• The Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K coach in the vineyards of the Provence.

    Mountain legend: Taking the Tourismo K up the Mont Ventoux.

    Dream routes: Provence.

Mont Ventoux, the “windy mountain”.

The road up to the 1,912-metre-high summit of Mont Ventoux in Provence is seen as a cult stage of the Tour de France – and, with its inclines, bends and breathtaking views, as a dream route for touring coaches. Provided the coach has sufficient engine power and the coach driver has plenty of patience.

Endless vineyards and fragrant lavender fields? Far from it: barren rocky landscape as far as the eye can see. Mediterranean summer temperatures and a mild breeze? Far from it: icy gusts of wind whistle round our coach at speeds of more than 90 km/h. Mont Ventoux, the “windy mountain”, does its name justice and impressively shows visitors to the 1,912-metre-high summit that Provence has other things to offer than the usual clichés, which the tourist office likes to use to advertise this southern region of France.

The Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K coach in the Provence.
The Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K coach climbs Mont Ventoux in the Provence.

Conquering the legendary Tour de France mountain stage.

As uncomfortable as the climate and as barren as the landscape on the summit may be, it does nothing to detract from the attractiveness and fascination of this landmark of Provence, which is visible for miles. Above all it attracts cycling tourists in droves, often driven by the ambition to imitate the professionals and conquer the legendary mountain stage of the Tour de France themselves for once.

For bus driver Jacques Roux from the bus and coach operator Lieutaud Autocars from Avignon, the many cyclists on the 21-kilometre route from the wine village Bédoin at the foot of Mont Ventoux up to the 1,600-metre-high summit at times pose a greater challenge than the steep ascent with inclines up to 13 per cent or the numerous hairpin bends.

The Tourismo K: tremendous manoeuvrability and 350 PS.

At the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K, the coach driver adeptly masters one bend after the other, climbing higher and higher. “The Tourismo K with its length of ten metres drives like a car,” says Roux with delight. “Thanks to the coach’s tremendous manoeuvrability and its 350 PS, the ascent to Mont Ventoux could actually be the purest of pleasures if there weren’t so many cyclists.”

And indeed, before unclear bends or when there is oncoming traffic, he is unable to overtake those on bikes and has to slow the coach almost to walking speed. Then it is a case of shifting down and taking an attentive look upwards. Is anything coming the other way? Accelerate quickly, shift up, gently take the next bend and keep the speed up into the next incline. Only to brake a little later behind the next group of cyclists. “The cyclists are at their most dangerous when they shoot downhill at 80 km/h and cut the corners,” the coach driver knows from many years’ experience.

Bus chauffeur Jacques Roux from the bus operator Lieutaud Autocars from Avignon drives the Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K coach.

Retarder for steep stages.

Where vines and fruit trees bordered the D974 departmental road at the start, not long after the road goes steadily uphill through thick pine forests. The narrow road is adorned here and there with encouraging words in huge letters, bearing testament to the last time this route was used as a hard-fought mountain stage of the Tour de France. A good six kilometres before the summit, at an altitude of 1,400 metres, the landscape changes again: there is no more forest here; instead, the onlooker is greeted with a barren, white rock landscape, which blinds the eyes under the bright Provence sun.

Here, just after the car park at the Chalet Reynard restaurant, a sign warns that from this point on, the mountain pass is prohibited for buses – unless they are equipped with a retarder like our Tourismo K. “Naturally, everything that we drive up now, we must also drive back down,” says driver Jacques Roux. “Without a retarder the brakes would be glowing even after a few kilometres.”

The Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K coach on Mont Ventoux in the Provence.

Overwhelming 360-degree panorama.

Arrived at the summit, an overwhelming 360-degree panorama awaits the visitors: on one side the Rhône valley, on the other the Luberon mountain range, and in clear weather the view even stretches to the Mediterranean Sea nearly 100 kilometres away. Yet as breathtaking as the view may be, the strong wind and the very fresh temperatures even at the height of summer do not invite you to linger. And so coach driver Jacques Roux soon lets the Mercedes-Benz Tourismo K roll back down the steep mountain, its speed gently curbed by the retarder, only to roam a little later through those vineyards and fragrant lavender fields, with which the tourist offices like to advertise Provence so much.

The route to Mont Ventoux is 21.3 kilometres long, has 1,600 metres of ascent, a 7.6 per cent average incline and a 13.9 per cent steepest incline.

About Lieutaud Autocars.

Lieutaud Autocars is one of the oldest transport companies in France. These days, among other things, Lieutaud Autocars specialises in high-end tourism with a particularly discerning VIP clientele from all over the world. Besides tours in the region with coaches and minibuses equipped to a high standard, Lieutaud Autocars also operates scheduled services around Avignon as well as tourist mini-trains and two open-top doubledecker buses for guided tours in Avignon – all equipped with a Mercedes-Benz drive train.

Bus operator Lieutaud Autocars from Avignon offers tours to Mont Ventoux in the Provence.