The One You Can See From Avignon - Mont Ventoux seen from Crestet ©Unfolding Provence

A few places are iconic in Provence. Iconic as in must-see.

One is Mont Ventoux, the 1912 meters (6,273 ft) mountain with a permanently white top.

Have you come across it?

It stands out for miles and miles in the countryside and can even be seen from Avignon (another iconic-place-not-to-be-missed).

What’s so special about Mont Ventoux?

At first you see a green mass with a white summit and you may think, so what, it’s a mountain like any other mountain. And yet, when you spend time with it, you discover different facets.

It’s like a large playground ripe for fun times.

Here are five aspects you may not know about.

1. Is it snow we can see at the top at the height of summer?

In short, no!

The top is covered by limestone scree eroded by ice and wind. The sharp edged stones reflect light and give, from afar, the impression of snow.

2. How ancient are its forests?

Would you believe the dark green forest covering mountain passes and valleys is not much more than a hundred years old?

Yes, Mont Ventoux was bare at the beginning of the 20th century.

Can you imagine seeing Mont Ventoux stripped of all trees? Not only on its summit, like it is now, but right down to the bottom except in a few remote valleys?

View of Mont Ventoux Bare | old black and white postcard

1930s Post Card of the Toulourenc Valley

It all started in the 12th century when the shipyard industry in the Mediterranean demanded high volume of wood.

It carried on when the forest was destroyed ruthlessly to make room for pastureland, its wood burnt for charcoal or exploited for other human needs.

This lasted until the mid 19th century.

Then, villagers started complaining of increasing erosion. Land slides and mud slides started to affect their lives in the valleys.

The problem could no longer be ignored.

Local authorities, forestry and governmental organisations came together. They set up administrative and legal frameworks and went about organising a re-forestation programme.

Different trees were selected, seeds collected or bought, tree nurseries organised, the villagers’ help enlisted and the ambitious project began. Little by little, stones were removed and the ground was prepared to plant seeds and saplings at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Now, wildlife is thriving and benefits from a protective status called Natura 2000.

Mont Ventoux is covered with Scots pines, mountain pines, fir trees, beeches, holm oaks, larches, Atlas cedars and over 1500 different Mediterranean and sub-alpine shrubs and plants spread across its ecological strata.

They support a rich fauna including wild boar, wolves, deer, chamois, royal eagles and a multitude of insects, butterflies and birds.

3. Station Mont Serein

En route to the top from the north side via Malaucène, it’s worth stopping at one of France’s oldest ski resorts at an altitude of 1383 metres, Station Mont Serein.

Vue from Mont Serein ©Unfolding Provence | A summer evening with a flock of sheep on Mont Ventoux

The Meteorological Tower seen from Mont Serein

Yes you can ski in Provence.

In Winter.

When snow shows up.

At that time, you cannot go further up: access to the summit by car is closed.

In summer, it’s a family friendly nature resort with several activities and a welcome spot of coolness when sweltering summer temperatures reach oppressive heights.

Its combination of grassland often grazed by a large flock of sheep and a mature forest make it fun to explore.

You can even walk in the shoes of the famous entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre by following one of its eponymous discovery trail. Fabulous views are included.

4. The Summit

When you reach the summit, now only on foot (car parks are available near the summit), trees become sparse. Dwarfed shrubs show up here and there among a scree of dazzling stones. It’s a striking sight, virgin-looking apart from a few man-made buildings such as the meteorological tower, the Sainte-Croix chapel and a round-shaped radôme used to house a radar antenna.

If you are lucky, on a clear day, you’ll enjoy a fantastic 360 degree view of the Alps (east), the Vercors (north), the Rhône Valley(west), the Cévennes(south west), the Monts du Vaucluse (south) and Mont Sainte-Victoire(further south).

Groups of little dots will reveal towns and villages. And, if you are lucky, you’ll see glimpses of the Mediterranean sea (you can reach by car within a short couple of hours).

Looking North from Mont Ventoux's Summit ©Unfolding Provence

Looking North from the Summit

Then you’ll sit down on the limestone, taking it all in.

Next to you, you’ll start noticing little sparkles of colour. Are they sweets’ wrapping left behind?

You can’t imagine anything growing on this inhospitable arid ground beaten by heavy wind.

And yet, on closer inspection, you’ll discover little green cushions of vegetation with exquisite little flowers, white, yellow, orange, blue. All with different shapes.

At this altitude above 1700 meters known as the sub-alpin stage, alpine plants rub shoulders with Mediterranean plants like true lavender and other plants found throughout the mountain.

Two plants still in flower in late August:

Mont Ventoux White Flower © Unfolding Provence | White alpine flower on Mont Ventoux

White flax Linum suffruticosum

Mont Ventoux Purple Flower © Unfolding Provence | Purple alpine flower on Mont Ventoux

Plumeless thistle Carduus defloratus

5. First Ascent

Mont Ventoux attracts outdoor enthusiasts, hikers (hiking trails crisscross the mountain), and cyclists who undertake the gruelling steep sharp bends made popular by ‘Le Tour de France’, the French cycling race taking place in July.

Even though the mountain was known to Celts and Romans, its first recorded ascent took place much later.

It’s attributed to Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374), the Italian poet and scholar.

On 26 April 1336 he reached the summit and launched a new activity, climbing a mountain for leisure.

Since, scientists and a few notables have explored the Giant of Provence included, in the 19th century, the entomologist Jean-Henry Fabre.

6. Bonus question: Can you guess where the nale Mont Ventoux comes from?

If you are familiar with the French language, you might think the word ‘Ventoux’ has some link with the word Vent (wind) but that’s not the case.

In the provençal language, it’s known as Mont Ventor or Mount Ventour. The word Ventour appeared in the 2nd century in its latin form, Vĭntur. The root -vin signifies a place that’s high up and -tur indicates a distance.

So, according to current toponymy, Mont Ventoux means ‘the mountain that can be seen from far away’.

It’s appropriate, don’t you think?


You can enjoy the sight of the seemingly eternal snow-capped Mont Ventoux from afar but you’ll have to come closer to appreciate what the mountain decides to reveal.

It’s no wonder it’s beloved of artists and poets.