From almost anywhere, Mt. Ventoux dominates the surrounding areas of Provence. Its massive 6,200 foot heights loom over the landscape, earning it the moniker, “the beast of Provence.” For years, I have wanted to drive to the top of the mountain, but weather, schedules, or something has always interfered. We watched a TV broadcast of the leg of the Tour de France which goes to the top, so had an idea of the scenery, but still wanted to see it in person. Today would be the day.
We left the mas at a bit after 11, and decided not to use the GPS, but revert to having the “Bevigator” find the route with the trusty Michelin map. First waypoint was the town of Cavaillon, about 20 minutes away, across the Durance river on the east side of the A7 AutoRoute. Cavaillon has always been sort of a grimy town with little charm, best known for the superb melons that carry its name, but in the last year a lot of effort has gone into cleaning it up and making it prettier. This trip through, we found the central area to be markedly improved, with cafes and landscaping appearing where once there were none.
From Cavaillon we headed to Carpentras. It was our first time here, and we found a large town with parks and a lot of charm in the central area. Unfortunately, my “Bevigating” skills proved a bit rusty, so it took two passes through the centre ville before we were on the right route to Mt. Ventoux.
As it was 1 pm by now, we figured it best to stop and get lunch, so pulled into the small village of Bedoin. Tree lined streets sported a number of nice cafes, so we picked Le Relais and I sat down at a table outside in the sun, the only patron there. A smiling young man wearing a Florida Raptors T-shirt quickly appeared and greeted me but let me know the table I had chosen was “reserved.” Obligingly, I moved to another and waited for David to park the car and join me.
The same young man appeared and asked if we had decided what we wanted. We hadn’t seen menus, so were a bit hard pressed to order. David asked for them, and we took a look. There were three salads, an entrecote, and three burgers. David ordered the salad Ventoux while I opted for the entrecote. The waiter, knowing we were American, asked if I would like my entrecote cooked “a point (medium.)” I responded “bleu,” which set him back. He made a motion demonstrating cooking something on one side for a few seconds, then a few seconds on the other to indicate that it would be very rare. I responded by mooing, which casued him to laugh and say, “parfait.”
The food turned out to be quite good. My entrecote was accompanied by a bowl of crisp frites, while David’s salad was a tasty mix of lardons (smoked bacon), jambon cru (similar to prosciutto), chevre melted on baguette slices, and fresh greens. We ordered two glasses of the local rosé to go with the meal. The slopes and plains fringing Mt. Ventoux are covered in vines, which produce some simple, but nice reds, whites, and rosés, labeled as Cotes du Ventoux. They are incredibly inexpensive, usually about 4-5 Euros per bottle in a store, so we were not surprised that our glasses of rosé were just €1.80 each.
After enjoying our lunch and chatting a bit, we headed off to conquer Mt. Ventoux.
The initial stages of our climb were on a winding road that ran through forests. These grew thinner as we proceeded to climb, until we hit a stark demarcation – no trees or vegetation, just rocks and gravel. Our friend Guy, who knows about agriculture, said he thought that many years ago all of the growth above a certain level had been lumbered, and the lack of vegetation caused the earth to fragment into small stones. Very bleak, like a moonscape.
The temperature had dropped steadily, from 24 degrees Celsius at the bottom to 13 degrees at the tree line. As we climbed higher, the temperature dropped still more. The winds also picked up and were buffeting the car as we covered the last few kilometers. David also noticed that the gas gauge was affected, as the reading dropped from over 3/8ths of a tank to almost nil. As the air was swept up and over the summit, it condensed into a mist that swirled around the car. One minute we could see vistas of the slopes below, bathed in sun, the next minute we could only see a few feet ahead.
Finally, we reached the top. I got out of the car and was rocked by cold winds of 35-40 mph. David wisely remained in the car, obsessing over the gas gauge. As the opportunities occurred when the mists abated, I shot photos of the surrounding approaches to the summit, then hopped back in the car for the ride down.
It’s hard to imagine biking up the 26 kilometers of steep slopes, but – while we were virtually the only car on the road, there were dozens of bicyclists struggling upward and onward. We wanted to tell a few of them that were laboring on the bottom reaches of the road, that this was the easy part, and they might consider a table at Le Relais in Bedoin and fabricated stories of conquering Mt. Ventoux.
My navigation skills improved on our return, and we skirted Carpentras, breezed through Cavaillon, and were soon back at the mas. As usual, a trip into town for wine at Café du Centre, then a light dinner at home and to bed.
I’m not sure if I would make the trip again, but it was a fun day, and I’m sure you will find the photos interesting.