This charming village is perched on a hilltop in Provence’s Luberon Valley, the region made famous by Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’. But Roussillon’s fame came long before Mayle, as it was once the world capital of ochre.
Roussillon and the ochre story
Ochre is a naturally occurring pigment that comes in an astonishing variety of colors, from bright shades of yellow and orange to vivid red and purple. It is embedded in certain kinds of clay and prehistoric people used it for cave paintings. The pigment can be extracted to create dyes and this was difficult until the 18th century, when an industrial process was developed.
Ochre mining suddenly became a big business, with Roussillon its world center.
Roussillon, you see, is surrounded by soils rich in ochre.
Imagine a cliff with bands of orange and yellow, and then another that’s red and purple. You might think that’s something out of a fairy tale but no, it’s part of the natural landscape of Roussillon.
Ochre mining made the town prosperous for many years, but in the 20th century cheaper synthetic dyes were developed and the business slowly died out.
The ochre quarries remain, however, and touring them is well worth the visit.
The city has organized a Sentier des Ocres (Ochre Path), an easy walk through the old quarries.
The colours are magnificent! There are two routes, one that takes about 30 minutes and another that’s about an hour. and they are both magical, like nowhere else on earth.
Be warned however, that you will probably pick up brightly colored dust on your shoes and pants so be prepared to brush it off at the end.
Roussillon the village
After your stroll along the Ochre Path, stop for lunch or a cool drink in the village itself.
It is lovely to wander the streets and if you are feeling energetic, there is an excellent vista point at the top of the village with views of the Luberon Valley.
For those who would like to learn more, a former ochre factory has been turned into the Ochre Conservatory, with a very interesting workshop and museum.
Extend your visit beyond Roussillon
You might like to combine a visit to Roussillon with visits to some of the other ‘Most Beautiful‘ villages of the Luberon, like Gordes and Menerbes. And if you haven’t gotten your fill of ochre, be sure to check out the nearby village of Rustrel and its ‘Colorado Provençal‘, another area packed with ochre quarries.
Have you ever been to Roussillon? Which is your favourite village in Provence? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.
There is much to celebrate and experience in Provence. This series sets out to create a collection of highlights – unique features and experiences to be had in Provence. Use this series to create your very own must-do list.
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