With a unique beauty that has inspired acclaimed French artists Jean Cocteau and Pierre Ambrogiani among others, Roussillon is a village you don’t want to miss when you’re next visiting Provence.
Located at the southern end of the Plateau de Vaucluse, Roussillon is officially named one of France’s most beautiful villages. With its warmly toned colour scheme and advantageous situation overlooking the provençal countryside, it’s not hard to see why it deserves such a title.
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A recent Sunday afternoon had us donning our walking shoes and heading towards the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon.
Our aim? To visit the Sentier des Ocres and walk the trail through this stunning natural site.
It wasn’t until we drew closer that we realised the track starts not only nearby, but very close to the centre of Roussillon. And as I love visiting Les Plus Beaux Villages de France and seeing what makes them unique, we decided to stay to explore after we’d completed the Ochre Trail.
The sun was beating down on us as we stopped first at the glacier (ice cream shop), picking up a refreshingly zesty berry sorbet before setting off.
We wandered up the right-hand side of the village before being drawn into a tight-knit maze of alleyways lined with shops selling lavender-scented soaps and other locally produced delicacies.
Continuing to wind our way through the streets, the sights and smells of Roussillon kept us intrigued as we went. On this warm day in early spring, the village was quietly humming with locals on their way to the boulangerie and the first tourists of the season – eager to visit before the crowds descend on the village in summer.
We walk past stone walls that look more like works of art as they display the full ochre-toned palette of the town, past houses plucked straight out of a movie set, and eventually reach the summit of the Castrum where the valley of Vaucluse spreads out before us.
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Where is Roussillon?
Roussillon is in the Vaucluse department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of Southern France. Its remote position in the depths of the Luberon regional park means the surrounding countryside remains largely undeveloped and tranquil.
To reach Roussillon by car, it’ll take around an hour from Avignon, or just over an hour from of Aix-en-Provence. Alternatively, you can take a tour which leaves from Avignon and includes a guided walk through the village.
What makes Roussillon worth a visit?
It’s true that Provence has no shortage of chocolate-box-charming villages. But Roussillon still manages to stand out from the throng of pretty hillside hamlets. This is largely thanks to its unique colour scheme that stems from the ochre deposits surrounding it.
Traditional ochre rendering is used throughout the village – providing heat & sun resistance to the sun-soaked houses. The result provides a colourful contrast against the lush green cypress trees that shoot straight up between houses. The hues range from soft golden yellows, through to pastel pinks and deep burnt reds.
Roussillon’s ochre deposits weren’t only important for the construction of the village houses. Ochre mining has been the main economic activity in this region since the 18th century. Large amounts were mined right through to the mid-20th century when the mines were gradually closed down in this area. Nowadays ochre mining is prohibited to protect the site’s natural history. Meanwhile, tourism has taken over as the mainstay industry.
Roussillon’s main attractions
The Ochre Trail (or Sentier des Ocres) is undoubtedly what brings people to the village of Roussillon. But once you’ve walked the track and marvelled at the deep canyons of the former quarry, turn your sights towards the village.
In the middle of the Place de la Mairie sits the townhouse. One of the tallest buildings in Roussillon, its grand façade is the shade of burnt caramel offset by pale pastel green shutters. The town square is a great place to get your bearings and appreciate the architecture that surrounds it.
Not far from here you’ll find the restored Belfry that marks the entrance of the Castrum (fortified area). At the top of the village, you’ll be greeted with a magnificent view over the Luberon and the Monts de Vaucluse – points of interest are marked on an orientation table at the viewing platform.
Not unsurprisingly, artists thrive in this bucolic setting. Evidence of their talents can be seen in one of the many art galleries scattered throughout the village. Take the time to appreciate their wares on your way past.
In addition to the ochre mines, you can visit the Ochre Conservatory to learn how ochre is formed, and its heritage in this area of France. Join a guided visit, or try your hand at traditional crafts in the regular classes and workshops.
Where to stay and eat in Roussillon en Provence
Eateries are sprinkled throughout the streets of Roussillon offering a chance to rest your feet while soaking up incredible views. Or simply sit back and satisfy your appetite while people-watching in the square. Food on offer is mainly traditional French fare, although there are also low-key eateries where you can grab a snack outside of set meal times.
There are a few accommodation options around the village of Roussillon, from cosy guesthouses to luxury boutiques. Check prices and availability here.
For those travelling with a group or family, there are also many Airbnb holiday rentals conveniently located within the village for an authentic Provençal experience.
Tips for visiting Roussillon
Parking is limited in the centre, so to save time simply park at the allocated car parks before the entrance to the village. Parking is €2/day.
Take a change of clothes for little ones if you plan on visiting the ochre trail – the fine orange soil is fun to play in, but doesn’t brush off so easily!
The Ochre Trail entrance is located opposite the central village car park – just look for the bright orange cliffs! Walk up the road a little way past a viewing point on one side and the cemetery on the other. There are entrance gates where you pay for admission (€2.50).
Our visit to Roussillon – one of Provence’s most beautiful villages – wasn’t planned, but it turned out to be just as remarkable as the nearby Ochre Trail.
This is one village in Provence that is worth taking the time to appreciate. And why not pick up some art while you’re there. After all, when in Roussillon…
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