Chemin des Cretes
October 1, 2017
While it isn't exactly the GR20 (the 180km trail stretching the length of Corsica from Calenzana to Conca), the Chemin des Cretes, or Path of the Ridges, provided a scenic hike in the green foothills above Ajaccio with glimpses of the city, its beaches, and the gulf of Ajaccio.
Stretching from Calenzana in the north of Corsica to Conca in the south is the famous GR20, a challenging 180 km trail. It takes at least two weeks and involves, among other challenges, ladders and ropes and rocky scrambles. I'm sure it's a wonderful trek but sadly we didn't do it. Instead, today we did the much much shorter Chemin des Cretes (Path of the Ridges) that starts about a half-hours walk from our central-Ajaccio apartment.
The best-known way to explore its interior is the challenging 180km GR20 one of the most famous walking trails in Europe. It stretches from Calenzana in the north to Conca in the south and is considered one of the most difficult long-distance treks on the continent (there are exposed scrambles, and at some points ladders and steel ropes to assist walkers). The whole thing takes at least two weeks, and involves staying in refuges or camping along the way.
Ajaccio itself is flanked by green foothills covered in an aromatic carpet of vegetation and herbs. Beyond them, a rocky ridgeline dramatically pierces the sky and below are beaches of golden sand.
As I headed up through suburban streets to the trailhead of my chosen route, the Chemin des Crtes (Path of the Ridges), I passed statue after statue of Ajaccio's most famous son Napoleon Bonaparte. Given the hero worship of this leader, the fighting spirit of its eco-activists begins to make sense. The route begins opposite the Bois des Anglais, a patch of woodland left over from the island's short stint as a British colony over 200 years ago. At less than 10km it's a much easier prospect than the more famous trail, but as it cuts along the peaks above the coast it offers stunning views for very little effort, and you can finish up with a very civilised drink in a bar in the seaside village of Vignola.
Who could blame them? With the full extent of the gulf of Ajaccio revealed, and the Iles Sanguinaires creeping out onto the horizon, my gaze, too, was fixed out on this tiny rocky archipelago, that breaks off from the mainland at Pointe de la Parata. They're called the Isles of Blood because of the reddish colour they reflect into the sea.
You can get a good look at the islands' wind- and spray-scoured shapes on another, shorter, walk here. Take the number 5 bus from Ajaccio to the start of the waymarked path (in the car park) and it's a 40-minute round trip to the end of the Pointe de la Parata peninsula. Come in the early evening to avoid the tour buses and watch the light play as the sun sets.
Ajaccio as seen from Chemin des Cretes
Golfe d'Ajaccio from Chemin des Cretes
Just behind our apartment is the Ajaccio cathedral. Officially the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Ajaccio, it was built between 1577 and 1593 and is credited to Italian architect Giacomo della Porta.