STEVE AND CAROLE IN VENCE

Hiking The Baous of Vence
Blancs & Noirs

May 10, 2022

Distance: 13 kilometers
Difficulty: Moderate
Approximate Time: About 5 to 6 hours depending on your pace and how much time you spend on the baous

One of the most famous natural landmarks in Vence is the Baou des Blancs. It’s visible from just about anywhere in the town, towering above the houses and buildings to the north. In the south of France a “baou” is a hill, cliff or escarpment that often has a flat top and extends outward from a hill or mountain. It’s a term that you will only hear in this part of the country. The spelling is Provençal and while there may certainly be similar geographic features in other parts of the country, they likely won’t be referred to as “baous.”

Vence sits on a small plateau under four such baous, strung together in a chain running from the west to the east: Baou des Blancs, Baou des Noir, Baou de Saint-Jeannet and Baou de la Gaude. The Baou de Saint-Jeannet is the most dramatic, looming over the small village of Saint-Jeannet which sits nestled at its base. The Baou des Blancs and Baou des Noir take their names from two religious brotherhoods that originated in the 13th century: the Pénitents Blancs (White Penitents) and the Pénitents Noirs (Black Penitents). Devoting their time to charitable activities in their communities, the members would climb the baous as a part of an annual procession.

Hiking from Vence to the Baou des Blancs is a very popular activity and one than can be done year round. It’s a beautiful hike with trails and paths that run through rugged rock formations and abundant fields of wildflowers and local herbs. I’ve made the hike many times and have almost always had sunny skies. One time I started in the sunshine but by the time I reached the summit the low clouds had formed a thick, grey fog. I actually hiking quite a marvelous time through the fog and clouds and though it was impossible to see Vence or the coast, the views murky views of the terrain were quite dazzling in their own way.

From the summit (with an altitude of 673 meters) you have a magnificent eagle’s eye view of not only Vence, but the entire Mediterranean coast from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in the east to the Esterel mountains in the west. It’s a relatively short and easy hike, though there is a fair amount of climbing. Once at the top you can simply come back down the way you went up, or, as I’m going to outline below, it’s easy to extend your hike to the nearby Baou des Noirs before returning to Vence.

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Starting the Hike

We begin this hike at Le Frêne, the centuries old Ash tree located just across from Place du Grand Jardin in the middle of Vence. Said to have been planted almost 500 years ago, this huge tree is one of the most treasured landmarks in Vence. Head down Avenue Henri Isnard (it will shortly turn into Avenue des Poilus) until you come to the intersection where five roads come together (Avenue Victor Tuby, Avenue Rhin et Danube, Avenue du Maréchal Joffre and Avenue Henri Giraud). Avenue Henri Giraud leads to the Col de Vence and that is the road we want.

In about 1/2 a kilometer you’ll see a small road branching off and up to the left, Chemin de Roland. After just a few meters on this road, on the right, you’ll find the first “balise” of our hike, # 109. It indicates that this path will take us in the direction of either the Col de Vence or the Baou des Blancs and Baou des Noirs. Follow this small road straight ahead (and straight up!) and shortly you’ll come to a set of stone and concrete stairs. After the stairs you’ll cross another small paved road, Chemin de l’Ormée, (we’re still on the Chemin de Roland) and see the next balise, #110. The stairs are gone now and you’ll continue straight ahead on a somewhat steep rock covered trail.

Shortly you’ll come to another small cross street where there is no balise, but you will see two yellow marks painted on the rocks on the trail across the street indicating that you should continue climbing straight ahead. You’ll reach balise #111 at the top of this little stretch and it indicates that the trail now splits. Continuing straight ahead will take you to the Col de Vence (or St-Barnabé or Tourettes-sur-Loup) while a turn to the right will take us to the baous.

Turn right and follow this road for a short stretch (it’s mostly downhill here) and you’ll arrive at a small intersection with another balise. For some reason I don’t understand this balise has no number (I thought they all had numbers?). Regardless, it points straight ahead to the baous. Just after this balise if you look to your left you’ll see a very interesting house that is built right into the rocks on the hill. It’s a little hard to see because of the bushes out front, but try to get a look at it.

Shortly this asphalt road will end. There is no balise and no sign here, but there is a small dirt trail heading off to the right (crossing over the river) and if you look you’ll see several stones with yellow markings a few meters down the trail indicating that this is the correct path.

This next portion of the hike is fairly easy, a gradual, slightly uphill climb through a nicely wooded area on a dirt and rock path. The trail is very wide (a car could drive on it), well defined and easy to walk. We’re actually following fairly close to the M2 road which links Vence to the Col de Vence and you’ll begin to hear the sound of traffic on the right. At about the 2.75km point you’ll reach the road and balise #128. Cross over the road to a small ranch with horses and dogs, turn to the left and almost immediately you’ll come to another balise numbered #128 and a trail heading up the mountain to the right. The sign on the balise says, “Baou des Blancs, Les Blaquières and Baou des Noirs.” We’re headed for Baou des Blancs first and then we’ll cross over the mountain to Baou des Noirs.

