Sunday, February 22, 2015

Roussillon, A Most Beautiful Village in the Luberon

Friends and others headed to Provence often ask where they should go during their once in a life time seven day visit to Provence. This is a hard question as most visitors have only 6 days since they usually arrive on Saturday afternoon and depart the following Saturday morning; there are so many wonderful things to see.

There is something for everyone in Provence; there are amazing Roman ruins and medieval villages for history buffs, lavender, sunflowers and coquelicots (poppies) for artists, open-air markets with tantalizing displays of fruits and vegetables and great restaurants for foodies, and world famous vineyards for wine lovers.

There are perched villages everywhere, summer music and theater festivals, bull fights and the Transhumance for lovers of spectacles, brocantes and vide-greniers for antique hunters, Mont Ventoux for amateurs cyclists who want to test their skills on the most famous ascent on the Tour de France, the Dentelles de Montmirail for hikers and picturesque villages with beaches along the Mediterranean Sea.

We usually suggest visitors include a trip to the vibrant red-ocher colored town of Roussillon, one of five villages nestled in the Luberon hills which are classified as Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most beautiful villages of France). Roussillon is one of our favorite villages and just one hour from Sablet.

The Luberon stretches 35 miles along a ridge of rugged hills from Cavaillon in the west to Manosque in the east and from the town of Apt south to the Durance River. Much of the area including Roussillon lies within the borders of the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, a protected area with outstanding natural beauty.

Roussillon sits on the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse above one of the world's largest known ocher deposits where 17 shades of ocher--violet, blood red, orange, yellow, and everything in between were once mined.


Just a few minutes walk from the village is the beginning of the Sentier des Ocres (Ocher trail). Ocher is a natural pigment in the sandy soil which form the cliffs around Roussillon. Iron oxides color the sands into shades ranging from yellow to violet. The mineral landscape shows the effects of erosion and mining work done by man.

Two different trails, one short, one long take you through the ocher lands on a 30-minute or 60-minute walk. You can stay as long as you like. Information signs along the way describe the geology, flora and history of the ocher deposits in the Luberon. The trails takes you past multi-colored ocher formations set against a backdrop of pine trees. There is a small admission fee.

Ocher cliff

It's still not known exactly why geological changes caused these pigments precisely here and not elsewhere in the region.

Ocher cliff

There are colorful old buildings and narrow medieval streets everywhere you go in Roussillon.

Roussillon street

Store selling decorative olive trees

The belfry was the ancient entrance into the fortified area called the Castrum. The belfry was renovated in the 19th century as a bell tower adjoining the church. The first street on the left takes you along the former watchman’s walkway, which ran between the two towers on the rampart wall. There are great views of the village and surrounding area.

Belfry overlooks Town Hall Square

Beautiful views alongside the village defensive walls

Roussillon must have more restaurants per head of population than any other Luberon village. Most are clustered around Town Hall Square. A little lower down, with its dining room sailing out into the ocher void, is the more upscale David. Although there are a lot of choices, we have not found any of them to be all that good.

Restaurants line town hall square

The Librairie (bookstore) in La Maison Tacchella to the left and the Hotel de Ville (town hall) to the right in Town Hall Square, the main village square.

Town Hall Square

As you stroll around the village, make sure you look for the 150 year old grape vine in front of Restaurant la Treille.

150 Year old olive tree

A weekly market is held on Thursday mornings.

Roussillon street

Follow the street up to the Castrum at the top of the village and you will find some wonderful panoramic views across the valley to the Grand Luberon, the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.

Belfry entrance into fortified area of Roussillon

As you stroll up the street, you will pass 17th and 18th century houses painted in all the local ocher shades from soft gold to deep, rich red.

Roussillon house

Another view of the belfry and clock tower

Little friend Julia hitched a ride with me up to the Castrum.

Friend Julia and I

Saint Michel Church whose origins go back to the 11th century, originally faced the castle, inside the fortified walls. The church has undergone countless renovations over time, necessitated in part by its location by the cliff.

Saint Michel Church

Interior of Saint Michel Church

Ocher only became a widespread, industrial product in the late 18th century when Roussillon native son Jean-Etienne Astier came up with the idea of washing the ocher-laden sands to extract the pure pigment.

View from top of village toward cemetery and ocher trail

Shirley and nurse friends pause at a vaulted passageway

As you walk around Roussillon, you will come upon remains of the village defensive walls, some of which were partially rebuilt in modern times.

Roussillon defensive wall

Roussillon street

Roussillon belfry and clock tower

As you can imagine, the beauty of Roussillon draws hordes of artists and visitors during tourist season. It is the most visited village in the Luberon after Gordes, a few miles to the west. Despite this, we have never had any problem finding parking close to the village.

We think it's best to visit in the morning when the first sunshine of the day strikes the village, to see the glowing colors at their most stunning. Roussillon is fairly small so it doesn't take very long to explore. So combine a visit to Roussillon with a visit to Gordes or other hill towns in the Luberon.

Final picture with our friends before we depart Roussillon

Don't forget your camera, you will definitely want to take a lot of pictures. Have a great week. Chat soon.


  1. Really lovely post Michel, love these photos too! What colors you captured, beautiful! bon weekend :)

  2. Our trip to Provence last summer included a visit to Roussillon, and I think the quaint village with its beautiful colors is one of my favorites of those we saw. Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful place!
    Lee Ann