Ordinarily, dirt isn’t something I would consider a travel highlight, but as I found out in Roussillon, dirt ain’t dirt. Well, the colour of it at any rate. Roussillon (pronounced ROO-see-yon) is a pretty Luberon village in the heart of Provence that’s worth a trip just to wander around its winding lanes and take in the amazing views from the cliffs it perches upon. What is truly amazing about Roussillon, is the colour of those same cliffs.
Roussillon sits upon one of the worlds largest ochre deposits and the colour has to be seen to be believed. Our first view of the famed cliffs was as we casually wandered over to the side of the road after parking our car.
Against the green trees and brilliant Provencal blue sky, the cliffs look like someone has been a bit heavy handed with the colour saturation tool in Photoshop, but it’s these beautiful ochre tones that are repeated throughout the entire village on the buildings and makes Roussillon so special.
No trip to Roussillon would be complete without a closer inspection of the incredible colour of the earth and an entry into Le Sentier des Ocres will allow just that. Although you can see some spectacularly coloured cliffs without paying entry into the park, walking down into the valley of rich reds, deep oranges and vibrant yellows is quite an experience.
Allow yourself at least an hour to wander the paths and take in the intriguing formations that have been left behind after years of ochre mining. There are 2 path options, a shorter and a longer. The longer pathway isn’t really all that much longer or harder so it’s worth taking the extra time.
Some have suggested it looks a little like a Dr Suess wonderland and that’s actually not too far off the mark – weird chimneys in fantastic colours rise up around you. You could be forgiven for thinking you had discovered a long lost tribe of Oompah Loompahs but they’re really just kids who’ve played a little too long in the orange earth (I’d recommend taking a change of clothes if you’re going with kids!).
We were there in late afternoon in winter and a lot of the cliffs were already in the shade. They were still incredible to view, but if you particularly want to see them in sunlight, try for earlier in the day. On the way back to our home base the next afternoon, we drove into Roussillon on a back road and there were more spectacular cliffs to be seen, even more vibrant in the late afternoon light. I made my sister pull over so I could race back down the road and grab a few shots.
Roussillon is also a very handy spot to base yourself for a few days if you’re planning on visiting a bit more of the Luberon. A word of warning for winter visitors – you will find dining out options a little restricted as only a few places open all year round. This is true of many places in the Luberon (or indeed, of many popular tourist areas like Tuscany and Dordogne as well) and so if you’re likely to want to base yourself somewhere for a longer visit, then it would be worthwhile doing your homework to see what’s open in winter.
Click on the photo below to start a slideshow of the amazing colours of Le Sentier des Ocres and more shots of the quaint old town.