You might see a sign here saying that it is “Propriété Privée” (Private Property). Don’t worry about it. The trail itself is most definitely not private property and so as long as you stay on the trail you’ll be fine.

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Baou des Blancs

This begins what I think is probably the steepest portion of the hike. The trail is very well defined though it is a bit rocky. Very shortly you’ll come to balise #127 where the trail splits. You’re going to continue on straight ahead (the sign indicates this) but if you wanted to you could turn left and head to Coste Bérarde. Continuing up the trail you’ll see the small ranch you passed earlier below you on the right.

At about the 3.4km mark you’ll arrive at balise #126 where the trail again splits. Here you have the option to continue straight ahead to the Baou des Blancs or turn left and head over to the Baou des Noirs. You should continue straight ahead. The trail winds along the side of the mountain and we’re now high enough that you can begin to see wonderful panoramic views on several sides. If you look behind you you can see the M2 winding its way up the valley towards the Col de Vence.

At balise #139 the trail splits and once again offers you the option to turn to the left and head straight towards the Baou des Noirs. Keeping straight ahead though you’ll come to a field of very large rocks. These can be a little difficult to navigate, even for the normally surefooted, especially because we start to head downhill at this point. Be careful because they can be slippery, even when you might not expect them to be.

Unfortunately, the trail can be a little difficult to follow through these rocks. Keep a bit to the right, look for where the rocks are more brown from dirt being walked over them and you should be able to stay on the trail. As you make your way through the stones if you look up and straight ahead you can see the cross that marks the summit of the Baou des Blancs.

Fairly quickly you’ll be through the rocks and back on a more well defined path. The trail wanders down to the bottom of this tiny little valley and then it will start back up again on the final ascent to the Baou des Blancs. The foliage becomes much thicker here and will surround you on both sides of the trail. Be careful when you reach the low point because there is a separate trail there that goes to the right by which you can hike back down to the main road. There’s no balise but make sure you go to the left here. There’s an old yellow marking on a stone pointing you in the right direction.

Now you’ll begin another ascent as you get closer and closer to the Baou des Blancs. Scattered stone ruins will begin to come into view as you approach the peak. On the left is a large wall and on the right a small structure. There are two slightly different ways you can take to reach the summit, one which goes a bit to the left and one which goes to the right. I prefer to stick to the right.

At about 4.2km you’ll come a small clearing on the edge of the cliff with a bench overlooking a magnificent view of Vence and the coastline. From here it’s a very short climb up to the cross at the summit of the baou. In total it’s about 4.5km altogether from where we started.

Take your time at the summit. There’s another bench at the cross, as well as a small orientation table. You’ll find several small clearings where you can sit and eat a picnic lunch. It’s a nice place to explore and you’ll find some more old ruins if you look closely. It’s possible to climb down a bit from the cross near the edge of the cliff but you do want to be careful here because it’s not a place you want to fall from!

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Between the Baous

After you’ve spent some time on top of the Baou des Blancs you’ll need to head back down and retrace your steps back to balise #139 at the top of the rocky slope. You could, of course, simply continue back down the way you came from this balise but we are going to head in the direction it indicates for the Baou des Noirs. This portion of the trail is fairly flat and mostly open. There aren’t any trees here, just a lot of low bushes and scrub brush. Piled up along the sides of the trails are lots and lots and lots of rocks. I don’t know exactly why these rocks are there, perhaps they are the leftovers of someone clearing the land for crops or animals at one time?

In just a short while you’ll arrive at balise #125 which stands at a crossroads under a large electrical tower where you can continue on to the Baou des Noirs or head back down to the main road into Vence. We’ll continue straight ahead. The trail turns up again at this point but it’s a gradual incline. The ground is very, very rocky but the trail is well defined.

Next you’ll reach balise #124 where once again we’ll follow the path towards the Baou des Noirs. From this point on the trail is fairly flat, although there are few small ups and downs here and there. Still not much in the way of trees, mostly bushes, brush and, depending upon what time of the year you are making the hike, lots of flowers. The Baou Saint-Jeannet becomes visible in the distance, acting almost as a guidepost as we head straight towards it. This is one of my favorite parts of the hike. The views are spectacular: to the west you can see along the coast past Cannes; to the east is Nice and further; and straight ahead the Baou de Saint-Jeannet continues to loom in the distance getting bigger and bigger.

