Prior to the Jurassic period (more than 150 million years ago), Mont Ventoux was nothing more than a sedimentary basin. The formation of the Pyrenees resulted in a geological compression of northern and southern tectonic plates, which led eventually to the formation of a relief at the site of Mont Ventoux around 95 million years ago. During the Tertiary (Cenozoic) period, Mont Ventoux continued to gradually take shape. With the advancement of the Ligurian Sea into Provence, the mountain developed into an island over a 20 million year period. Between 10 million BC and 2 million BC, the force of colliding alpine mountain ranges further accentuated earlier evolutionary trends. As a result of these massive geological forces, Ventoux became the highest massif in Provence. During the Quaternary or Paleolithic era, the emergence of the Alps continued to form a rugged terrain bordering the Ventoux. This evolution continues today at a rate of less than 1 mm/year.
The gray-white summit of Mont Ventoux is covered in a blanket of snow for three to four months of the year. The widespread coverage of essentially calcareous stones gives the illusion of a snowy summit regardless of the season. The natural stone piles are in fact the result of the combined effects of the development of two ancient glaciers (the Riss Glacier and the Würm Glacier) and the strong winds, notably the Mistral, that blow at the top of Mont Ventoux. These winds blow at more than 90 km/hour for up to two thirds of the year. The Ventoux’s form has also been shaped by water that has since resulted in the formation of a huge reservoir serving the Comtat Venaissin region of the Vaucluse. The mountain’s south side constitutes a natural barrier against moist air masses coming from the Mediterranean, and abundant rainfall from higher altitudes. Most of the water infiltrates the limestone massif and springs in large part at Fontaine de Vaucluse, 30 miles to the south, largely feeding the Carpentras plains.
Mont Ventoux deserves its nickname as the Giant of Provence. It sits at the crossroads of several different worlds. It is known for its beautiful scenery and is the link between the irrigated plains of the Comtat Venaissin, and the harsher and more arid highlands of Provence, where Jean Giono lived. The summit of Mont Ventoux has an exceptionally rich biodiversity. In the surrounding area a great variety of trees can be found such as holm oak, white oak, beech, and pine which inch up to the stony summit cap. The forested area consists of a great variety of flora and fauna: rub deer, roe wild boar, mouflon sheep of Corsica, Alpine chamois, more than 120 bird species (including raptors and golden eagles), reptiles like the Orsini viper, and a wide variety of insects (studied by Jean-Henri Fabre in the nineteenth century).
Due to its unparalleled richness, the Ventoux was classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1990. This international classification rightfully recognizes the region’s rich culture and history as well as the respect given to its heritage. The Reserve is committed to protecting the natural resources, landscapes and ecosystems, as well as ensuring the on-going development of human activities. It is destined in the near future to become a designated natural park.