Walking in Corsica - A Walker's Guidebook - Europe
Walking on Corsica
Long-distance and short walks by Gillian Price
This guidebook gives details of three long-distance walking routes in Corsica - Mare e Monti, Mare-Mare Nord and Mare-Mare Sud - which cross the island, and also describes 18 day-walks in prime spots both in the rugged mountains of the interior and the softer southern coastal fringe. Good local information. More...
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Mare e Monti: Calenzana to Cargèse
Walking time: 48hr 45min – 10 days
Distance: 124.4km/77.1 miles
Difficulty: Grade 2
Maps: IGN 1:25,000 sheets 4149OT, 4159OT, 4151OT
The longest-standing and easily the most wonderful long-distance route in Corsica, the Mare e Monti holds true to its name and provides a roller coaster of treats ranging from breathtaking coastline with blue sea and beaches to some awe-inspiring mountainous landscapes. It effects a huge ‘S’ as it heads southwards, ducking in and out of the reliefs parallel to Corsica’s rugged west coast. The many and varied highlights include the Forest of Bonifatu, the Fango river gorge, the isolated fishing village of Girolata, the Golfe de Porto and the Spelunca gorge, along with days and days of wandering through memorable maquis impregnated with the scents of the Mediterranean and unbelievable masses of wild flowers.
The Mare e Monti is sometimes referred to as Tra Mare e Monti, abbreviated as TMM on signposts. Carry plenty of drinking water every day – athough numerous watercourses are encountered, they are not necessarily reliable in terms of either quality or quantity. Another must is swimming gear for the rock pools, rivers and sea.
The route is theoretically feasible all year round in terms of terrain and weather, however in terms of accommodation, only a handful of the establishments stay open during winter. The concluding two days are shared with the Mare-Mare Nord route, and it is therefore a good idea to pre-book accommodation. Should the entire 10-day walk be too long in terms of time, it can be shortened by either compressing a couple of days (if you’re fit), or doing it in shorter chunks as nearly all the villages touched on have bus services. A tricky task is to choose the ‘best’ part of the route for people short of time – a hazarded suggestion would be the Bonifatu–Curzu or the Serriera–Evisa legs. The walk can also be lengthened by slotting into the Mare-Mare Nord route at Evisa and branching eastwards towards the island’s centre and Corte.
En route to the start, everyone passes through Calvi. This charming seaside town with a picturesque Genoese citadel (now occupied by the French Foreign Legion) is cleverly placed on a magnificent promontory, overlooking a colourful leisure port alongside a divine white sand beach. A curious item of historic trivia: in the late 1700s during a siege of the citadel by the English under Horatio Nelson, the great man won the battle but sustained serious injury to his right eye. A further if somewhat dubious claim to fame is the town’s profession to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus! Calvi has shops galore, as well as restaurants and accommodation for all pockets, including the centrally located hostel BVJ Corsotel Tel: 04 95651415, open April–October.
Access: The closest town to the start point is Calvi, a handy transport hub. The island’s train comes this far via the Ponte-Leccia junction, as do coaches from Bastia and several ferries from the French mainland in summer. The walk start itself, at Calenzana, 12km inland (southeast of Calvi on the D151), is served by a twice-daily bus from Calvi’s railway station, but only during midsummer. At other times there’s a school bus. Failing that either try hitching or get a group together and hire a taxi – the GR20 commences here too, so trekkers are plentiful.
Villages encountered en route can be used as exit/entry points thanks to buses as follows. Tuarelli has a school-day bus to Galéria, which in turn is served by a school run and midsummer link with Calvi. Curzu and Serriera are on the May–October line between Porto and Calvi. Further on, from Ota you can reach Porto then Cargèse all year. Evisa and Marignana on the other hand have year-round links with Ajaccio, and Evisa is linked summer-only with Corte. The novel (and only!) way to leave the isolated fishing hamlet of Girolata is by boat to Porto or Calvi. At the trail’s conclusion, Cargèse, there are always coaches for the 51km south to the island’s capital, Ajaccio, as well as services north back towards the start.
DAY 1: CALENZANA TO BONIFATU
(total 4hr, 11.3km/7 miles, ascent/descent 560m/300m)
A wonderful start to the Mare e Monti, this stage through the Balagne region, ‘the garden of Corsica’, takes you out of the agricultural flats backing the coast and straight up to a panoramic ridge and wild rocky reliefs. It then heads into the beautiful Bonifatu forest where a cosy hotel-cum-gîte d’étape is ensconced.
Calenzana (275m) – gîte d’étape and camping ground (5min on foot before Calenzana) Tel: 04 95627713 or 04 95627008, sleeps 30, open April–October, no meals. Shops and restaurants in the village proper, also a hotel, Bel Horizon Tel: 04 95627172. Apart from screeching swooping swifts, it is a quiet spot these days, in contrast to its reputed past as a hot bed of gangsters according to Ian Fleming.Fill up your water bottle at the cool fountain in the main street close to the church, then turn right uphill for the Mare e Monti, in common with the GR20 for the time being. Plentiful waymarks lead out of the southeast edge of Calenzana and up to a paved path that winds and climbs steadily south-southwest through masses of heady herbs and flowers with the odd shady patch. Sheep tracks criss-cross the slopes and bright broom has colonised abandoned terracing beneath curious weathered rock formations. At a junction where the GR20 heads off on its own course, you keep right to follow orange paint splashes to the nearby scenic ample grassy saddle of
1hr – Bocca a u Corsu (581m). Due south now the path plunges down a wild dry hillside carpeted with scented broom and rock roses. Two stream crossings later it emerges at a bend to join a forestry track (415m). Keep straight on in imperceptible ascent following the contour line. While the going is a little monotonous, it gives you time to admire the accompanying blooms of the maquis shrubs, including the strawberry tree. These are the reforested realms of the Forêt de Sambuccu. Bearing east below prominent Punta Scaffa you head downhill past striking granite formations with views up to the peaks crowning the Cirque de Bonifatu, and to
2hr – bridge over the Figarella (360m). A boulder-choked watercourse with good spots for a cooling dip. After the crossing, the path (left) clambers over a dry rocky bed then hugs the stream. A short detour to a stunning natural pool, complete with its own cascade, is followed by a prominent rock overhang sheltering Corsican lilies and cyclamen. Then the path turns right in zigzags to emerge at the road and
45min – Bocca Rezza (510m). With an inspiring backdrop of pink granite mountains inland, turn left on the D251 through shady wood for the remaining stroll to
15min – Bonifatu (535m). Set amidst towering pines and boasting a restful rose-draped terrace, Auberge de la Fôret (Tel: 04 95650998, sleeps 32, open April–October) doubles as hotel and gîte d’étape and serves delicious hearty cuisine. No self-catering. The only drawback is getting early breakfast, as the staff go home to the coast of an evening and you may have to wait.
A day could profitably be spent here exploring the valley leading to Refuge Carozzu and a suspension bridge – ask at the Auberge for details.