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Baou des Noirs

Just before making the last push up to the summit of the Baou des Noirs is balise #123. It sits at a junction in the trail where you can continue up to the Baou or head down to a road that will take you back to Vence. We’ll come back to this balise after exploring the Baou des Noirs. From this point it’s a short hike to the summit. You’ll pass what’s left of an old stone structure and then the cross will slowly come into view in the distance. The last little stretch is actually pretty flat and before you know it you’re on the top.

Just as with the Baou des Blancs take some time to look around at the top and admire the views. The coast is spread out against the skyline and you can see all the way from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in the east to far beyond Cannes in the west. Maybe have something to eat or drink. When you’re ready, head back down the way you came to balise #123.

At balise #123 follow the direction for Vence. It’s a very steep trail so you’ll need to be careful. There are a few portions where I have often sit on my butt and scooted my way down for a few yards, especially if the ground is at all damp. It’s a lovely trail and you’ll have some nice views of a different part of the countryside than what you’ve seen up to now.

It won’t take long and soon you’ll be near the bottom where the trail runs into an old, dilapidated concrete road. An unmarked balise points the way back to Vence via the Chemin des Panoramas and you’ll turn right here. Shortly the trail makes a 180° turn to the left. Do not follow this turn. Straight ahead you’ll see a very small trail with a yellow marking on a tree and a couple of rocks. This trail winds back and forth down the mountain through some nice pine trees until you hook up with the Chemin du Riou, the road that leads back to Vence.

From here on out it’s pretty straightforward. It’s about 5 kilometers back to Vence and you’ll follow the Chemin du Riou for most of the way. It’s not the most exciting or scenic part of the hike, but it’s still interesting. Eventually you’ll arrive at Chemin des Panoramas on the left, take that down to the M2210, the big road that runs from Vence to Saint-Jeannet. Turn right and follow the road all the way into town.

As I said earlier this hike is very popular with locals and tourists alike and it is one of my favorites as well. It’s not too difficult and there is plenty to see along the way. For a relatively small amount of effort you are rewarded with some splendid views of Vence and the surrounding areas.

Alternative Routes

The route I have outlined above is my favorite by far. It’s not too long and allows you to see both baous in the same hike. However, if you prefer to keep things a little shorter and a little easier, it’s very simple to make a hike just to the Baou des Blancs and back.

Alternate Route #1: Instead of starting at the Grand Frêne in town drive up the M2 (the road to the Col de Vence) for about 2kms until you reach the Château Saint-Martin & Spa, a fancy hotel and spa. Just past it, on the right, is a small parking area, Parking Baou des Blancs. From here you can walk about 1km up the M2 and you’ll come to balise #128 next to the small ranch. From here simply follow the directions above. Once you reach the Baou des Blancs you can just come back down the way you went up.

Alternate Route #2: If you want an even shorter hike and are not afraid of some steep trails you can park at the Parking Baou des Blancs and take a different trail to the summit. At the north end of the parking area you’ll see a small trail heading up and to the right. If you follow this trail you will connect with the trail outlined in the main article just below the summit of the Baou.

Of course, you can mix and match any of these routes, changing the starting points, changing the destinations and changing the ways back down. Hopefully you now have enough information to prepare for one of the most beautiful and exciting hikes in the Vence area. If you make this hike be sure to leave us a note below and tell us how things went.

Important Notes: This is a hike that can be done at any time of the year. I would definitely avoid it if there is any sign of rain or if it has rained much in the previous 24 hours as the trail can get quite slippery when wet. As always you’ll want to make sure you have good hiking boots and plenty of water. I would suggest at least one to two liters of water for this hike, more if you are hiking in the heat. You will NOT be able to find food and water anywhere along the hike. The best time to make this hike in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest, the best time in the winter is early in the afternoon when things have warmed up a bit. You’ll probably want a hat and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. During the spring and fall you might want a jacket and even gloves and a warm hat. You should always hike with a first aid kit, a good knife, a raincoat, a flashlight and a whistle. If you are hiking alone make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you should be back. I always wear an identification bracelet that I got from Road ID.

Juste les Faits: What: Hiking the Baou des Blancs and Baou des Noirs from Vence
Where: Start from the Grand Frêne in Vence (Google Maps)
When: All year round, but be careful it it has rained
Phone: Vence Office de Tourisme: +33 04 93 58 06 38
Website: vence-tourisme.com
Facebook: vencetourisme

2 thoughts on “Hiking The Baous of Vence
Blancs & Noirs

  1. When we tried hiking from Saint-Jeanette to the Baou de Saint-Jeanette the trail was closed for maintenance. Instead we went to Castellet. As with your hike the views were gorgeous and the smell of wild thyme and rosemary in the sun was unforgettable. We will be trying to get to the baou again. Thanks for this post which brought it to to forefront again.

    1. Hi Darcey,
      The hike to Castellet is, as you say, wonderful. As is the hike to Baou de Saint-Jeannet. I’ll get around to writing about both of those before too long.

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Steve and Carole in Vence