Discover the beauty of Calanque d’en Vau and the other Calanques de Cassis in this ultimate guide.
The Mediterranean town of Cassis in coastal Provence has more to offer than just sea, sun, vineyards, and postcard views. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to the Calanques National Park that connects Cassis to Marseille.
Several exciting trails crisscross the park’s limestone cliffs and lead to the most spectacular coastal inlets, carved by erosion and washed by the sea. Calanque d’en Vau is the most scenic of all calanques.
Reaching this gorgeous natural landmark does require some effort but that’s so worth it. It makes a wonderful addition to every French Riviera travel itinerary.
Keep reading to discover all about the Calanque d’en Vau hike and two more Calanques de Cassis, Port Miou, and Port Pin. We’ll also touch upon other ways to reach Calanque d’en Vau, the most beautiful viewpoints, and the beaches. Plus, we’ll suggest where to stay in Cassis for easy access to the calanques.
Where is Calanque d’en Vau
Most of the 2 million visitors that explore Calanques National Park in France on a yearly basis are not there for the limestone cliffs and mountains but for the steep-walled inlets with their turquoise waters.
No less than 9 of these steep-walled inlets make up the Massif des Calanques. Out of the 9, 3 are considered to be Calanques de Cassis and the other 6 are considered Calanques de Marseille.
Starting from Cassis, the first calanque you’ll encounter is Port Miou, the second is Port Pin and the third is En Vau.
How to get to Calanque d’en Vau
As we mentioned in the intro, reaching Calanque d’en Vau does require some effort. There are various ways to get there, some by land and others by sea. We’ll first zoom in on the hike to Calanque d’en Vau, since that’s the most popular route, before highlighting the other ways to reach it.
Hiking to the Calanque d’en Vau
Here’s the step-by-step guide to reaching the spectacular Calanque d’en Vau from the car park. It’s not a loop trail, so you’ll need to retrace your steps when returning to your car.
1. Download the app or get a map
The park entrance and trailhead are located right next to the parking lot. Needless to say that a calanques map is essential before starting any hike.
Since we’re no experienced hikers and didn’t pass by the tourist office to get a physical map, we carefully studied the trail information signs. We didn’t know about the official Mes Calanques app at the time, but you can just go ahead and download it here.
2. Trailhead to Calanque de Port Miou
As indicated on the map, you start by following the red/white striped trail. The Calanque de Port Miou is the first inlet you’ll come across and it’s located right behind the trailhead. It’s the easiest calanque to access.
This calanque is a gorgeous sheltered docking area for dozens of boats, tucked away between the limestone cliffs of the Calanques National Park. The contrast with the teal-hued water is just amazing.
The trail leads you right along the waterside for the first part until it follows a very steep, ochre-colored sandy hill.
Make sure to turn around when you reach the top, so you can take in the best view over the Calanque Port-Miou. The perfect place to catch your breath before continuing your hike.
3. Calanque de Port Miou to Calanque de Port Pin
From there, the trail gets rocky. The first stretch is pretty doable because the trail is rather wide. If you’re a bit slower than other hikers or make more frequent photo stops, others can easily move past you. But eventually, the trail narrows and becomes even rockier.
On a crowded day, you may have to queue a bit before passing through some stretches because of an influx of people going to and coming from the Calanque de Port-Pin. No matter how busy it may get, tread carefully so you don’t trip.
The final part is the most challenging: Reaching the Calanque de Port-Pin requires a steep descent over the rocks. The slope is wide and, in our experience, the outer lanes are a bit easier to manage than the middle section. The ocean-side lane has a primitive handrail as well. But just look how gorgeous it is.
Okay, you’ll need to look past the bikini wall once you arrive at the Calanque d’en Vau beach. 🙂 Summer crowds… Most visitors only make a brief stop here so it’s coming and going. Just pick a spot and enjoy a well-earned dip.
A word of caution before you take a dip: We spotted several jellyfish in this inlet.
The distance of the trail between Calanque de Port Miou and Calanque de Port Pin is 2,3 km (1.43 mi) and takes about 40 minutes of hiking.
4. Calanque de Port Pin to Calanque d’en Vau
Follow the red/white-striped trail at the west side of Port-Pin beach, upwards until the junction. It starts out narrow but widens as you make your way to the top. This is the shortest walking route.
Another option is the take the blue trail from Calanque de Port Pin towards Calanque d’en Vau. It meanders along the coastline and is said to offer the most beautiful viewpoints over the calanques. We’re yet to try this alternative trail to Calanque d’en Vau for ourselves. Something to look forward to next time we visit Cassis! Eventually, the blue trail will connect to the red/white-striped trail again.
Continue and you’ll see that the trail descends via another rocky slope. When you make it down, follow the red trail marks on your left. The final part is a beautiful wider trail in between the high cliffs. Just a little further and you’ll reach the fabulous Calanque d’En-Vau and its amazing beach.
The distance of the trail between Calanque de Port Pin and Calanque d’en Vau is 3,8 km (2.35 mi) and takes about 1 hour of hiking.
5. Return from Calanque d’en Vau to the trailhead
As mentioned earlier, this is not a loop trail. So, you’ll have to retrace your steps to get back to the trailhead. And since you’ve descended quite a bit to get to Calanque d’en Vau, you’ll now have to climb your way back up. It’s a good workout, that’s for sure!
