By Robert Horvat
This is the incredibly beautiful Mont Ventoux. It peaks at 1912m and is known as the Giant of Provence. It also has several other nicknames, including one which I like the best “The Bald Mountain.” From this aerial view of the mountain (in the header image) there is an obvious lack of trees or vegetation at its peak. It’s not snow, although in winter it is definitely covered in heavy Alpine snow. A closer look or street view will reveal an almost lunar landscape of white limestone dirt and rock. Why? I am glad you asked.
Mont Ventoux was once lavishly covered in trees, however from the twelfth century onwards it was heavily logged to support the demands for shipbuilding in the naval port of Toulon. Add to that the call for firewood and charcoal by the people of the region and Ventoux over the centuries eventually became a barren isolated peak. The deforestation had a massive ecological impact on not only the mountain, but also the surrounding flora and fauna in the Provence region of the southern France. It was due to these concerns that an effort to reforest the mountain took place in the nineteenth century. Large tracts of the lower mountain have now been reforested with a variety of trees such as oaks, beeches and cedars. What the plans are for the rest of the top third of the mountain in the future are unclear, though I hope that one day it will be filled with evergreens. I guess I shouldn’t be so pessimistic because below its barren landscape once again thrives an amazing variety of plants, including the many different species of animals and insects that are distinctive to the area. In 1990, UNESCO recognized Mont Ventoux and its surrounds as a unique biosphere.
The earliest memory I have of this great mountain dates back to 1987, when it was used as a summit stage finish for the Tour de France. I was stunned by its beautiful views as it initially rose from the depths of the forest into a stark bare landscape. Being a cycling fan, I am of course aware that it was first used as early as 1951. Its ascent is regarded as probably the most feared of the all the great climbs of the Tour. If the high altitude doesn’t make you dizzy, the summer heat and chaotic winds just may affect both cyclist and tourist. Though its “ruthless” fame as a mountain came about when it claimed the life of English cyclist Tom Simpson in the 1967 Tour. Even the great Eddy Merckx who won the mountain stage on Ventoux in 1970 had to receive oxygen after almost collapsing in complete exhaustion.
On a final note, it’s worth mentioning that on Ventoux summit sits an old disused meteorological station. Its position offers the most amazing panoramic views of not only the valley of the Rhone but the whole Provence region. Keep in mind though the winds on top of the summit can be annoying blowing all year round. The Mont Ventoux mistral has been recorded at speeds as high as 320 kilometres an hour.