Montagne Sainte Victoire is a wide massif in Southern France, stretching in the West-East direction and reaching on its highest point the altitude of 1011 m. It's a veritable symbol of Provence, like the Sainte-Baume and Mount Ventoux, the major landmarks of the Aix-en-Provence region. Montagne Sainte-Victoire appears as a huge rocky bastion 18 km long and 5 km wide with a 7 km long summit plateau.
This charmer massif, rising from the Mediterranean plains with its immaculate rocks, exerts an extraordinary appeal even if observed from a distance. The highest point is the Pic des Mouches at 1011 m, while the well known summit called Croix de Provence (945 m), with its 19 metres high cross, although not placed at the highest point of the mountain, stands out from the ridge far more than the Pic des Mouches.
The massif is mainly built of beautiful white limestones, while in the lower part other rock structures are also present. This is giving the range a palette of vivid colours, besides white also all variants of red.
The two sides of the massif are very different: to the North a steppe which at the bottom land gives way to the forest of oaks and pines of Aleppo, sloping towards the Vallon de Delubre and the village of Vauvenargues, to the South a seemingly insurmountable sunny wall, mostly a sheer, almost vertical drop, while the Northern side is far less steep. On the area various karst phaenomena can be seen. One such example are rock windows or in some cases deep caves, such as for example Garagaï gouffre. West of the mountain is the well known town Aix en Provence. To the NE of the mountain two artificial lakes can be seen. The dam of the lower one is called Barrage Zola, after its architect Francesco Zola, the father of the well known writer Emile Zola. This dam and the higher Barrage de Bimont were constructed already in the middle of 19th century, ensuring manageable water resources for the whole area.
The mountain has a long and rich history. Below it, fierce battles between Ancient Romans and the neighbouring tribes took place, on the southern side remains of an ancient town can be seen (also Aix flourished under the Ancient Romans), later the western summit - Croix de Provence - became widely known for pilgrimage. In the 13th century, a chapel dedicated to "Sainte Venture", as the mountain was once also called, was built just below its summit - below Brèche des Moines (Monks' Notch). Today a priory from the 17th century stands there.
It is called Notre-Dame-de-Ste-Victoire and on top of the nearby mountain a 19 m high cross was erected. In 1989 a huge fire devastated 5000 hectars of forests and the mountain has still been recovering from that. It is said that in summer the access is restricted, but otherwise hikes on top are very popular. It is estimated that 700 000 people ascend it each year. Far the most popular is the summit of Croix de Provence. The area of Montagne Sainte Victoire is also proclaimed to be one of Grand Sites de France.
here an example, posted on Wikipedia.
Getting ThereBy plane - Sainte Victoire massif is situated 35 km from Marseille and 180 km from Nice, so the best option is to fly to Marseille or Nice and rent a car.
By car - The nearest town is Aix-en-Provence. The A8 autoroute runs South of Sainte Victoire and Aix-en-Provence. If coming from the Nice direction, exit the A8 onto the RN 7 in the direction of Aix. From Aix, take the "Route de Cézanne", road D17, which traverses under the south side of the massif from Les Tholonet to Puyloubier. There are several parking lots along this road.
The whole Montagne Sainte Victoire can be encircled by a good, panoramic local road, which brings us to all trailheads.
For Croix de Provence the most important trailheads are:
- On the South: The parking place at Maison de Sainte-Victoire and the two (lower) parking places more to the west, near Le Bouquet.
- On the north: The village of Vauvenargues (Les Cabasols).
Red TapeNo fees, no permits required and no restriction from October to May, while the access to Sainte-Victoire is strictly regulated from June 1st to September 30th to avoid any risk of fire. Indeed, during the summer months, due to the heat, the climate-dryness and the intense sunshine, the fire hazard is very high. The restriction depends on the weather condition.
You must call the day before 18:00 on 08 11 20 13 13 to know the conditions of access or visit the site http://www.ancien.paca.gouv.fr/files/massif/index.php. There are 3 levels of forest fire danger: the orange level (you can hike), the red level (you can hike between 6am and 11am in the morning and the black level (the hike is forbidden under penalty of fine).
Wild camping is of course also forbidden.
Nature and climateMontagne Saint Victoire has been recognised as a Grand Site de France since 2004 and is a French jewel of natural heritage which must be preserved.
Covering 35,000 hectares near Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, the Concors and Sainte-Victoire massifs form the largest single wooded area in the department of Bouches du Rhône.
Climate is typically Mediterranean, characterized by a great dryness with high sunshine. The area is sometimes subject to the strong wind from the northwest, the "mistral".
Although the massif is next to an area of intense urbanization and is very frequented (we talk about a million visitors a year), it's a coffer of biodiversity.
At least 20% of all the French flora, 900 species, was found on this massif in a relatively limited space, that provides a plurality of environments and habitats, with vegetation ranging from that one typical of steppes and cliffs, to that one of wetlands.
The fauna is rich and diverse, especially on the Northern side. Here live the wild boar and the fox. There were observed 130 species of squirrels and several species of raptors, these latter especially on the S side.
Other info here: Grande Site Sainte Victoire
Main interests: hiking, scrambling, climbingHiking
The main interests in the area are one day and half a day walks, M-biking and particularly trad and sport climbing, plus scrambling and easy summiting.
