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Hiking Mont Ventoux

Adventuring through clouds atop the ‘Bald Mountain’

On Saturday I decided to go hiking on Mont Ventoux, the largest mountain in Provence. Popular nicknames include the ‘Beast of Provence’, ‘Giant of Provence’ and of course the ‘Bald Mountain’. After doing only a little research, I headed off in the direction of Bédoin, the town at the base of the mountain where Google Maps told me to go...

Cycling is the most popular way to experience the mountain as it is a famously challenging leg of the Tour de France, but walking routes, mountain biking and scenic drives are also quite popular. One thing I did know (thankfully) was that it can get extremely cold and windy at the top of the 1,912 m summit.

Arriving in Bédoin at around 10h00 on a Saturday morning, the town was already swarming with cyclists preparing for their epic ascent. The crowd was mostly made up of MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra), but there were some locals out too, picking up bread or having a coffee on one of the town’s shady terraces. Bédoin’s main street is filled with cafés, restaurants and big shady trees – it’s the perfect spot to stop for a quick snack before you head up the mountain. This is the starting point for the most famous (and difficult) ascent of Mont Ventoux, so remember to give way to the bikers wobbling around in their cycling shoes.

From Bédoin you can clearly see Mont Ventoux, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t just show up and start hiking anywhere. It’s pretty obvious if you want to cycle, just follow the next pack of spandex-clad tourists huffing and puffing along the road. But there were no signs for hiking and I obviously didn’t want to walk along the road (or make any stupid mistakes). So I went back to the Tourist Office to get some information.

I asked the lady about hiking and told her I was looking for the GR4, the only trail I had read about. She looked at me like I was insane, and then said, “Do you even have a map? No? To start from here it will take you at least five hours to go up and they are announcing thunderstorms this afternoon. This is not a good idea”. She looked at me dismissively and my heart totally sank, although, I admit that I could have done more research. Why couldn’t I just hike? But I was very determined to climb a mountain, so I asked her again about a shorter route. Thankfully she answered “yes”, I could drive to Chalet Reynard and from there to the summit it was about 1h30m. Perfect (why didn’t she just say that in the first place?)!

If you are a keen hiker and you have planned appropriately, leaving from Bédoin is a great option. Just do the research first! In my case, I was not prepared nor did I have a map, so the shorter hike was perfect. Simply driving to the summit and walking around is a good choice too if hiking isn’t your thing. On the drive up, it was truly remarkable to witness the number of cyclists making the gruelling ascent. Make sure you give them lots of room; they are working harder than you are!

Chalet Reynard is a restaurant located at an elevation of 1,440m. This is a small ski resort in the winter and in the summer it's a popular spot for cyclists to take a break or eat lunch on their way down. Finding parking was no problem (perhaps harder in July and August) and I was able to locate the start of the trail easily. The signpost indicated trail to the summit was 5.3km and would take about 2 hours, so with no further delay I headed up.

The trail winds away from the road up behind the chalet and is a fairly easy grade with no really steep/challenging parts (in my opinion). But come prepared! I had proper hiking boots and a backpack with warm layers, water, snacks, etc. I passed other hikers that had hiking poles, which are always a good idea, as the bare limestone terrain can be tough on your ankles.

As you make your way up, the trail follows the ridge of the mountain and you have epic views on either side of you. Despite being sunny in Bédoin, there were clouds hanging around the top of the mountain all day. This made for a pretty cool hike – one moment there was a clear view, the next I was walking into a wall of clouds. The trail is pretty easy to follow so don’t worry too much about getting lost up there (but be smart!). From the ridge there are other trails you can take, but I just focused on getting to the summit.

After the first ascent, you can see the road and all the cyclists below – a comforting sign, as I was still a little skeptical that I was actually going the right way. The clouds were moving pretty quickly, then all of a sudden they parted and the weather tower became visible and I knew I was almost there.

At the summit, it was REALLY windy. Glad I had brought layers, I bundled up and traded my hat (which flew off) for my Buff. There is a gift shop and restaurant at the top, for those wanting to eat while enjoying the view or pick up some souvenirs. The coolest part was watching all the cyclists celebrate their arrival at the top. Lots of cheering, hugs and sweaty bodies could be seen amidst the wind and clouds. Seeing people of all ages looking proud and accomplished was pretty special and my competitive self set a goal to make the ride myself one day. 

If you decide to visit Mont Ventoux, remember to check the weather and bring warm clothing. Winds at the top can be extremely strong, especially when the Mistral is blowing. If you are hiking, remember to do some research and bring a map. When I drove home later that day, I ended up in one of the craziest thunder/lightening/hailstorms I have ever seen. The sky around the mountain was completely black and I was super thankful I wasn’t still on the trail or worse, cycling. Adventures on the mountain are great fun, but be prepared!

Even if you just drive to the top, it feels wonderful to breathe that fresh mountain air. Visiting Mont Ventoux is well worth the trip, just be prepared to be outnumbered by cyclists. To make a day of it, be sure to check out some the amazing little towns located in the foothills of the mountain. Surrounded by vineyards, ancient ruins and rolling hills, the scenery in the area is picturesque, typically Provençal and not to be missed. 

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