Distance: About 11.4 kilometers one way
Difficulty: Moderate, it’s pretty flat, might be a bit long for some folks
Approximate Time: Around 3 to 4 hours for the entire hike, depending on your pace
La Brague is a fairly short coastal river (it’s total length is just 21km) that flows from Châteauneuf (near Grasse) to the Mediterranean Sea at Antibes. Along the way it passes through several small French villages including Opio, Valbonne and Biot. There is a wonderful 11 kilometer trail that runs beside the river from Valbonne to Biot and it makes for a really fantastic hike. Almost completely flat, the trail is easy to navigate and provides beautiful views of the river and the surrounding woods. Buses run quite frequently between Valbonne and Biot so it’s quite easy to park your car in either of the villages, make the hike along the river and then take a bus back to your starting point. I’ve made this hike several times and it is one of my favorites in the area. It’s a fairly easy hike that many people should be able to complete with no problems.
[more info after the photo gallery]
Located about 15 kilometers from the Mediteranean cost, Valbonne is a splendid little village situated in a small basin alongside the Brague River. It’s unique among almost all of the French villages I have visited in that it is laid out on a very strict rectangular grid. It’s quite surprising and I must admit I found it rather amazing to walk up and down the streets of a medieval village arranged in such a rigid pattern. It’s very different from all the other villages with tangled streets that wind, twist and curve in every direction. Founded in 1519, the village has two main streets that run through it arranged perpendicular to each other. Originally there were just ten streets running in either direction, but over the years the village has grown and expanded to include more.
We’ll begin this hike at the center of town in a large square known as la Place des Arcades. Spend some time exploring Valbonne and when you are ready to begin the hike head south along Rue Grande until you come to Rue de la Paroisse and the Abbaye de Valbonne, a Romanesque abbey-church built in the 13th century. Make a quick stop to take a look inside the church and then head east on Rue de la Paroisse which will shortly turn into Avenue de Pierrefeu.
About one-half a kilometer from the church you’ll find a small road leading off to the right called Piste de la Calanque. There is an official French trail marker, Balise N°362. The sign says, “Sentier de la Brague – Maison Nature – Biot.” The trail begins as concrete but shortly turns to dirt with loose rock. After about another one-half kilometer you’ll come to another trail marker, Balise N°361. It points to the right and you’ll follow this small path over a series of concrete blocks that span the river. On the other side you’ll turn left and head down the trail.
The trail is clearly marked with the standard yellow stripes for the entire duration. Keep an eye out for these markings, you’ll see them on rocks and trees all along the way. Shortly you’ll arrive at one of the few uphill portions of the hike. It’s not long and it’s not that steep, and together with another similar portion at the end of the trail, this is the steepest part of the entire hike. The trail meanders closely along the river, winding in and out of trees and brush. At about the two kilometer point the road breaks to the left and the right, but there is a large wooden bar across the right section making it clear that the left section is the one we want. You’ll see a red and white sign that says, “Piste du Moulin de l’Ange” pointing the way.
Just past the two and one-half kilometer mark you’ll come to a very nice little country house on the opposite side of the river, along with a bridge to cross over. Balise N°360 continues to mark the Sentier de la Brague with an arrow pointing back to Valbonne and another on to Biot (as well as Chemin des Moulins). Another very old wooden sign is marked as “Sentier de Decouverte de la Brague” (Brague Discovery Trail) and tells us that Biot is still 2 hours and 45 minutes away. An old, dirty map in the center of the sign shows the trail from Valbonne to Biot.
It may be a very short river but the Brague is full of considerable charm and charisma. Tall trees line the banks and the clear, cool water runs over numerous rocks and stones creating delightful little waterfalls all along the way. On a sunny day the light shines through the branches of the dense foliage and bounces off the water creating dazzling displays of light and shadows. Over the course of the hike you’ll cross back and forth over the river several times on small bridges and walkways. Only once on our hike did we have to forage across the water directly and, as the water was not too high, it was fairly easy to do so stepping on large stones.
Balise N°359 is found at about the 3 and one-half kilometer point. Once again just continue to follow the arrow which points to Biot. Along the way you’ll find that various portions of the trail have been semi-paved with concrete and rock, especially when it runs very close the edge of the river or a small drop-off. These sections usually don’t last for long but they provide some extra security in places where it might otherwise be easy to slip and fall. Additionally, a few sections of stone and concrete stairs have been built here and there to make a small ascent or descent more manageable.