Croix de Provence (945 m), with its 19 metres high cross, although not placed at the highest point of the mountain, is a popular hiking destination, like several other places in the massif, which can be explored along its countless paths, also to look at the fascinating sites of religious heritage, as the Saint-Ser Hermitage, a tiny chapel surrounded by wonderful scenery, or the Sainte-Victoire Priory.
A perfect area for walking, but even more to climb. Montagne de Sainte-Victoire is really a wonderful world of stone, therefore it's a great drawn for climbers, due to the amazing limestone, the plenty of routes on all the summits, the beauty of the landscape. The rock climbing destination at Sainte Victoire is the South face, which counts around 1000 routes, 29 or more sectors and 7 separate parking lots, an astounding space to climb up a surprisingly sticky limestone. As it's the custom in France, here different ways of climb and equipment coexist, and thus we can find routes with different styles and committment, ranging from the modern well equipped single pitches to the partially equipped routes and the high walls, plenty of long and adventurous routes, which nowadays often remain parsimoniously equipped.
Normal Routes Overview
As told in the previous chapter, the rock climbing destination at Sainte Victoire is the South face, which counts around 1000 routes, 29 or more sectors and 6 separate parking lots. The climbs are of all difficulties and of heigths up to 400 meters. We can find routes with different styles and committment, ranging from the modern well equipped single pitches to the partially equipped routes and the high walls, plenty of long and adventurous routes, which nowadays often remain parsimoniously equipped.
To simplify the access to the various cliffs and walls, sometimes not easy given the extension of the massif, the different climbing sectors have been divided into 6 major groups depending on the departure parking lot. The 6 parking lots are arranged in order of increasing numbers from West to East along the road that skirts the massif to the South and leads to Puyloubiere:
- P1 Parking Cézanne - The main sectors are: Baou Cezanne, Falaise du Prieure, Dalles Grises, Grotte de l'Os et Perroquet Vert, Falaise de la Croix
- P2 Parking des Deux Aiguilles - The main sectors are: Deux Aguilles, Le Grand Parcours, la Paroi du Signal, Aiguille des Gatz'Arts
- P3 Parking de la Carrière - Surplomb de la Carriere, Roque Vaoutarde
- P4 Parking du Collet de Saint-Pierre - Paroi de la Vierge, Piliers de Subèroque, Baou de Saint Saturnin
- P5 Parking du Saut du Loup - Baou des Vespres, Tour Rouge, Grand Couloir, Genty
- P6 Parking de Saint-Ser - Ermitage, Vallèe de la Tine
A short history of climbs
The first true climbs were done on Montagne Sainte Victoire in the 40-ies of the previous century. In the next 20 years all most important climbing routes were done. Two of these became a legend: Les 2 Aiguilles and Saint Ser. In 70-ies the era of technical climbing began and in 80-ies almost all the rest among nowadays routes were climbed. At that time this climbing area was one of the most important ones in France. After the big fire some restrictions were introduced and the routes needed to be equipped again. Also in Montagne Sainte Victoire cleaning of routes started, when much of the equipment was removed out of the walls.
Summit ViewBeing so far to the south, Montagne Sainte Victoire, and its western summit Croix de Provence as well, offer a breathtaking panorama. In a clear day towards the south views fly to the Mediterannean sea and towards the NE to Alps Maritimes. All the hilly Provence is around us and on the west the big town Aix en Provence can be clearly seen. We can see the mountain massifs of Ste-Baume and Étoile on the south, more to the right the Vitrolles chain, the Crau plane and the valley of Durance river, Luberon and in the Sainte Victoire range itself, to the east we see a bit higher Pic des Mouches. The nearby scenery is also very picturesque: vertical limestone crags, sharp ridges and up to the top growing mediterannean flora.
Huts And CampingThere are different places to stay close to Montagne Sainte Victoire.
We can find equipped campsites in Puyloubier, Beaurecueuil,Rousset and Peynier:
- Camping Sainte-Victoire (Beaurecueil)
- Camping Le Devançon (Peynier)
- Camping Le Cézanne (Puyloubier)
- Camping du Coteau de la Marine (Rousset)
Alternatively Gites are available in St. Antonin and Puyloubier and Hotels in Puyloubier, Rousset, Peynier, Fuveau.
When to climb and hikeIn addition to being strictly reagulated, climbing and hiking in high summer are not advisable in reason of the excessive heat. You can climb and walk also during the winter, but sometimes the weather can be cold and windy.
MeteoMeteoblue Montagne Saint Victoire
Daniel Gorgeon et Philippe Légier: Escalade en pays d'Aix. Nota Bene, 320 pages, last edition: 2015.
History of the pageThis post is a result of only one visit. Montagne Sainte Victoire desperately needs its own page and if somebody wants to take (co-)ownership of this page, please let me know.There's so much to be said about this nice place!
In the beginning the page was named 'Croix de Provence', but as later Alberto created the page of Baou des Vespres and asked me to rename it, now it is the area page of Montagne Sainte Victoire. But most of information here is only about Croix de Provence.
Additions and Corrections[ Post an Addition or Correction ]