Roussillon is perhaps the most stunning of all the Luberon villages, achieving that superlative perhaps partly because it is so unexpected. Jutting ochre cliffs of red, gold, yellow and white cut through the dense green of the surrounding forest as you view the town from a distance. Coming closer, you see that the town itself has taken on the warm, rich hues of the ochre cliffs, all the buildings painted from local pigments. Roussillon became the world’s most important supplier of ochre pigments in the 18th and 19th centuries, shipping to India, China and North America. By the 20th century, more cost-effective regional suppliers overtook the market; Roussillon’s industry shrank, and the town with it. During the second World War, Roussillon was inconsequential enough to serve as a safe hide-out for the French Resistance. Samuel Beckett, who had joined the Resistance, was marooned in Roussillon for a miserable two years, and vowed never to return.
Today, Roussillon’s fortunes have returned. Its Sentier des Ochres is one of the favorite destinations for the French and tourists alike. There is also a fascinating museum (Conservatoire des Ochres et Pigments) that displays a huge collection of pigments and offers day long courses. The artistically inclined can also buy Roussillon pigments for use in their own artistic endeavors.
Walking through the Sentier des Ochres is incredible; you are surrounded by soaring walls of surprising colors. There is no rhyme nor reason to the mosaic of colors, and some walls are so filled with different hues and shapes that they are reminiscent of faded frescoes.
The formations are striking, as well. Cones, cliffs, jutting promontories. I think the one below looks like a chicken.
The houses in the town are painted in the colors of the cliffs.
I’m going to re-post all the photos (well, all except the cat) below in larger format so they are easier to see. (Sorry, couldn’t figure out how to edit them once they were in the blog!)