STEVE AND CAROLE IN VENCE

The Vence 7 Village Loop

August 30, 2019

Distance: 63 kilometers (39 miles)
Time: 3 to 4 hours depending on your pace and if you visit the villages
Departure: Vence
Difficulty: Moderate (big climb to start, then mostly downhill)
Elevation Gain: 1,093 meters (3,586 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 4 villages

This is one of my favorite rides from Vence. I’ve been making this loop for almost ten years and honestly, I never get tired of it. I start in Vence, head over the Col de Vence and ride through seven villages before I arrive back in Vence, completing a big circle that has a little bit of everything: climbs, downhills, villages, beautiful valleys, stunning mountains and more. Most of the ride is on small, quite back roads with very little traffic. It’s a regular ride that I try to do at least once every two or three weeks. Four of the villages are included in the 73 Village by Bike Challenge (Coursegoules, Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Carros and Saint-Jeannet).

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Vence > Col de Vence > Coursegoules

The ride begins in the middle of Vence at the Grand Jardin. I made this ride on a sunny morning in July. There was a threat of some rain coming in around noon so I was trying to make it back to Vence before that happened. Take the main road out of town, Avenue de la Résistance, and continue through the large roundabout at the entrance to the town, turning right on Avenue Victor Turby. At the end of the first block is a small intersection where five roads come together. One of these roads, Avenue Henri Giraud (the M2) heads uphill towards the Col de Vence. If you look closely on the right, just as you start up the hill, you’ll see a fairly recent sign that shows the average grade for each of the kilometers on the climb. Overall, it’s a 6.3% grade with the steepest part being around 9%. This climb has been featured several times in the famous Paris-Nice cycling race as well as the Nice Ironman race. It’s almost 10 kilometers and while it’s not the kind of climb you’ll find in the high Alpes, it is a formidable workout. It’s rated as a Category 1 climb which is the second most difficult category. The climb begins immediately from the intersection, there’s no warm up. The first kilometer is the steepest, around 8 to 10 percent but then things ease off a bit. There are usually a fair amount of riders on the road, especially in the summer. It is well marked with large road signs every kilometer that tell you the grade for the next kilometer, how much farther you have to go and your current altitude. When you reach the summit you’ll probably want to take a short break, have something to drink and maybe a bite to eat.

The first village on the north side of the Col de Vence is Coursegoules which is about eight kilometers down from the top. It’s not really much a descent. The first one and a half kilometers are fairly steep but then things ease off and it’s really pretty level until you come to the turn to Coursegoules at the D8 where you turn right. Then it’s uphill again for just over a kilometer. Coursegoules is a nice little village with a small grocery story and a couple of restaurants. You’ll have to ride a bit uphill off the main road (a little over 1/2 kilometer) to get to the center of the village, but it’s worth it. As with all the villages on the 73 Village by Bike Challenge I am making an effort to get as close to the village center as possible, so on this trip I rode into the village to take a few photgraphs.

Coursegoules

The picturesque little village of Coursegoules has a population of just over 500. The name has its roots in the Celtic language where “cor seg” means “pointed rock.” Axes and pottery fragments discovered in the area confirm that it has been occupied by humans as far back as the Bronze Age or the first Iron Age. It became a Ville Royale (royal city) in 1636. Situated on the southern slope of the Cheiron mountain it features a 13th century mill built by the Templars, a Chapel of White Penitents, the 12th Church of Saint Marie Magdeleine and many other landmarks. As with many villages in the mountaineous regions the town was built according to a specific defensive plan, of which its ramparts play a major part.

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Coursegoules > Bézaudun-les-Alpes > Bouyon

Once you leave Coursegoules (continuing on the D8) you still have to do a bit of climbing, but after a kilometer or two it’s all down hill for a long time. Bézaudun-les-Alpes is the next stop, a very pretty little village, just over 6 kilometers from Coursegoules. If you are not planning on stopping at Bézaudun you can just continue straight on the D8. If, like me however, you’d like to see the village, there are two entrances: a main entrance and a “back” entrance. From this direction you’ll get to the back entrance first, so when you see a sign for Bézaudun at a big 180° turn in the road, take the road to the left, the Chemin du Pous. It will wind around behind the village for a kilometer or so and then you’ll find yourself near the middle of the village. You wont’ find a lot going on here, but again, if this is your first time through, it’s worth the extra time and mileage. I often get off my bike and walk through a portion of the village as it is really pretty. You’ll leave the village on the D208 which will connect with the D8 where you’ll turn left. There’s an amazing view of Bézaudun straight ahead, perched high on the hill, so don’t miss that.

From Bézaudun-les-Alpes to Bouyon is about 6 kilometer, still downhill the entire way. It’s a fast little portion of the ride. When you arrive in Bouyon, if you take the fork to the right you’ll pass right through the heart of the village. There is a nice fountain for water and a little pâtisserie for treats if you make a hard right as soon as you enter the village. There’s also a small grocery story in the village and I stopped here for something to drink. Why Bouyon is not included in the 73 villages book, I don’t know. It’s a lovely little place. The D8 ends here in Bouyon and you can exit the village by the D1, either going north towards Les Ferres or south towards Le Broc. We’ll be going south. Keep riding straight through the village and you’ll come to the D1 where you’ll turn right.