Guided hiking tour
If you’re no experienced hiker and you’re a bit hesitant to hit the trail by yourself, or if you’re simply looking to learn more about the idyllic landscape and its fauna and flora, then why not join a guided hiking tour? This one comes highly recommended. It takes you to all three of the Cassis Calanques: ort-Miou, Port-Pin, and En-Vau.
Calanque d’en Vau from the sea
Hiking is one way to get to the Calanques de Cassis but you can also reach them from the sea. Book yourself a boat excursion, sail your own boat or paddle your way to Calanque d’en Vau.
Just note that boats are not allowed to sail into the calanques. So, if you want to set foot on one of the beaches of the Calanques de Cassis from the sea then paddling is your only option.
Calanques boat trips leave from Cassis and Marseille. Of course, those leaving from Marseille might focus on the Calanques de Marseille, so make sure to do your research. If you really want to visit Calanque d’en Vau, then it’s best to book your boat excursion from the Port of Cassis.
The company that operates these tours is G.I.E. des Bateliers Cassidens and they offer trips to 3, 5, 8, or all 9 calanques. In the summer months, they also offer a package that includes a swim trip (if conditions allow).
There’s no need to book your ticket in advance, just show up at the ticket booth half an hour before boarding time and you’ll be assigned to a boat.
Another option to visit Calanque d’en Vau by boat is to sail your own. LocBateau and JCF Boat Services are two companies that offer boat rental in Cassis with or without a license. But the same rule applies: entering the inlets is not allowed.
Kayak or SUP tour
For a more adventurous experience, you could join a Calanque d’en Vau kayak or SUP tour. This allows you to actually make your way into the inlets and spend some time on the beaches. Check out the following guided tours:
If you’re a confident kayaker and have some experience with coastal kayaking, then you could just as well rent your SUP or kayak and visit the calanques at your own pace. Lo’kayak Cassis is a company that offers kayak rental in Cassis.
Electric mountain bike tour
For an even more thrilling experience, swap your hiking shoes or your paddle for a powerful e-mountain bike. Discover the beauty of Calanques Natural Park by conquering its rugged trails. Since the terrain is quite challenging, some degree of mountain biking experience is recommended. This mountain bike tour gets glowing reviews.
Experienced mountain bikers you just as well rent an electric mountain bike and explore the calanques with a virtual guide.
Best time to visit the Calanques de Cassis
The best time to visit the Calanques de Cassis is shoulder season: May, June, and September are perfect for this hike. And needless to say but, should you decide to hike during the summer months anyway, then it’s recommended to either start early (around 8 a.m. is ideal) or later in the day.
We were there in Cassis during the last week of July and it was hot and crowded. Since taking this hike at the hottest time of the year is obviously not ideal, we hadn’t anticipated seeing so many other visitors on this trail. It was a colorful mix of experienced hikers in athletic wear and flip-flop-wearing tourists loaded with big beach bags and coolers.
At least we were allowed to access the trail in July: During the dry summer months of June, July and August, there’s always a risk of fire. Therefore, the Calanques National Park may be closed for some periods during summer.
Where to stay for easy access to Calanques National Park
Cassis is not that big of a town and can be visited on a day trip. Then again, if you’re looking to enjoy this coastal gem and the Calanques de Cassis to the fullest, we do recommend spending a night or two.
If Calanques National Park is the focus of your visit, then we’d certainly recommend staying near the park entrance to avoid the parking lot (we’ll get to that later). Here are some of the best Cassis hotels, guesthouses, and Airbnbs that fit the bill.
If you don’t plan on spending that much time in Cassis and you’re looking to spend most of your time at another French Riviera destination, then our article on South of France villas with private pool might help you find that perfect place to stay.
What to pack for hiking the Calanques de Cassis
This is quite an intensive hike, especially during the summer season. So, you better come prepared. Here are some suggestions:
- Bring plenty of water or an innovative purifying water bottle such as the LifeStraw Go or the CrazyCap Water Purifier.
- Pack a picnic or some snacks. Calanque d’en Vau is the kind of place where you’ll want to linger, trust us! It’s just too beautiful.
- Boot up! Wear hiking shoes from a trusted brand such as Merrell or Keen.
- Bring a first aid kit.
- Under these scorching circumstances, it’s vital to pack a glamorous and foldable sun hat, a pair of polarized sunglasses, and reef-safe sunscreen. Raw Elements, Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen, and Kokua Sun Care are all excellent reef-safe choices.
- Leaves the Calanques de Cassis as you found them so remember to pick up your trash.
How to get to Calanques National Park
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When driving up to Cassis, you’ll see that the Calanques National Park is signposted before you reach the city center. You could take your chance to park at the Port-Miou parking lot but it’s pretty small, very rocky, and right next to the cliffs, so beware of falling rocks.
When we arrived at 9 a.m. in peak summer, the parking lot was full. Luckily, we found a spot in the residential Avenue Notre-Dame, just opposite an alley leading to the Avenue des Calanques. From there, it was just a 10-minute walk to the park entrance. By the time we returned from our hike, the road leading up to the parking was pretty congested.
That’s it for this ultimate Calanque d’en Vau hiking guide. Have you explored some of the Calanques de Cassis? If so, which of the nine inlets did you hike to? Any tips you’d like to include in this article? Let us know in the comments.