This 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!
Montagne Sainte Victoire is a 18 km long and 5 km wide massif in southern France, stretching in the west-east direction and reaching on its highest point (Pic des Mouches) the altitude of 1011 m. In the upper part, the mountain is built of limestone, while in the lower part other rock structures are also present. This is giving the mountain a palette of vivid colours, besides white also all variants of red. The southern side of the range is mostly a sheer, almost vertical drop, while the northern side is far less steep. On the mountain 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. Already in the midle of 19th century that dam and the higher Barrage de Bimont were constructed, 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 forrests 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.
On the southern terrace of Sainte Victoire there are a few villages, and some are also in the valley north of it. There are several trailheads for ascents on the mountain. South of Croix de Provence, after the big fire Maison de Sainte-Victoire was built, hosting today the agency for protection and the parc headquarters, but also a tourist info center. On the other side, on the north, the village of Vauvenargues is well known as the famous Pablo Picasso bought a small castle there and is burried nearby. On the western side every stone and tree reminds on Paul Cézanne, who lived below the mountain and painted there. Montagne Sainte Victoire is often referred simply as the Cézanne's mountain. Today, many of his paintings are in Philadelphia Museum of Art. See here an example, posted on Wikipedia.
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.
Getting ThereSouth of the mountain A8 highway runs. 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:
A short history of climbs
The first true climbs were done in 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.
Today it is estimated that the menu of routes on Montagne Sainte Victoire almost reaches the number of 1000, in 27 sectors, which can be reached from 7 trailheads (parking places). The climbs are of all difficulties and of heigths up to 400 meters.
Red TapeIn high summer (July, August), due to the extreme high risk of fire, all activities outside main roads and paths are forbidden. That means also climbing! Wild camping is of course also forbidden.
Huts And CampingNearby, there are two camps: in Puyloubier village and in Beaurecueil village.
When To Climb?Croix de Provence can be climbed any time of the year, at least by the easiest routes.
Climbing guidebookDaniel Gorgeon et Philippe Légier: Escalade en pays d'Aix. Nota Bene, 320 pages, last edition: 2006.
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