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In the French Vaucluse you will find the extraordinary village of Roussillon. This richly colored village owes its warm colors to ochre, a raw material that is present in the ground in large numbers in the area. As a result, people flock not only to the idyllic streets of Rousillon but also to the ochre quarries that cover much of the region. The section of ochre quarries near Roussillon is known as Le Sentier des Ocres. Not much further away is the village of Rustrel, here the ochre quarry is known as Colorado Provençal.
Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
Roussillon is among the most beautiful villages in France, according to the independent organization Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. And if you take a walk around you will immediately understand why. Its narrow streets, red-tinted houses and picturesque squares make you feel as if you have landed in a watercolor painting. Other villages in Vaucluse that the organization considers among the most beautiful villages in France are Lourmarin, Gordes, Ansouis, Ménerbes, Séguret and Vanasque. The list now includes more than 170 villages, many of which can be found in the south of France.
Where exactly is Roussillon?
Roussillon is in the middle of Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, a natural park added to UNESCO’s list of biosphere reserves in 1997. You will find mountain massifs with high peaks, vineyards, vast lavender fields, forests and ancient mountain villages. This makes Luberon a perfect place for sports enthusiasts who like activities in mountainous areas. But certainly also for culture vultures who love ancient sites and traditions. The culinary visitor also comes into his own here, by the way, because what delicious food you can eat in this region!
Why Roussillon is so special
Most villages in Provence are built with sand or gray stone. And that immediately makes Roussillon different from all the other (mountain) villages in the region. All houses in Roussillon have a warm color. It varies here and there, but it is always somewhere between very light tinted orange/yellow and dark red. A special sensation when you walk through the streets. As if you are looking at sunglasses with very warm tinted glasses all the time, so atmospheric.
In addition to the color of the buildings, Roussillon is of course known for the ochre quarries in the area. In the car on the way to the village, the red sandy soil becomes more and more visible in the forests covered with pines and oaks. The red color is caused by iron oxide deposits in the sandy soil. Due to the fact that Provence was under water millions of years ago. Mining of this ochre began in the late 18th century. It was especially popular in the textile industry, for coloring clothes. But painters were also fond of the dye. It is known that the Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt, obtained ochre from Luberon for coloring their paints.
Village in the Vaucluse
In Roussillon, residents have long lived authentic French rural life, even until late in the 20th century. Writer Laurence William Wylie lived in Roussillon for many years and named the village Peyrane. He studied French village life here, documented everything and turned it into a fine reference work. If you are interested in French rural life a few decades back, the book Village in the Vaucluse is highly recommended.
Roussillon highlights and tips
Strolling through the streets of Roussillon is an experience in itself, but of course there are always a few places in a village that deserve a little extra attention. For example, be sure to walk past the ochre-yellow colored church Eglise Saint-Michel. The Mairie de Roussillon town hall is also a picture to take in. You get here by taking Rue Richard Casteau, where you’ll find nice shops and some street art. A little further down this street is a nice junction (high/low) waiting where you will find cozy terraces. Rue Richard Casteau turns into Rue du Jeu de Paume. At one point you have a nice staircase on the left to the lower Rue des Bourgades. At the end of Rue des Bourgades (at the bottom of the stairs turn left towards Le Sentier des Ocres) is a parking lot with a nice little square where a row of beautifully colored buildings immediately catch your eye.
Want to learn more about the ochre found in the ground in this region? Then Ôkhra – Écomusée De L’ocre comes highly recommended. In this ochre museum in Roussillon, you will discover all about the natural pigment, even how it was already used in prehistoric times. And, of course, how its use has changed over time. You can attend workshops at the museum, get started with fabric dyeing and/or painting. More information can be found on the website of the museum.
Le Sentier des Ocres, the ochre quarries near Roussillon
Above we have only talked about the beautiful spots in the village of Roussillon itself. Of course, many people also come especially for Le Sentier des Ocres, the over-excavations. From the village, from the Rue des Bourgades parking lot, you have a nice view of part of the ochre quarry. A little further on you will find the entrance to the quarry, where you can buy entrance tickets. Next, it is possible to do two different walks in over quarries near Roussillon. A short walk (yellow) that takes about 35 minutes and a slightly longer walk which, according to the information, takes about 50 minutes. Of course, it just depends on how much time you take for taking pictures along the way. I could entertain myself here for a few hours, as the quarry seems to keep changing colors throughout the day. A walk through the ochre quarries of Roussillon really should not be missed when visiting this red-colored village.
Market in Roussillon
Every Thursday there is a market in Roussillon. The market is set up along Rue des Bourgades, also known as Place Pasquier. There are usually about 30 market stalls and you can buy foodstuffs such as meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, honey and the like in addition to clothing. The market opens in the morning at 8 a.m. and it clears out around noon. Want to visit the market in Roussillon? Then make sure you get there early.
What to do near Roussillon
Roussillon, of course, is not the only beautiful place in Luberon. There is much to see and do in Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon. You can enjoy hiking in the mountains, take a look at beautiful wine chateaus, enjoy gastronomy, taste olive oil at olive farmers and or producers, visit museums, take bike tours and wander through beautiful mountain villages. Villages in Luberon worth visiting: Lourmarin, Gordes, Ansouis, Ménerbes, Oppède le Vieux, Séguret, Lacoste, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and Vanasque. The distant city of Aix-en-Provence by the way, is also well worth a visit!
Tip: visit villages on electric bikes
On an electric bike I visited the villages of Ménerbes, Oppède le Vieux and Lacoste, among others. Before you know it you have covered 50 kilometers and this allows you to see a lot along the way. The steep streets in the mountain villages are no problem for an electric bike. And even a breeze is no problem when you have pedal assistance. Highly recommended! Read more about my visit to these most beautiful villages in the Vaucluse.
How to get to Rousillon?
The most convenient way to get to Roussillon is by car from the Netherlands. Would you rather fly? Then book a ticket to Marseille and rent a car there. Provence is a wonderful region to explore by rental car!