My Favorite Rides (#2): The Gorges de la Nesque, with Wild Boar & Sheep

Why do those guys up there on the ridge have guns – really big guns? Should I be worried? Scared? 

I was in the midst of one of my all-time favorite rides – the Gorges de la Nesque in Provence – and, it was hunting season.

Wild boar hunting season. It seems wild boar have overrun Provence and are destroying crops, especially vineyards. Wild boar love grapes. Who can blame them?

I’ll get back to the wild boar, plus an American protesting the hunting of them, but first, the Nesque. It’s probably the most scenic ride in all of Provence.

It takes millions of years to form a gorge, as the water from a river (in this case, the Nesque), rain and wind carve away the soils and rocks. Cycling through a gorge always remind me of the Flintstones, yes, the Flintstones. How’s that for an out-of-nowhere reference? The episode where Fred and Barney are out walking, I don’t remember why, and come across the tiniest of creeks. 

And there’s a sign that reads: Grand Canyon.

Anyway, back to the Nesque. My ride usually starts in Bedoin, although it can also begin in Sault, or Venesque.

From Bedoin, head east and south toward the little town on Flassan. Then on to Villes-sur-Auzion and onto the D942 and the start of the gorge. Do not follow the D1 signs to Sault. 

Off in the distance, looming above everything, all white and ominous at the peak: the mighty Mont Ventoux. Which dominates this portion of Provence. You can see it from everywhere. Daring me to climb it. Most everyone who comes to climb the Ventoux also does a Nesque loop. It would be a shame to come all this way and not do both.

From Villes-sur-Auzon you have to climb up and over a preliminary peak to get “inside” the gorge. Once you do, the fun – and the amazing views – begin. It’s a long, gentle – and sometimes a little steep – climb to the top and you pass through three tunnels carved into the side of the stone cliffs. Below, hundreds of feet down, is the river.

I’ve ridden the Nesque several times. On one ride, a group of about 10 French guys passed me. I joined their pack, and was able to keep up with them and even chat a bit as we climbed.

They were from Annecy and had come to Provence to climb the Ventoux, which they had done the day before. Several spoke English and one of the guys told me that one of the guys up at the front of the pack was born and grew up in New York, and I should talk to him when we got to the top and stopped to take in the view.

We picked up the pace as we approached the last few kilometers of the climb, and turned it into a race because … well, why not? I was able to stay with the lead pack for a kilometer or so, as one, two, and then three riders dropped off the back and quickly fell behind. My legs and lungs were screaming, and I started to crack. I wasn’t the only one, and our pack of about six split apart. 

It was like being in the Tour de France! 

Two guys surged ahead and the rest of us fell back and finished as an exhausted-yet-smiling group.

We regrouped at the top, at the viewing station, with the Ventoux off in the distance, and I talked with the guy from New York. We compared route notes, Mont Ventoux experiences, etc. The guys were headed back the way we’d come, while I was headed down the other side of the gorge to Sault.

And then, this happened (from my journal):

This annoying American woman interrupted us and started lecturing us about the wild boars and the hunters and their hunting dogs. How they are tame creatures and the hunters shoot the mothers while giving birth. ‘Have any of your wives given birth?’ she said. She was relentless. And said the meat [from the wild boar] gives you cancer and the hunters don’t care. I have no idea if any of this is true. We are cyclists, not hunters, why was she lecturing us? She wouldn’t stop and killed my conversation with the guys, and one-by-one they walked away to get away from her, and then rode off to get even further away from her. I was tempted to ask her where she was from and what she was doing here protesting, but I learned a long time ago [as a newspaper reporter] not to engage and encourage this type of fanatic. You could be trapped for hours.

On another Nesque ride, there was a sheep at the top. A single, solitary sheep. She looked lost and lonely, and was probably wondering where the heck all the other sheep had gone. I’ve seen a herd of sheep near the top of the Ventoux on an early-morning ride up the mountain, but there wasn’t another sheep within miles of where we were on the Nesque. 

There wasn’t much I could do … other than take this photo. She didn’t seem to mind. I hope she made it back to the flock.

On another Nesque loop, Susan and I stopped – of course – at the viewing station. And she did one of her “famous” headstands – and I got this shot. 

The ride down the gorge to Sault is fast and spectacular, as the valley on the other side is spread out in front of you, with Sault off in the distance, atop a hill. You can see the patchwork of farms, a sea of greens and blues.

As you approach Monieux, which is down in the valley, you’ll see the remains of a castle high up on a hill.

There’s a bit of a climb into Sault, which is also usually packed with cyclists. The Sault route up to the top of the Ventoux is considered the easiest of the three routes and … it is. For the first 20 kilometers. Then you reach the Chalet Reynard and join the Bedoin route for the final 6 Ks to the top. The toughest, windiest, steepest 6 Ks.

There’s a cafe at the edge of Sault, with a view across the valley and up to the summit of the Ventoux. We’ve stayed in Sault a few times, as it’s actually a nicer town than Bedoin. And, there’s nothing better than an evening spent at the café, drinking beer, eating pizza and admiring the view.

From Sault, you can head back the way you came, or, to make this a truly epic ride … climb the Ventoux (the Sault route is the easiest, with easy being a relative term) and then back down to Bedoin. I’ve done this twice and these just might be the two best rides of my life.

Here’s the link to my post on my first “favorite” ride … and Here’s the link to my Biking Provence book. I’ve taken all five of my Biking France books off Amazon, iBooks and all the other eBook platforms. They’re now PDFs and $2 or $3 less each.

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