Roussillon – A Very Colorful Day in Provence


The Village of Roussillon

“Une Journée Très Colorée”…

The village of Roussillon is a tiny village filled with café’s and galleries selling pottery, art, and souvenirs.  It is a quaint little village perched on top of a hillside and painted hues of orange, yellow and reds to match the nearby ochre mines.  The most beautiful approach is in the morning arriving from Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, as the rising sun casts a soft golden light over the village. How splendid against a sparkling blue sky!


Roussillon is second most visited village in Luberon after Gordes, and is labeled amongst the “Plus Beau Village de France” (most beautiful villages in France).   Once arrived, your best bet is to park in the lots located just outside the village.

The British expat Laurence Willie lived in Roussillon in the 1950’s.  Following his experiences living in the village, he wrote “Village in the Vaucluse”which intimately portrays the local village life.  In the book he refers to “Roussillon” as “Peyrane” so as to not upset the villagers.  If you are at all interested in rural French culture, it is a classic definitely worth adding to your reading list before you coming to visit.  It will make wandering the streets a much richer experience.

Video: A very colorful day in Roussillon

Roussillon is well worth a stopover to wander the narrow streets and enjoy the panoramic views, or for a light lunch or an ice cream, But the main attraction around here are the ochre mines…

Le Sentier des Ocres

Le Sentier des Ocres

There are many fabulous things to visit in the area, and many more fabulous walks, but if you are trying to maximize your time then the “Sentier des Ocres” is an excellent choice.  It is a short (30 min) easy trail with a possible longer variation (60 min) that travels through a former open air ochre quarry surrounded by pine forest. Expect to see a rainbow of colored sands, pine trees, wildflowers, rosemary and thyme (but no parsley and sage).

To access the trail, just park below the village cemetery for easy access. If you run into people painted with warrior faces the color of ochre, you know you are headed in the right direction.  Keep in mind that although the hike is easy, even with the short trail you have a very long set of super steep steps to deal with and more stairs along the way.  I definitely do not recommend this for those that are mobility challenged, or anyone that would be huffing hard after a couple of flights of stairs. My Mom couldn’t quite make the stairs, but the kind gentleman at the ticket booth let her take a peek at the splendid panorama from the top of the stairs.

Whatever you do, DON’T wear light-colored clothing or shoes like I did…duh!  This dusty stuff stains like crazy!  Expect your kids to be filthy and with faces painted like warriors when they are done, which is all part of the fun!  Please do tell them to stay on the path and not to fill their pockets with sand.  Be forwarned: On days of high wind the dust swirls and can get into your eyes.  And if it rains…then you are walking on slippery paint if the site is not closed altogether for security reasons.  I imagine the colors must be even more spectacular when wet…

Entry fee is just 3€ per person, and kids under 10 years are free.  Prepare to be astounded!
PS – If you do paint your face like a warrior after visiting the ochre mines, PLEASE do send pics!!!

The Village Cemetery

Roussillon Cemetery

If you follow Girl Gone Gallic at all, you know I am a Taphophile and that I love cemeteries! Located right next to the Sentier des Ochres is the village cemetery.  It is a great place to get away from the crowds and pounder over the residents buried there over the decades.  cemeteries are always a bit melancholy and poignant, a perfect place for reflection.  This one is quite lovely…  Just imagine, spending the rest of time gazing over the red tinted village of Roussillon.

The Legend of the Red Hills of Roussillon

It wouldn’t be France without a romantic legend somewhere in the mix…

Roussillon Legend - Guilhem de CabestanyOnce upon a time way back in the day when Roussillon still had a lovely little castle perched above the village, Lord Raymond (Raimon) de Castell-Rosselló of Château-Roussillon preferred hunting over spending quality time with his wife Seremonda (sometimes referred to as Soremonda or even Saurimonde or even Margarida – history doesn’t seem to put all that much importance in the women).

