After crossing the road and leaving the asphalt behind, we make progress fast on an easy and relatively flat trail through a pine and later a beech forest. As we ascend towards the col of Saint Peter some clinging bells reveal the presence of the local mountain dwellers. We get to meet them as soon as we arrive at the col: cows and their calves peacefully roam the green slopes with an amazing view. In the distance we spot the Tafunatu hole that we walked by yesterday and we are impressed by the distance covered.
After hiking the ridgeline for a while we spot the Nino Lake in a peaty grassland where more cows and horses roam freely. The swampy soft green grass feels soothing as we walk along the lake.
Behind us dark thunder clouds pile up fast and the sky gets darker by the minute. Despite the threatening weather we take a break along the shore and eat some snacks made of nuts, raisins and fruit paste for a quick energy boost. The wind starts picking up and a roaring sound breaks the silence: we motion quickly for the last kilometres.
Drops start falling when in the distance we spot a bergerie (sheepfold). The seasonal dry stone shelters of the shepherds seem to be desolated and right before all hell breaks loose we find a small workshop with the door open. We spend two hours inside, sitting out the violent rain, hail and thunder. We keep ourselves warm with coffee that we make on our stove and move on rapidly when the sky clears up a little bit. One hour and a half later, just before the next round of thunder we rush into the characteristic bergerie de Vaccaghja where we ask the shepherd if he has room left for us to pitch for the night. Noël the shepherd smiles and welcomes us. Within minutes the sea and its fish fall from the sky!
The bergerie in dry stones offers a fantastic view on the surrounding mountains in which cows and sheep usually roam. But the storm is violent and we vote against pitching on the moment, hoping it will clear up later in the evening. As we are shivering on the terrace, protected from the rain but not so much from the wind, the shepherd shows us in: we are welcome to sit by the fire in his semi-private area while a guided group of 14 hikers is about to have dinner outside.
More than delighted to escape the cold and to sit next to the fireplace we order a local drink from Noël’s impressive bar: myrtle, a delicious home-made alcoholic drink that warms us up from within. A family recipe.
The atmosphere also warms us up as we share dinner with Noël, Jean-Pierre and Eric, his loyal helpers. Together with the three masters of the bergerie we savour pastas and tuna with cream, Noël’s sheep cheese in its strong 60-day version and the freshest cheese made that same morning. This all to the sound of Corsican songs accompanied by the soothing voice of a guide and his guitar strums.
It is getting late. Very late for GR 20 hikers (usually in bed before 8pm!). And as we think we are the luckiest girls on Earth as the storm has stopped, Noël tells us: “Follow me, I’ll show you to your room. You are not going to pitch your tent now!” Puzzled we are shown a dry stone house with mattresses that we could call home for the night and spend our best night so far on the GR 20, warm with a full belly, slightly tipsy from the myrtle liquor, and grateful for such a precious hospitality.
Marcella & Claire
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- For a bird’s eye view and to get access to all the GR 20 articles, please refer to this prologue article.
- Spending the night at Castel del Vergio balances the hike better than stopping at the refuge of Ciottulu di i Mori as usually recommended. Today’s stage is 14 kilometres with an elevation gain of 620 metres and loss of 453 metres.
- The bergerie de Vaccaghja is one of the best accommodation on the whole GR 20 and we strongly recommend you to stop there. Coming from the North, it is just before the refuge of Manganu, the official stop for most guidebooks. Stopping at the bergerie will not lengthen your next stage by much and will provide a much better rest (and warm showers!).
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! To download the GPS track, refer to this short tutorial.