Mt.Ventoux and the region around it has become a focal point for tourism in the Provence. To the West and South are numerous small villages and two larger towns, Vaison la Romaine and Carpentras. The region embodies what many consider as the essence of the Provence. It has a lot to offer, such as hiking, rock climbing, biking, visiting the historical sites, small villages and the markets or just relaxing in the numerous country hotels, B&Bs or self catering vacation rentals. The area is busy during the summer time but never overcrowded.
Let's take a look at the center piece of this area, magnificent 1912m (6273ft) high Mt.Ventoux, also called the " Giant of the Provence", one of the most famous mountains in France. The origin of its name is thought to be "Vintur", a Gaulish god of the summits, or "Ven-Top", meaning "snowy peak" in the ancient Gallic language. In French "venteux" means windy. When the mistral blows, wind speeds on its peak, the Col des Tempêtes (the "stormy" peak), can reach 300 km/h (180 mph). Although part of the Alps it appears separate from them, like a volcano towering over the Rhône valley. At its Western foothills rises a smaller mountain range, the Dentelles de Montmirail. The top of Mt.Ventoux is white limestone without any vegetation; it appears from a distance to be snow-capped all year round (snow cover normally only lasts from December to March). The appearance of Mt.Ventoux changes, depending from where you are. From Rasteau and Cairanne to the West it looks like the perfect cone shaped volcano. From Blauvac to the South it appears to be a huge long ridge. Every day, every hour there is a different light. Best of all are those days where the Mistral is blowing, the air is crisp, the sky an intense blue (much admired by the likes of Cézanne and van Gogh) and every detail of Mont Ventoux is visible from afar.
Petrarch, the famous poet, who lived in Avignon and Carpentras from 1333 to 1349, recorded his ascent in 1336 from Malaucène to the top. He did it just out of curiosity and in order to see the sun rise. More importantly he wrote about it; hence he is considered to be the father of alpinism. Many have followed him; Mont Ventoux has retained his fascination for most of us.
Originally forested, Mt. Ventoux was systematically stripped of trees from the 12th century onwards to serve the demands for shipbuilding, firewood and charcoal. Some areas have been reforested since the 19th century. There are more than 1000 plant varieties in this incredible mix of microclimates. A wide variety of birds, including eagles as well as many mammals such as wild boars, chamois, deer, hares have their habitat here. This unique biosphere was recognized by UNESCO in 1990 when the Réserve de Biosphère du Mt.Ventoux was created, protecting an area of 810 sq km (200.150 acres) on and around the mountain.
The road leading to the peak of Mt.Ventoux was opened in 1900. It zigzags up the mountain from Bédoin and down again to Malaucène. On a clear day, in the Provence roughly 300 days a year, you have superb views from the observation terrace on its peak. The road is normally closed when the Mistral blows, i.e. during Winter and early Spring. On top you find an ugly tower with TV and radio receptors with an observation terrace, a radar station and a cart selling candies of the kind your dentist will not recommend. All in all not a pretty arrangement but the views compensate a bit for this man made mess.
On the Northern slopes of Mt.Ventoux runs the river Toulourenc, one of the few in the region carrying water during the summer. It is 30 km long and winds through the romantic and wild Toulourenc Valley, which you can reach by car either from the West in Mollans sur Ouveze or from the East in Montbrun les Bains. The main village in the valley is Brantes, picturesque, with a rich history and nowadays very tranquil. Notable are the ruins of a medieval castle and the 18th century church Notre Dame de Pitié. Read more about this area in our les Baronnies web page.
The Mont Ventoux region is a great area for hiking. You need plenty of water, some food and a cell phone just in case you get into trouble. Don't forget to bring your wind jacket along, it can be quite cold on top even if your are sweating down below. Most important: buy a good map before you leave home, the local bookstores here might have run out of the ones you need. We recommend the 3140ET and 3141ET maps from the Institute Geographique National (IGN), which you can order online. By the way, the best path to take is from les Fébriers or les Colombets, two hamlets near Rte.D974 east of Bédoin.
The other option is to take one of the guided tours organized by the Bédoin tourist office (Tel: 04 90 65 63 95). They also undertake night-time ascents once a week during July and August, leaving at around 10:00 PM. You camp near the peak and wait for the spectacular sunrise.
The ascend to from Bédoin to the top has become a quasi mythical course for bikers. You have not achieved your goal as a serious biker if you have not climbed up to Mont Ventoux. It is like not having been to Rome, Jerusalem or Mecca. But please be careful, you need to be in superb physical shape. During Spring and Autumn you see scores of bikers trying to make the long ascend on Rt.D974 from Bédoin to the peak, the Col des Tempêtes. Husband or wife drive slowly in the car behind, both lights blinking, while he or increasingly also she, the"champion", fulfills his/her ultimate goal with a superhuman effort.
- Bédoin Route: The classic way up the mountain, the one the Tour de France uses. The distance from Bédoin at 300m (983ft) altitude to the summit at 1912m (6.272ft) is 21,5km (13,35 miles). The average gradient is 7.5% with a number of steep sections in the middle and at the very top. Expect lots of wind at the very top.
- Malaucène Route: Practically the same distance, starting in Malaucène at 360m (1.181ft) and ending at the summit at 1.912m (6.272ft). Hard to say, which route is more difficult. Both are exhausting with a number of very steep sections.
- Sault Route: The easiest of the three ascents. It starts at Sault at 694m (2.277ft), much higher than the first two. The overall distance is longer at 26km (16.15 miles), but the first 20km (12.4 miles) of the climb from Sault to Chalet Reynard has an average gradient of just 3.6%. The last 6km are on the same route as the Bédoin ascent - steep and quite often very windy.
The ascend to Mont Ventoux is a highlight of the Tour de France nearly every second year. The Tour Dauphiné Libéré, one of the preparatory races for the Tour de France, hits it every year. Just below the peak, on the road to Malaucène, is a memorial to British cyclist Tommy Simpson, who died here from heart failure during the 1967 Tour de France. After collapsing he is supposed to have uttered "Put me back on the bloody bike"; but this was probably made up by British tabloids.
Tour de France: On Saturday, July 25, 2009 "Le Tour" will ascend Mont Ventoux. Never in the history of the event has a mountain been on the program the day before the finish in Paris. It promises to be dramatic!
.... read more about it here.
You can rent bikes in Bédoin or other villages around Mt.Ventoux. For those not fit enough to bike up Mt.Ventoux, there is a splendid solution arranged once in a while by the Bédoin tourist office. You and your bike are being driven to Mt.Ventoux from where you cycle back down.
There is little to no infrastructure on top of Mt.Ventoux, but plenty of it in the villages around it. If you bike up there, take some food with you as well as plenty of water. A sweater and wind jacket is a good idea even during the summer time.