You’ll find numerous sections of the trail where the trees and foliage is so dense that it forms a canopy overhead giving the illusion of small tunnels through the woods. The sunlight dances through the leaves and across the trail creating a truly beautiful setting. If you love trees, water, sunlight and paths through the woods, this hike will not disappoint you.
Throughout France the landscape is covered with official French hiking trails. At about four kilometers into our hike, when we reach Balise N°358, we will connect with the GR653A, a national trail that runs from Menton on the Italian border to Mandelieu-la-Napoule just outside of Cannes. Known as the “Way of Santiago de Compostela” this trail is 102 kilometers long and passes through numerous well known French towns such as Aspremont, Vence, Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Mouans-Sartoux, among others. We’ll only be on the GR653A for a short time (about one kilometer), but it’s good to know that if we wanted to we could turn and head off in another direction on a well marked, well travelled, official hiking trail.
It’s at this point that we arrive at my absolute favorite part of this hike, a tiny, absolutely stunning stone bridge that crosses the river in the most idyllic spot imaginable. I swear it looks like something straight out of a fantasy movie set. Covered in moss and arching upwards to span the water the bridge is surrounded by huge boulders and rocks. Moss, ivy and other plants cling to everything in site. Just upstream is a small waterfall that makes for an amazing photo when framed under the bridge. Every time I pass by this bridge I spend quite a large amount of time photographing it from every angle I can get to (without falling into the river).
Five kilometers into the hike, at about the halfway point, and we’ll come up away from the river a bit and reach Balise N°357, the point at which we leave the GR653A. There are numerous directions we can head at this point, but we will continue to follow the arrow that points towards “Sentier de la Brague” and Biot. To the right is a large horse farm and up above is a major road, the D604. Straight ahead we find a concrete and rock pathway that leads back down to the river. There’s a yellow marking on a tree so it’s clear that this is the way we want to go.
On To Biot
If you’re hiking along the river during the summer months make sure to bring a bathing suit. There are plenty of large, deep pools of water that make for great swimming, splashing and just getting wet and cooling off. The water can be quite cold at other times, but during the height of the summer you should be able to enjoy it.
At about the 7 kilometer point, just past a large picnic area on the right, we’ll come to Balise N°309. More markers, Balise N°310 and N°311 are not too far down the trail. We’ll cross over a small concrete bridge and keep to the right. Again, the trail is marked with a yellow stripe on a tree so it’s very easy to stay on track.
The trail ends at the outskirts of Biot after about 11 and one-half kilometers. There is some climbing at the very end, but again, it’s not too long and not too steep. The road where the trail ends, Chemin Joseph Antoine Durbec, will lead your directly into town.
I’ve written about Biot elsewhere on this site. It’s a really lovely little village, one of my favorites in the area. There are plenty of restaurants, a small grocery store and various other places where you can get something to eat and drink after your hike. If you still have some energy I would highly suggest spending some time roaming around the village and exploring all that it has to offer. The Office de Tourisme is just near the entrance to the town and they are very helpful. You can ask for a map of the village which contains a small tour highlighting historical and cultural places and things.
When you are finished in Biot you can walk down Chemin Neuf, the main road leading into town from the coast, and catch the bus to Valbonne. There is a small bus stop just about a hundred meters down on the left. Be careful which bus you catch though, as not all of the ones that stop here go to Valbonne. Ask the driver to make sure and you should be fine.
Important Notes: If there is any sign of rain I would suggest leaving the hike for another day as many parts of the path will be slippery. As always you’ll want to make sure you have good hiking boots and plenty of water. I would suggest at least one liter 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, just at the beginning and the end. 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 winter you’ll want a jacket and maybe even gloves and a 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.
Where: Vence (Google Maps)
When: All year round
Phone: Valbonne Office de Toursime: 04 93 12 34 50
Website: Valbonne Office de Toursime: ville-valbonne.fr
Phone: Biot Office de Toursime: 04 93 65 78 00
Website: Biot Office de Toursime: biot-tourisme.com