Well, that was just no fun for Lady Seremonda and after all the troubadour Guillem de Cabestany was really quite handsome and dashing and paid WAY more attention to her than her husband.  HE wrote HER love poems and sang songs of love (in Provençal of course) while her husband barely noticed her.  Soon, they fell in love…Roussillon Legend

They should have been more careful though, as the servants noticed and reported the affair to Lord Raymond.  When confronted, Guillem denied it claiming his poems and songs were directed instead at Seremonda’s sister Agnés, and the wife of Robert de Tarascon.  Lord Raymond rode out to Tarascon to confirm the claim, and Agnès in an effort to protect her sister lied saying Guillem was indeed her lover (although of course she knew the truth – sisters tell each other everything!).  That fixed things for a while, but Guillem and Seremonda couldn’t keep their hands off each other and the affair continued.

Lord Raymond grew suspicious again, and was really quite pissed off at getting duped twice.  He had a real mean streak  and wanted vengence, and this time he was going to end things for good.  Lord Raymond invited poor Guillem out for a round of hunting, and stabbed him dead while they were out.  Lord Raymond then had the cooks prepare Guillem’s heart for dinner, and saved the head for later.

Roussillon LegendThat evening, the cooks served the meal to his wife as directed, which she ate heartedly commenting on how delicious it was.  Do you know what you have been eating Lord Raymond innocently asks his wife?  …and then of course pulls out the bloody head of Guillem de Cabestany.

Anguished by her intense pain and grief, Seremonda jumps out the window of the castle tower.  Her bloodied body colored the hills of Roussillon in vibrant red as it bounced down the high cliffs to her death. 

The hills of Roussillon remained stained RED forever more…

And there you have it…  A fun mix of troubadour imagination with a hefty dose of real history. Taken to be completely factual for centuries, historians have been able to prove that Seremonda remarried twice more, and that Guillem fought against the Maures in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa far away from Roussillon in 1212 and most likely outlived both Raymond AND Seremonda.

Buying and Using Ochre

Ochre Mines of Roussillon

For those of you with an artistic bend, why not try your hand at painting with ochre? The pigment coming from mines in Roussillon are for many artist the most prized of fine earth pigments in the world (especially the yellow shades).  You can use it for water-color paintings, to tint indoor house paint or stucco walls, to tint fabric, or for any craft where earthly colored pigments are required.  For the really crafty, you can even try making your own.  Then you paint your faces like a warrior and scare all the neighborhood kids.  Lol ! Just kidding!!!  Actually, not really kidding. I think that would be tons of fun…

How to Make Ochre Paint for Kids > Natural Paint – Kids Make Ochre.
Authentic American Indian Ochre Paint Method > Making Red Ochre Stain by Primitive Lifeways

Ocre Mines of Roussillon

Ochre Pigments are available at the online resources below, where you will also find extensive information on proper use:

Where to Stay

Chateau de la Roque – Why not stay in a medieval fortress and pretend to be Lady Seremonda?  Just skip the cheating on your husband and jumping out of the tower part.  This beautiful Bed & Breakfast with five elegant rooms, beautiful gardens, and a swimming pool and start at just 180€ per night.  About 45 min outside of Roussillon, if you do stay here make sure to stop by Pernes-les-Fontaines and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Camping des Chênes Blanc – This family friendly and entirely renovated three star campground with a pool (yeah!) gives you the perfect home base to visit the area.  Just minutes from Roussillon, it is located in Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt.  You can even catch the “Circuit Bleu” hike to the Rustrel ochre mines right from the campground.  Choose from traditional camping (bring your own tent), to Yurts (bungalow toile), to mobile homes with all the comforts of home (57€ and up per night for 4 people).

Camping Le Colorado – Try something different!  Tons of choices for lodging here > from caravans, to tents, to mobile homes – truly something for everyone!  There is a pool and many activities to keep the youngin’s happy and out of your hair.  From 16€ per night for basic camping, and starting at 295€ for two nights in a mobile home.

Happy Travels,
-Girl Gone Gallic

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