Calanque d’En Vau (pronounced “caw-lawnk don voe”) is a stunning calanque in the Calanques National Park. These natural wonders are relatively unknown to US travelers but are absolutely worth a stop in your southern France itinerary.
This article will show you exactly how to get to the gorgeous Calanque d’En Vau, which is accessible via a trail located just outside of Cassis, a little Mediterranean town 30 minutes southeast from Marseille, France. Here are all our tips and tricks for hiking the calanques of Cassis:
What are Calanques?
Calanques are natural inlets with steep rock walls found along the Mediterranean, and are similar in structure to the fjords in Norway, though not nearly as large. They are accessible by boat tours that will take you into the calanques, by kayaking in, or by hiking.
From the coastal city of Cassis, there is one main trail that will take you to see three different calanques: Port Miou, Port Pin, and d’En Vau (pronounced don voe).
You can reach the first and second calanques relatively quickly and on a fairly flat trail, but the distance to Calanque d’En Vau is a little farther and at the end requires a steep climb down and back up again. That part of the trail is fun, but intense. It is very steep and there are spots you probably need to use your hands to help climb.
Tip: The trail is pretty sunny with a lot of spots with limited shade, so definitely bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and anything else you want for sun protection.
However, the payoff is BIG. The first two calanques are pretty, and if you want an easier hiking experience, stopping there is the way to go. But they are just a warmup for Calanque d’En Vau. If you are physically able, it is absolutely worth the extra effort to go all the way there.
How to get to the calanques parking lot and trailhead:
Put in directions for Calanque de Port Miou. The little teardrop circle just to the right of the end point is the parking lot.
This is an unpaved parking lot that, while not exactly small, did seem to fill up quickly. The parking lot is at the bottom of a hill, and the hill itself does not allow parking. So if the lot is full, you will have to park further up on the street and then walk down.
Don’t let the parking situation deter you, though; the lot is actually pretty straightforward to find. We did see a few people who had parked on the street and were walking down the hill – it’s not a big thing, just something to be aware of.
We read that it costs 8 euro to park, but when we were there there was no attendant or obvious way to pay. As we didn’t see anyone else paying, we didn’t worry about it either. However, that may vary by season (we were there the beginning of May).
At the trailhead across from the parking lot, there is a map of the trail. We often take pictures of the maps before we begin hiking, and if you are going on some of the alternate routes we describe below, it’s worth taking a picture of it there. The red dot with “Vous êtes ici” (you are here) is where you will start.
Hiking Along the First Calanque (Calanque de Port Miou)
The hike starts off right at the tip of calanque Port Miou. Right away you have a fun contrast between trees and cliffs to your right and a cute port for small boats to your left which transitions to a beautiful view out to the sea. This section is the easiest and consists of a large, flat path that will take 15 to 20 minutes. This is the first section of the red/white trail on the map.
Hiking to the Second Calanque ( Calanque de Port Pin)
At this point you have some decisions to make. Obviously, your first option is to relax at the small beach that is the end of the head of the calanque and enjoy the fantastic view of cliffs juxtaposing with water.
Another great option is to explore the east side of the calanque (so, the peninsula just before the calanque – see map above). It is great for scrambling around and leads to some fantastic views of the calanque along the way and a great panoramic view into both calanques at the tip, out to the sea, and to some stunning red cliffs to the east.
There weren’t nearly as many people on this peninsula so it’s a great place to get away and wander. There are some fun geological features here – like a small hole that goes all the way through the rocks down to the sea below. When the waves crash into the caves at sea level it forces air up the hole in these long heaving “breaths”. It is pretty cool.
Finally, you can continue on toward the third calanque by continuing on the more direct red/white trail or by taking the more scenic blue trail around the east peninsula. Fortunately, these aren’t mutually exclusive options as you can do any or all of them.
Hiking to the Third Calanque (Calanque d’En Vau)
We recommend that if you press on to hike to calanque d’En Vau, you should take the blue loop at least one way (see map below).
Watch for a trail that veers to the left immediately after you reach the second calanque. We took this alternate trail on the way out and took the more direct way back.
The loop offers beautiful views the whole way but especially as you round into the inlet of calanque d’En Vau. Looking down into the gorge is amazing with the white cliffs, and turquoise water providing a wonderful contrast. You gain some good elevation on this stretch so the view down is more dramatic.
Expect this loop to add 20-30 minutes over the other route, but you don’t get this view on the main red and white trail, so it is very much worth it.
Having taken the red/white or blue trail, you are now at the ridge leading down to Calanque d’En Vau. This descent is steep and the trail is fairly narrow so expect to move aside for hikers coming the other direction.
When you reach the bottom, it’s another five minutes or so to the beach and… voila! An amazing view of steep, white limestone cliffs disappearing into the azure water stretching far out to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s gorgeous.
The beach is rocky, so be prepared with appropriate footwear if you want to get close or into the water. Or just enter beast mode and embrace the pain. Speaking of beast mode — in spring, the water is quite cool, despite the tropical coloring.
Of course, this didn’t stop Matthew from venturing out, but he sure felt the chill. (Meanwhile the locals were swimming around like it was no big deal!) Do note that the water does get pretty deep pretty quickly.
Bring a picnic, nibble on some French baguette and cheese (our favorite lunch in France), maybe do some cliff jumping, and soak up the sun and the view!
Coming Back from Calanque d’En Vau
We took the more direct trail on the way back and it took about an hour to get back to the parking lot. If you want to have an even longer hiking experience, there are a couple of smaller calanques farther along the coast and several other side trails to explore inland.
Some Practical Details
Where to Stay
While you can stay in the city of Cassis, this also makes the perfect day trip if you are staying in Marseille orAix-en-Provence. If you are staying in Nice or Antibes, it’s a bit of a longer drive, but still definitely doable as a day trip.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
Finals Thoughts on the Calanques of Cassis
Honestly, I can’t recommend the hiking the calanques of Cassis enough! I truly consider this hike a must-do in Southern France!
Read More Southern France Articles:
- 15 Best Things to Do in Nice
- What to Eat in Nice for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
- Aix-en-Provence: The City of Fountains
- What to Eat in Aix-en-Provence
- One Day in Menton
- Visiting Pont du Gard: An Old Roman Aqueduct
- Exploring the Sentier du Littoral of Antibes