mont ventoux summitThere are three routes to the top of Mont Ventoux: from Malaucène, Bédoin and Sault. This is a guide to what you'll see on each of them.

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One of the remarkable things about Mont Ventoux is its incredible variety. Its different faces and altitudes host a great number of microclimates, ecosystems and landscapes from Mediterranean to Alpine.

ventoux routes smallClassed by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve it's home to over 1,250 species of flora, 120 species of birds and a wide range of animals and insects.

So each of the three approaches to the summit is unlike the others - and, along each one, the terrain also constantly changes as you climb. Click on the map to enlarge the image.

You can discover Mont Ventoux in many ways: on horseback, by cycle, motorbike or car, or by taking part in sports and activities such as paragliding or rockclimbing. Pictured below: a motorcyclist pauses at the belevdere near the top of the route from Malaucène.

belvedere mont ventouxThe asphalted roads described here are not the whole story, of course: there are alternative tracks for VTT (cross-country) cyclists.

Three Grandes Randonnées, France's long-distance footpaths, skirt the mountain: the GR4, the GR9 and the GR91. And there are all sorts of shorter rambling trails, some of which we mention below.

By far the best guide book for hikers is Le Pays du Ventoux à pied (in French), 45 hikes compiled by the Fédération française de la randonnée pédestre. The best large-scale map of the area is IGN 3140 ET.

Two small ski stations cater for winter sports, one on the north face and one on the south. Note that, although these are open year-round for business, the summit itself is closed under regional regulations in the winter months. This is between mid-November and mid-May from Malaucène and between mid-November and mid-April from Bédoin and Sault.

The Giant of Provence is now best known as the ultimate challenge for serious cyclists. Milestones all along the way let you know just how much further you still have to go, with the gradient and distance to the top on one face and the altitude on the other.

But you can also enjoy less strenuous biking in the region: click here to read about cycle touring around Mont Ventoux.

Click here to read our full guide to cycling in Provence and here to explore the very informative La Provence à Vélo website, which proposes around two dozen routes for all ages, interests and abilities in the Mont Ventoux area.

What's in a name? Some say the name Ventoux comes from "venteux", the French for "windy", and reflects the mountain's exposure to the fierce north-west Mistral wind.

This blows 130 days a year on average and can reach speeds of over 90 km / 56 miles an hour (the record at the mountain top, in 1967, was 313 km / 194 miles an hour!)

Another theory maintains that the name dates back to the first or second century AD when men went to the summit to worship a god named Vintur. And it also seems that in an early, pre-Indo-European language the word Ven refers to a snowy peak visible from afar.

Whatever explanation you prefer, one thing is certain: the wind chill factor - as well as its direction - can greatly increase your discomfort: check here for the weather forecast. Even better: you can now monitor the current temperature and wind speed on Mont Ventoux via a sensor installed at the actual summit.

Temperatures can plummet to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius / minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Even in summer it can get quite chilly at the top so be sure to bring some warm clothes, especially if you're cycling.

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THE ROUTE FROM MALAUCENE

This 21.5 km / 13 mile route - the D974 - goes up the north face of Mont Ventoux, starting from Malaucène. The Malaucène Tourist Office is on the place de la Mairie, 84340 Malaucène. Tel: (+33) 4 90 65 22 59.

notre dame de groseau malauceneIt is the widest of the three routes up the mountain and is the only one with a special lane set aside for cyclists (except for the very last part of the ascent).

And, as the prevailing wind in the region is from the north-west, you're more likely to benefit from having it in your back.

Just out of Malaucène, you drive through garrigue (provençal scrubland), bright with colourful wildflowers in spring, before quickly entering the wooded lower slopes.

You soon pass the lovely, peaceful little twelfth century Romanesque chapel of Notre Dame du Groseau (sometimes spelled Grozeau), pictured, set back from the road on your right in a leafy clearing.

 

It was once part of a larger abbey which Clement V, the first of the Avignon Popes, used as a summer retreat in the early 14th century. Today you can't go inside, except when it hosts temporary exhibitions.

A little further up the road, the Groseau spring itself was once channelled by the Romans to Vaison la Romaine along an aqueduct. Today it's a nice shady spot to linger at. Bathing isn't allowed here (officially), but you can buy a pizza or an ice-cream.

If it seems a bit early to be stopping, don't worry: there are plenty more picnic spots with tables and benches further along the way.

Off to the left six kilometres / four miles from the top - just as you get your first glimpse of the summit - is the Station du Mont Serein. At an altitude of 1,400 metres / 4,593 feet, this little mountain station has on-piste and cross country skiing, eight ski lifts and a ski school. In summer it offers hiking, horse-riding, a treetop adventure playground and other activities.

campsite mont ventouxAt the far end of the resort the Camping Le Mont Serein, pictured, is the only campsite on the upper slopes of Mont Ventoux (wild camping is not allowed on the mountain). You can fill your water bottle and use the toilets here, both for a small charge.

It's open all year round, except from mid November to mid December, has 60 camping spaces (tents, woodne chalets or camping cars) and offers meals - half board - on request.

Back on the road itself, at the turn-off to Mont Serein, is another option for dining and / or accommodation (though it only has a handful of rooms): the rustic, stunningly positioned Chalet Liotard.

As you approach the summit, the views are vast and breathtaking. You'll pass a civil aviation radar dome and an orientation table on your left which helps you identify the mountain peaks around.

