Mention the words “Mont Ventoux” and most people instantly think of the Tour de France and some of the most grueling physical dramas in cycling history. Mont Ventoux has been part of 15 Tour stages since 1951, and 9 stages have concluded at the summit. The “Beast of Provence” has made the region a magnet for serious cyclists from around the world….and not a cycling destination for the rest of us.
Every July, hundreds, possibly thousands of spouses, girlfriends or significant others are left at home while their partner goes to Provence for the annual ritual of conquering Mont Ventoux. Up until recently, I assumed that this area was strictly for very serious cyclists, the kind who speed up a mountain next to me as if I was standing still….and probably weigh half my weight soaking wet! I think there are probably a lot of people like me, who have always assumed that cycling in this region was out of their reach. But during my trip to Provence this summer I learned that the area around Mont Ventoux is also great for recreational cycling, accessible to all ages and cycling abilities. Who would have thought this would be the case?
With that said, this is still the home of one of the most tortuous mountain ascents in France, so there is a lot of very difficult cycling. But according to my friends from the Vaucluse Office of Tourism, the area is also perfect for recreational cyclists like me, so next month, I am going to test the area out. There are 14 itineraries in the region around the piedmont of Mont Ventoux with more than 350 km of signposted trails. Four are classified as easy, 6 as intermediate, and 4 as difficult. You can find more information on the cycling itineraries around Mont Ventoux on the Regional Website of the Vaucluse.
The easy itineraries travel through varied landscapes including the Ventoux vineyards, orchards and olive groves around the foothills of the Giant of Provence. The Comtat Venaissin offers the easiest rides, offering open landscapes with Ventoux, the Dentelles de Montmiral and the Monts de Vaucluse as a backdrop. Cyclists can enjoy the ecosystems and the flora that have earned Mont Ventoux the designation of Biosphere Reserve. In the summertime, cyclists can enjoy expansive fields of lavender and a wide range of local products like strawberries from Carpentras, cherries from Monts de Vaucluse, and discover special treats like berlingots. Year round, they are treated to wine from Ventoux, Muscat from the Beaumes de Venise area as well as local goat cheeses and herbs.
The itineraries in the Mont Ventoux region are just one part of the overall bicycling network of the Vaucluse region with hundreds of kilometers of signposted bicycling circuits. I explored the southern part of this region including the Luberon, the vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape and parts of the Pays des Sorgues this summer. This trip, I will have the opportunity to not only explore the foothills of Ventoux, but I will also tour several routes in the Upper Vaucluse as well as a new route near Caderousse, part of the much anticipated ViaRhona route.
The towns and villages along my route in the Vaucluse are so incredible that it may be difficult to stay on my bike every day! My trip will start in the Roman provencal town of Orange, founded in 35 BC. The city is best known for its Roman theatre, the best preserved theatre in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city’s Triumphal Arch, which recently underwent major renovations is now considered one of the best in France. Orange is very accessible by train, and there are a number of good bicycle rental companies. I will be renting bikes from Thierry Ayme at Sport Aventure. I’m excited because Thierry’s bike of choice is the French Gitane that I love.
From Orange, I will head north and east, destination for Vaison-La-Romaine, one of the most important Roman heritage sites in France. If you’re sensing a Roman thing, you are right, my husband and I both love Roman history! I am also excited because I will be in town for the Tuesday morning weekly market, one of the biggest in the area. It will be the perfect place to get supplies for a picnic lunch near Ventoux. From Vaison-la-Roman, it’s off to explore the routes around Mont Ventoux where I will spend a couple of days. I plan to talk with some of the Mont Ventoux bicycle companies that have recently started to rent e-bikes for exploring the more challenging routes near Ventoux. There will definitely be a lot to report back to you on regarding bicycling around Mont Ventoux.
Last but not least, a bicycling trip to this area would not be complete without spending some time exploring the vineyards of the Cotes du Rhone and the Cotes du Ventoux, perhaps even a little tasting. Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise and a return trip to Chateauneuf du Pape are just a few of the famous wine towns I’ll have the opportunity to visit enroute back to Orange.
I’m excited about this trip. Not only because of how much I love exploring any part of France by bike, but also because my reports on my experiences can help open this region to more cyclists like myself. So if you’ve ever been a Mont Ventoux widow, left behind when your significant other went to ride the Beast of Provence, stay tuned. If this area is accessible to a recreational cyclist like me, it may be for you too!
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