The ochre-red village of Roussillon en Provence one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, (Beautiful Villages of France) is on the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse in Luberon. Roussillon is beautiful, with its red rocks, red stone buildings and red tile roofs sitting in a deep green pine forest on bright red-ochre hills. We spent a beautiful day in Roussillon in the ochre-red village of Provence, it was one of our favorite places we stopped at during our summer road trip this year through Provence.
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Beautiful Villages of France
There are 161 villages in France rated as a Plus Beaux Village (as of 2013). The ratings are awarded by the Plus Beaux Villages de France association. The basic requirements to be considered by the association are: population under 2000, at least two village sites or buildings classified as ‘protected’. We stopped at 3 or 4 of these beautiful hilltop villages during our trip to Provence. Roussillon en Provence is considered one of the most impressive villages in France, it is one of the “must-sees” in the Luberon region, and well worth a detour. We were glad we made room for a visit in our Provence itinerary!
The Ochre Trail (Sentier des Ocres)
The Ochre Trail is a developed pathway through the ochre-colored hills of a former ochre mine. Folklore says that the colors of hills come from the blood of Dame Sermonde who jumped to her death after being confronted by a jealous husband. Or a more realist explanation would be that the hills get the color because of iron oxide deposits that date back millions of years. Regardless of what you believe to be true, don’t miss a walk along the Ochre Trail.
Once you reach the village of Roussillon en Provence, park just outside the village and walk to the center, the directions to the Ochre trail are clearly marked. There is a small fee of a couple of Euros for access to the trail. Ochre Trail is free for children under 10. When you get to the entrance to the trail you will see a booth to pay and then you go through the gates to the entrance of the trail.
There are two trails that you can take around the Ochre hills. The trail we went on took us about an hour. You can go on the shorter one which takes about half the time. It was a relatively easy walk and well marked. Follow the singular yellow arrow for the shorter route, or the red double arrow for the longer route. There are a few stairs you would have to take and cross narrow bridges. The sky was blue and it was a beautiful sunny day. We enjoyed our walk looking at deep-colored canyons and formations of the hills left by the quarry. Check the Tourism website for opening hours of the trail and other details.
The clay hills of Roussillon en Provence
The clay hills of Roussillon have been an important source of the ochre pigment since the 18th century. French scientist Jean-Étienne Astier who was from Roussillon in the 1780s was fascinated by the cliffs of red and yellow clay. He invented a process to make the pigment on a large scale. First the clay was extracted from open pits or mines. The raw clay contained about 80 to 90 percent sand and 10 to 20 percent ochre. Then he washed the clay to separate the grains of sand from the particles of ochre. The remaining mixture was then decanted in large basins, to further separate the ochre from the sand. The water was then drained, and the ochre was dried, cut into bricks, crushed, sifted, and then classified by color and quality. The best quality was reserved for artists’ pigments. These mines are closed now but the brilliance of the ochre hills still entice visitors!
Our day in Roussillon en Provence in a few Photos
We loved the colors of the quaint little village and especially the 19th-century clock and bell tower – Campaniles de fer forgé (or wrought-iron belfries) are the ironwork cages at the top of many bell towers in the Provence region. Although they are all works of art, and some extremely ornate and magnificent, these campaniles came about for purely practical reasons: they withstand even the fiercest of the Mistrals that occasionally blow through the Provence.
Roussillon is home to many art galleries, with works by talented artists. Stop by a few. The village of Roussillon en Provence once famous for it ochre paint has fifteen different art venues and renowned throughout the Luberon.
After wandering through the streets and ateliers we sat down at a café. While the kids had some crepes, we had some cappuccino at the Café Sucre Sale chatting to the friendly owner and admiring the beauty of Roussillon en Provence! It was hard to leave this beautiful place but Gordes was waiting for us 😉
TIP: If you would rather go on an organized tour to visit the towns of Gordes, Roussillon and Aix and although seasonal if you want o see the Lavender fields, this tour is the best one. You can do this tour to walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh in Arles and Saint Remy.
If you like Roussillon en Provence, you might also like Gordes, Saint Remy, Antibes and Saint Tropez
You might also like – Our Family Friendly Guide to London, Paris, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Vienna, Bergamo, Barcelona, Venice and Verona
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Have you been to the beautiful villages of France? Tell us about your experiences and which ones are your favorite?