 

 

THE ROUTE FROM BÉDOIN

The approach to Mont Ventoux along the D974 from Bédoin is the most popular with cyclists, probably because this is the ascent almost always favoured by the Tour de France. It's 21.8 km / 13.5 miles long. The Bédoin Tourist Office is at 1 route de Malaucène, 84410 Bédoin Tel: (+33) 4 90 65 63 95.

It's a deceptively gentle run as you leave Bédoin, past lush landscapes of vineyards, olive groves and cherry orchards. But once you enter the densely forested lower slopes, the route becomes more difficult than the one out of Malaucène.

This is not so much because the gradient is steeper as because the road is both more crowded, narrower and more twisting, with poor sightlines and no demarcated cycle lane.

On the way up you'll pass picnic areas - not that anyone was eating there when we did this ascent in the pouring rain, though some valiant cyclists were struggling on regardless.

entrance to bedoinThere are also footpaths: one leads to the Jas de Perrache, a sheep barn; another, labelled "le sentier des pitchouns", an illustrated "kids' hiking path" devised by a local primary school.

Around seven kilometres / four miles below the summit, a cluster of unexpected post-boxes at the side of the road, followed by wooden cabins, mark Chalet Reynaud, a small ski and summer mountain sports resort with seven ski pistes and one toboggan piste, plus 30 km / 18.5 miles of cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing.

The friendly bar-restaurant here has a large but cosy indoor area with an open fireplace and wood-burning stove, plus a covered terrace and an outdoor terrace.

It serves pancakes and reasonably priced set meals (summer truffles were on the menu when we visited in May), also sells biking accessories and is open seven days a week. Although the awning calls it a "hotel restaurant" it doesn't have bedrooms.

Also at Chalet Reynaud is the Ventoux Bike Park where you can take a ski lift up to the start of three mountain biking (VTT) trails. Mountain bikes are available to hire at the restaurant. It's open at weekends all year round, weather permitting and is suitable for adults and children over the age of ten.

If you don't stop for refreshment at Chalet Reynaud, you'll find a fountain, La Fontaine de la Grave, on the final stretch to the top. Also here is a touching memorial to the British racing cyclist Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died during the 1967 Tour de France. Today many cyclists leave water bottles in tribute.

THE ROUTE FROM SAULT

The ascent from Sault is the easiest of the three approaches to Mont Ventoux. That's because the town itself is on a plateau, so you're already starting from a higher elevation (694 metres / 2277 feet). The Sault Tourist Office is at avenue de la Promenade F, 84390 Sault Tel (+33) 4 90 64 01 21.

sault lavender fields mayIn addition the route itself - the D164 - is longer (26 km / 16 miles) than the other two. So the climb is very gentle, at least when you start out (when stretches of it go down as well as up).

It has a good tarmac surface, but is narrower than the northern approach and has no barriers at the side of the road. And, unlike the other two ascents, it isn't lined with milestones to help you measure your progress.

Expect wide open vistas as you leave Sault, with Mont Ventoux always visible in the far distance, and miles of rolling lavender fields.

reindeer scuplture mont ventouxYou'll have to do this route in July / early August if you want to see them in full bloom (our picture was taken in mid-May), but the landscape, lined with stalls selling lavender honey and other regional produce, is very attractive at all times of year.

Click here to read about a visit to the Arôma'Plantes lavender farm and distillery just outside Sault on the road to Mont Ventoux.

As you enter the forested slopes, you'll find lots of little picnic areas and footpaths leading off into the trees: watch out for one heralded by an unusual and striking sculptures of a deer created out of rusty old car parts, pictured. The route from Sault joins the route from Bédoin at Chalet Reyaud.

 

AND ONCE YOU REACH THE TOP...

You made it! Even if you drove up Mont Ventoux, all 1,911 metres / 6270 feet of it, rather than pedalling or hiking the hard way, there's a bit of a festive atmosphere right up on the peak.

mont ventoux summit1After you pass the tree line, the terrain on all three routes changes dramatically into a surreal, stark, blindingly white, almost lunar landscape, pictured from the south face.

From a distance this looks like snow (and, at some times of year, it is: we saw a small bank of snow near the top of the north face in mid-May). In fact it's limestone.

Cyclists on the final stretch of both the north and the south approaches are likely to be ambushed by one of several photographers capturing their moment of glory (you can buy the photograph on their website afterwards).

A 15th century chapel originally stood at the top for pilgrims invoking divine protection against the plague. Today it has been replaced by a small, simple 20th century chapel a little lower down on the southern slope.

You'll also see an meteorological observatory - constructed in 1882 but no longer in use as such - topped by a television transmitter.

A shop sells souvenirs, such as mini-replicas of the famous milestones and a restaurant serves simple meals, mainly hearty energy foods such as pasta for all those hungry cyclists, who can also "clock in" at a punch-card machine to validate the time of their climb.

summit mont ventouxA couple of stalls offer various goodies such as (when we visited) sweets, local saucissons and delicious home-made cookies.

Note that parking is limited and could be very tricky here in the height of the tourist season.

There's not much more apart from that - except for the view. And what a view!

The summit is at times shrouded in clouds, but on a clear day you can see for many miles in all directions, towards the Alps on one side and down to the equally iconic Mont Sainte Victoire, Marseille, the Rhône valley and the Camargue on the other.

Photo credits: All images © SJ for Marvellous Provence.

 

 

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