The Mont Ventoux, much more than a Tour de France’s stage – Meanderings through France n° 93
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
The 103rd edition of the Tour de France just began and Chris Froome is once more the heavy favourite to win it. The mountain stages are the more demanding and more dramatic ones, and the Mont Ventoux hillclimb definitely is a legend among them. To reach its 1912 m high summit it takes a long and hard 25 km long climb, and every amateur cyclist feels like a hero when finishing it!
If you watch this stage on television on July 14, you will not only suffer with the racing cyclist pushing hard on their paddles, you will also discover the beautiful landscapes and villages along the road. So no need to be a huge fan of Le Tour to go and visit this Provencal area, it has a lot to offer to enjoy leisurely holidays. There is an impressive number of charming villages scattered through this hilly region from where you will every time get a different view over the omnipresent Mont Ventoux.
Seen from afar its white summit looks as if being snow-covered all year round. But if it snows in wintertime and you can actually ski on its slopes at the Mont Serein ski-resort, its white colour is mostly due to the white stone-fields that top it, giving it its second name: The Mont Chauve, the Bald Mount. Standing on top of it on a clear day you will have a spectacular 360-degree view over the Alps, the Mediterranean Sea and the Camargue, the Rhône Valley and Avignon, the Massif Central and the Cevennes. That is if you can stand up in spite of the Mistral, this strong wing that often blows in Southern France sometimes with 300 km/hour gusts!
Next to the Mont Ventoux, the Dentelles de Montmirail, the “Montmirail lace”, is a small mountain massif sculpted by the rain and the wind. Its 3 mountains stand out against the deep blue sky challenging you to dare climb them. Several mountain guides can help you take-up this challenge along the many trails going up and down the Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail. They will take you through the traditional mountain terraces lined with low stonewalls of the Dentelles de Montmirail or up the stone fields of the Mont Ventoux. The night trails are a unique experience: wearing a headlamp, following a path dimly lit by the moon, focussing on your feet and breath you will walk up 12km. Leaving at 11 pm you will reach the summit for sunset and be rewarded for your efforts: as the light intensity slowly rises you begin to perceive the landscape surrounding you and suddenly the sun pops up and bathes you in its energy. A lifetime experience to share with your family and your fellow walkers!
Back to the valley many Provencal villages, fortunately spared from uncontrolled urbanization have retained most of their original charm. Vaison-la-Romaine is the largest Gallo-Roman site in France where the ruins of big Roman houses tell us how wealthy the area was 2,000 years ago. Most of these villages were built during the Middle Ages and if you park your car and take time to discover them you will visit beautiful castles, Knights Templar fortresses, churches and walk along narrow cobbled streets sheltered from the beating summer sun: Crestet, Entrechaux, Puymeras, Cairanne… and many others are perfect places for a tasty meal or for shopping in one of the workshops of the many artists, craftsmen and craftswomen who find inspiration in these ancient villages.
In Séguret Isabelle Voeux-Perrone makes wonderful jams and chutneys using local fruits, herbs or wines: apricot and rosemary, cherry and chocolate with a hint of pepper, carrot and cinnamon… Discover her latest recipes on her Facebook page (les confitures d’isabelle).
In Brantes Véronique Dornier has been making santons for 20 years now. These small clay statues are traditionally put in Christmas cribs all over Provence. Using mainly blue shades she makes unusual santons which have made her famous. http://santons-dornier.monsite-orange.fr/
In Vaison-la-Romaine the “Comptoir de Mathilde” is a family delicatessen shop where you will find quality chocolates, wines, liqueurs, cakes, olive oils… This tempting shop is like an Ali Baba’s cave for all gourmands and gourmets! http://www.lecomptoirdemathilde.com/
In Crestet you will meet Yves-Robert Tolleron who fell in love with the region when he came here as an amateur cyclist. He concocts yummy Tender Nougat from his grandma’s recipe, chocolates and delicious ice creams made with fresh local fruits and organic cane sugar. http://www.nougat-tolleron.fr/produits/chocolat/
In Entrechaux saffron is grown again after being neglected for decades. A dedicated team works hard to produce a multi-awarded organic saffron. They call it the red gold! This expensive spice is both tasty and good for your health. Besides the small boxes of 0,1 g and 0,3 g of saffron they sale saffron acacia honey, saffron jams, saffron meringues, saffron syrup… www.or3r.fr
In Mollans-sur-Ouveze Florence Gosset uses a very personal technique to paint on silk, canvas, Japanese kakemono… Her colourful and evocative artworks are displayed in her workshop and in a garden close to a big open dining room overlooking a river, where with her partner, she serves delicious meals. She’s not only a gifted artist but also a talented cook! They called their table d’hôtes “Ventou Yama”as a tribute to the Mont Ventoux and to Mount Fuji called Fuji Yama in Japan, (only on reservation). www.florencegosset.com
Places to eat:
In Brantes Jacquelines & Odile, “Les Aventurieres du Gout”, the Taste Explorers, share their passion for wild plants with you. You will first follow Jacqueline through paths where she picks up wild edible herbs and flowers, then back to their house Odile will teach how to make a delicious veggie meal from starter to dessert with the picking of the day and the fruits and vegetables from their garden. A memorable experience! To make a reservation call: +33 4 75 28 86 77.
In Puymeras Roger Trappo will welcome you in his restaurant, the “Girocedre”. In the shade of the trees you will seat in the garden and have a great meal: white truffle salad, wood fire grilled specialities, local goat cheeses, fruits tarts…The Provencal true good living! https://www.legirocedre.fr/
In Seguret you can have generous and fresh plates at “Côté Terrasse”, while enjoying the beautiful view over the vineyards from the big terrace. It’s a nice place for a good meal after visiting Seguret one of the most beautiful French villages.
A Place to stay:
“Les Chambres d’Anne-Marie” is a beautiful and quit B&B where Anne-Marie and her husband welcome you in their farm. Surrounded by vineyards the farm is an authentic Provencal mas carefully restored. They have 3 charming bedrooms and you will have a hearty outdoor breakfast enjoying a great view over the Entrechaux castle. Not to mention the swimming pool that is more than desirable after a hot summer day in the nearby villages. To book a room call Anne-Marie: + 33 4 90 65 0193.
For more information get in touch with the friendly team working at the tourism office in Vaison la Romaine centre or on line: http://www.vaison-ventoux-tourisme.com/#
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny