THE BARREN PEAK of Provence’s Mont Ventoux has a fearsome reputation among professional cyclists, but the Giant of Provence is also proof of the great cycling truism: Anyone with a bike can ride the same mountains as cycling’s heroes.
The Tour de France will return to Ventoux for the 15th time this summer, bringing with it enormous crowds. But even outside of those raucous days, the area remains the perfect place to make your own breakaway, offering everything from medieval architecture to mountain-reared pork and lamb, to be washed down, of course, with robust local wine.
Unlike multi-mountain holidays such as the Raid PyrÃ©nÃ©enâthe route across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the MediterraneanâMont Ventoux is ideally suited to credit-card touring and has enough off-the-bike diversions to be more than just a cycling holiday. Instead of climbing several mountains over several days, moving from hotel to hotel as you go, here you can stay in one location and choose three routes up one mountain.
Professional cyclists can make the ascent in just over an hour of nonstop cycling. Strong club riders will manage it in about double that time, but anyone who is fit and healthy can attempt the climb as long as you allow yourself several hours for rest stops.
Here’s our guide to an ascendant weekend on Mont Ventoux.
7:46 p.m. | Arrive at Avignon TGV and head to the small commune of Crillon le Brave, near the foot of Mont Ventoux. Hardened cyclists may want to ride the 40 kilometer journey, or you can take a taxi for around â¬80.
8:40 p.m. | As well as being a perfect base camp for all three ascents of Ventoux, the Relais & ChÃ¢teaux’s Hotel Crillon le Brave is a beautiful place to stay. Its guest rooms are spread across several 17th-century houses linked by courtyards and bridges, and set alongside a pool and restaurant area where you can dine on local specialties, including filet d’agneau, and sip ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape. If you’re traveling without your bike, you can rent one from the hotel, which also has a Coureurs du Ventoux guest book to record your time. Rooms from â¬280 per night; place de l’Ãglise, crillonlebrave.com
10 a.m. | Cyclists looking to record a good time for the ascent tend to set off early in the morning to avoid having to ride in the midday sun, but if you’re planning to bike at an unhurried pace, you can afford to leave later. Take the D974 and D164 toward Sault and enjoy a late breakfast at Le ProvenÃ§al, a courtyard cafe in one of the town’s venerable buildings, where you can enjoy local pÃ¢tÃ© and lamb dishes for very reasonable prices. rue Porte des Aires; +33 (0)4 90 64 09 09
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12 p.m. | Arrive in Sault, often thought of as the gentlest ascent and the most traditionally picturesque route. The town sits on the tip of the Vaucluse plateau, looking west toward Ventoux. Head to its elevated public boules court, from where you can see farmhouses dotted among the vast, blue fields of lavender the city is known for. Everywhere in town you’ll be greeted by the stylized ceramic cicadas designed by Louis Sicard.
From here, ride up the hill into Sault’s winding medieval streets, where you’ll find well-preserved 16th-century houses and a moving Maquis memorial. Grab lunch at one of the numerous cafes and enjoy the laid-back, Gallic culture, with a good view, a strong drink and not a laptop in sight.
1 p.m. | Begin your 26-kilometer ride from the boules court, dropping down the short, steep road into the valley and heading toward Ventoux on the narrow D164, making long sweeps left and right across the valley before entering the beech forests and starting the climb. The ascent from Sault is the longest of the three, and consequently the gentlest, with the early roads in the forest taking long, straight tilts.
2:30 p.m. | Two-thirds of the way into your climb, approaching the cafe and ski station at Chalet Reynard, the route is almost flat. The easing gradient comes at just the point where the road starts to lift out of the trees, giving you respite and a view to enjoy with it. The crowdsâand applauseâthat greet your arrival at the chalet can be a shock after 15 kilometers of comparative solitude. Eat at the cafe and refill your water bottles before tackling the last leg. +33 (0)4 90 61 84 55; chalet-reynard.fr
3 p.m. | From here, you enter the iconic “moonscape,” where the peak of the mountain, beginning in the 12th century, was deforested to feed the shipyards in distant Toulon. The roads are steeper, and the mistral can be as difficult as the gradients if you’re unfortunate enough to find a headwind.
3:40 p.m. | After a few kilometers on the limestone slopes, stop at the Tom Simpson memorial for a reflective moment, leaving a bottle or cycling cap in tribute to the World Champion who died here during the 1967 Tour de France. This stop is also a useful respite before the final kilometer up to the last hairpin and the tiny, steep ramp to the Ventoux observatory.
4 p.m. | Spend some time getting your breath back and taking in the spectacular views. Despite being a crowded tourist spot, the summit of Ventoux has little more than a gift shop to offer, where you can buy sweets and souvenirs before starting the descent.
The contrast between the hours of ascending and the minutes of descending is striking. Even if you’re riding cautiously, you will be back in Crillon le Brave and taking a dip in the hotel’s pool within the hour. Take the descent cautiously, watching for oncoming cars that have pulled into your lane to overtake ascending riders.
10 a.m. | Follow the D138 through four kilometers of fields and flatlands from Crillon le Brave to BÃ©doin and start your morning with a tour of the town.
For cyclists, BÃ©doin is both Mecca and the Glastonbury festival, a place of solemn pilgrimage, yet so filled with kindred spirits that it is hard to avoid an atmosphere of communal celebration. You cannot take a photograph without a handlebar, a wheel or a Lycra-clad thigh intruding into it.
Fortify yourself for the journey ahead the way professionals did in less scientific days: with steak tartare at a roadside cafe. For something less visceral, lunch at the Hotel des Pins’s restaurant, L’Esprit Jardin, where you can have another ProvenÃ§al speciality, cÃ´te de porc du Ventoux aux girolles. Mains from â¬15, hotel-des-pins.fr
1 p.m. | From BÃ©doin, ride gently through the vineyards of St.-Colombe and St.-EstÃ¨ve, spinning a lower gear than you think you need and saving yourself for the beautiful but unrelenting climb through the forest, where you’ll hit stretches of gradients that average 9% and peak at more than 12% along this 21-kilometer route.
2:40 p.m. | Stop at the signpost for Petit Moutet, about 12 kilometers up the climb, and enjoy the vista between two sections of forest. Few other vantage points include so much of Ventoux’s varied terrain. It can be daunting, but keep in mind that the summit isn’t going anywhere: Measure your efforts, take in the lush woodland and rocky passes and work your way up to Chalet Reynard, where you’ll benefit from familiarity with the final kilometers of the route.
4:30 p.m. | On your downhill leg, stop for a cooling demi-pression at Le Guintrand, a quiet cafe bar in St.-Colombe that offers shady outdoor tables and a view of the route without the bustle of BÃ©doin itself (+33 (0)4 90 37 10 08; leguintrand.com
). Once refreshed, cross the road for dinner beneath the hanging baskets at La Colombe. +33 (0)4 90 65 61 20
9 a.m. | The route along the D13 and D938 to MalaucÃ¨ne is a short but rolling 16 kilometersâjust enough to warm up for the final, third ascent. Begin the journey from MalaucÃ¨ne, which has neither BÃ©doin’s single-mindedness nor the valley vistas of Sault, yet in many ways is the start of the Ventoux legend. It was from MalaucÃ¨ne that the Renaissance poet Petrarch made one of the first ascents of the mountain, albeit on foot rather than on a carbon-fiber wonderbike. It is said that Petrarch’s account of climbing Ventoux popularized Alpinism, and MalaucÃ¨ne remains popular with rock climbers to this day.
11 a.m. | The ascent from MalaucÃ¨ne can be as tough as the climb from BÃ©doin, but with more shelter from the wind. It will take you three or four hours, depending on how well you have recovered from your previous exertions. While you will spend long spells riding up 9-10% slopes, the steep sections are broken up by gentler pitches of around 3%âand even the odd false-flat. This forces some grueling changes of rhythm, but also allows you some respite.
1:20 p.m. | By the time you reach Mont Serein, you’ve tackled the hardest that the MalaucÃ¨ne ascent has to offer and the final stretch is similar to the BÃ©doin ascent.
2:20 p.m. | On the descent to BÃ©doin, stop at Chalet Reynard for one final lunch, before returning to the hotel and departing. Express trains to Paris leave Avignon TGV every hour, and although the distance from Crillon le Brave to Avignon was ridable Friday, no one could fault you for taking a taxi back.