Bézaudun-les-Alpes

The first recorded mention of Bézaudun is in 1150 where it was called “Besaldu.” With less than 300 inhabitants the village sits between Coursegoules and Bouyon at the foot of the Cheiron mountain. A tower remains from an old castle built sometime in the early 1200s. The Notre-Dame-du-Peuple chapel, a little south of the village, was a place of pilgrimage for many of the villages in the area for several centuries. Another chapel, the Saint-Roch-et-Saint-Sébastien chapel is located near the entrance to the village. The church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin, is a small, modest structure dating from the 12th century with a bell tower and a small campanile. From the edge of the village you have an exceptional view of both the Estéron Valley and the Bouyon Valley.

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Bouyon > Le Broc > Carros

After Bouyon you have a steep descent into the valley and then a little bit of climbing, about three or four kilometers before coming to Le Broc, which looks out over the Var River valley. The D1 will turn into the M1 between Bouyon and Le Broc. Just as you come into town you can take a little fork to the left and head straight down into the village square, it’s just a block or so. There’s a nice fountain, a bar where you can get a cup of coffee and some small pretty streets to explore. Again, I have no idea why the folks who put together to book of villages I use for the 73 Village Challenge didn’t include Le Broc. When you’re done, head back up to the M1 and continue to the southeeast. Another 4 kilometers downhill and you’ll arrive at the foot of Carros. There are some lovely views of the village on the left as you are approaching it so keep an eye out. If you want to stop for a peak inside Carros you’ll have a steep little climb into the village, but there is a lot to see here, so I make the effort.

Carros

The village of Carros sits perched on tall outcrop of land overlooking the Var river and valley below. Human occupation of the area can be traced back as far as the Iron Age. The large castle that dominates the village (dating back to the 12th century) has been renovated to house an International Center for Contemporary Art. The old windmill on the edge of the village is a rarity in the area as most mills were built on the many rivers and powered by water. You’ll find a variety of other important monuments and historical sites in the village including: the Chapel of the White Penitents (from the mid-1700s) and the village wash-house from the 1800s. One wall from an old bell tower stands near the village cemetery, the last remaining portion of the Church of Our Lady of Cola which was destroyed in the mid-1700s. Today the Church of St. Claude stands as the main center of worship in the village. Originally built in 1664 it was renovated in 2008.

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Carros > Gattières > Saint-Jeannet > Vence

From Carros it’s all downhill again for 6 kilometers until you get to Gattières. You’ll leave town on the M1 but almost immedaitely take a right turn on the M2209 which will lead the Gattières. You’ll arrive at a large roundabout where you can, once again, climb up into the village. It’s a short climb this time before the road ends and you must walk your bike up some stairs to a little square with a nice fountain and some small cafes. Another mystery here as to why Gattières is not one of the featured 73 villages.

Then it’s back on the M2209 again to Saint-Jeannet, just a few kilometers. It’s uphill again now, but the grade is pretty gentle and it’s not far. When you arrive at the big roundabout near Saint-Jennet you’ll need to take a hard right on Route de Saint-Jeannet to head up to the village. This is the longest, steepest “sidetrack” you’ll need to take to get to one of the villages. It’s just over 2km and it’s a good grade, around 6% to 7% most of the way. It’s unfortunate that this comes right near the end of the ride, but hey, it’s one last chance to get some good climbing in. Saint-Jeannet is a fabulous little village situated right at the bottom of the glorious Baou Saint-Jeannet, a huge, towering rock formation. There’s an excellent view of the valley from the village and lots of little cafes and boutiques.

When you’re done exploring Saint-Jeannet head back the way you came up, get back on the M2209 towards Vence and you’re almost done. It’s just a few more kilometers back to the starting point. A bit uphill, but nothing steep.

Saint-Jeannet

Saint-Jeannet is perched at the foot of the Baou Saint-Jeannet, a large rock cliff that protrudes from the mountains around it. The town is very popular with hikers and climbers who come from all over the region. Official documents show that the village existed as early ast the 11th century, known then as Sancti Johannis. Like many, many other villages in the region it is built high on the side of mountain, mostly for protection. Facing south the village sees lots of sunshine and the baou behind it protects it from the winds. The Church of Saint Jean Baptiste, built in 1666 sits right next to the Chapelle Saint-Bernardin. You’ll find three other chapels as well: Saint Jean-Baptiste, Sainte Pétronille and San Peïre. An old castle, known as “de la Gaude” or “des Templiers” has been partially renovated and remains in private hands.

One more thing: I’m also fond of doing this route in the reverse direction, starting in Vence but heading to Saint-Jeannet first. You cover the exact same ground but the ride has a very different feel. It’s a long, long gradual climb for most of the ride and then you’re at the top of the Col de Vence and it’s a wild, fast descent into Vence to finish things off.

Steve and Carole in Vence - The Vence 7 Village Loop
The 7 village loop: Coursegoules, Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Bouyon, Le Broc, Carros, Gattières & Saint-Jeannet.

Important Notes: There is a lot climbing on this route but most of it is right at the beginning on the Col de Vence. The traffic is usually not too bad throughout the ride and in fact, for large portions of it, you many not see many cars at all. The last portion, from Gattières to Vence, has the most traffic. If there is any sign of rain I would suggest leaving the ride for another time. I’ve been caught twice in thunderstorms on the other side of the Col de Vence and it is no fun making the remainder of this ride in the rain. As always you’ll want to make sure you have a good bike and plenty of water. You can get water and/or food in almost all of these villages. The best time to make this ride in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest. You’ll want a helmet and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. If you are riding 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: Bike Ride from Vence to Coursegoules, Bézaudun, Bouyon, Le Broc, Carros and Gattières, Saint-Jeannet.
Where: Vence (Google Maps)
When: All year round
Phone: Office de Toursime – 04 93 58 06 38
Website: vence-tourisme.com
Facebook: Vence.notre.ville

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