Mont Ventoux – Conquering the Bald Mountain

Immortalised through decades of Tour de France and forming a conspicuous part of the Provençal landscape, Mont Ventoux is more than a mountain. It’s been nicknamed “Beast of Provence”, “The Bald Mountain” and “Provence’s Fujiyama” but fact is, that Mont Ventoux means Windy Mountain. And when the Mistral is blowing, it certainly is!

Classified by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in 1990 it’s home to over 1.200 species of flora – some endemic to the mountain, more than 1.400 kinds of butterflies, 120 species of nesting birds and a wide range of animals and insects. And while you may just see a barren mountain peak, the area offers an enormous biodiversity, which makes it a paradise for nature lovers – and several rare species.

Biker’s Challenge

Mont Ventoux is the Everest for any aspiring cyclist. It’s not just that the top is a whopping 1.912 metres above sea level. Or that the feared Mistral can blow with 320 km/h, but normally “only” blows at 90+ km/h. Or that the last 16 km climb is at around 9% gradient. It’s all these factors added up!

The classic way up to the Mont Ventoux is the ascent from Bédoin, just like the Tour de France. It’s a mental challenge more than a physical, because the climb is so relentless – and you can see all of it in front of you while struggling to ascent. And when you’re battling the last kilometres on the barren, limestone covered top, you’re feeling as if you’re fighting the mountain itself, like it’s trying to blow you off the bike.

When you finally reach the top, you’re rewarded with a wonderful vista of what feels like all of Provence. You have flown like an eagle to top of its nest. You have followed in the tyre track of many legendary cyclists before you. You have conquered the Bald Mountain.

Hiker’s Horror

We decided to conquer the mountain on foot. A 14 km hike with 700 vertical metres to defeat sounded tough but not impossible. So we downloaded a GPX file to our SmartPhones to follow without getting lost, waited for the harsh April winds to settle and set off on a sunny April morning from Mont Serein at elevation 1.400 metres.

After climbing the first hundred metres, the track evened out and followed the northern slope, sometimes through the coniferous woods, sometimes just hugging the steep – very steep – limestone rubble covered slopes. As we exited the woodland and saw the tiny footpath along the slope, looking like the slightest interruption would cause a limestone avalanche, we almost turned back.

We checked to see if we were really on track, because this would never have been permitted in Denmark. Then we found out that we actually walked on the GR9, a long-distance hiking trail through south of France, where people packing huge backpacks traverse these footpaths. Then we went on with a dogged determination.

We are glad we did. The adrenalin coupled with the amazing views made it one of the most unforgettable walks in France. The winding trail follows the side of the mountain for about 3 kilometres and then climbs steady at “la Tête de la Grave”, the “Head of the Serious”. We finally reach the “Col des Tempêtes”, the so-called “Storm Pass” and the spine of the mountain that ascends continuously all the way to the top. The last 4 kilometres to the top you’re walking in a barren, lunar-like landscape with red and green beams guiding you on the path to the top (in case of snow).

Walking on the spine of the Mont Ventoux, with spectacular views to both sides while the wind is struggling to blow you away is an exhilarating experience, no matter if you arrive by foot or bike.

In any way, you have conquered the Bald Mountain.

The descend is 3 kilometre zig-zag from the peak down the northern forest. A rest, snack and well-deserved beer awaited us in the cafe of the camping site at Mont Serein, where our car was parked. A perfect end to a perfect hike. The kind of hike that will stay with you forever.

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