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The walk along the river was one of the prettiest of the trip – cascade after cascade, lovely pools, stony outcroppings worn smooth against a backdrop of rugged peaks (or maybe it’s just the full belly talking).

GR20 Stage 5 day 11 GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The track is actually quite flat for a change. As the valley turns left, just past the first foot bridge, the track starts to descend again. Majestic laricio pines cling to the valley walls. The river tumbles down the valley in a series of inviting pools and cascades.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

Shortly past the second foot bridge and the Bergeries de Radule the track enters the forest, sections of birch and then pine. Sometimes a stony track, sometimes a dirt path, the trail meanders up and down and along the contour of the hillside. In my weary state it seems to go on forever. The scent of freshly bathed day hikers coming from the opposite direction tells us we are not far from civilization.

Finally about 3:30PM we hit the road and trudge into the hotel.

Hotel Castel di Vergio

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

Rooms are basic, clean and comfortable and have access to a terrace with mountain views.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The roadside setting is not atmospheric but the hotel is a restful place to take a hot shower and renew our energy.

There is a grocery store (épicerie) at the campground a few paces down the road that has a good supply of provisions including bread.

Dinner service in the hotel dining room begins at 7:00PM. The late afternoon sun streams through the large picture windows that showcase the views of the surrounding peaks. White place settings give the large open room a hint of upscale elegance while retaining an informal ambiance.

Service is quick and efficient, not a place for lingering between courses. Perfect if you are trying to go to bed early.

GR20 Stage 5 day 11

The demi-pension dinner menu started with a homemade Corsican vegetable soup and was followed by a thin beef steak, not too fatty or overcooked, served with an over seasoned ratatouille – way too much oregano – and panned fried potatoes – excellent with a crispy crust and soft center. Dessert was a flaky crusted apple tart served with a drizzle of raspberry sauce and dollop of whipped cream.

Breakfast is served cafeteria style. The counter is lined with ready to be picked up trays with a generous portion of baguette, a croissant, butter and jam. Coffee is from a machine, but the hotel staff fills the cups and it goes quite quickly.

*Note: The GR20 consists of 15 or 16 stages over 118 miles, generally done north to south starting in Calenzana and ending in Conca. For this blog I’ve retained the commonly used stage numbers from the Cicerone Guide Book even though we did the stages out of order, starting in the south stages 15-10 and then restarting in the north 1-9.

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