The ochre-red village of Roussillon, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, (Beautiful Villages of France) is on the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse. Roussillon is beautiful, with its red rocks, red stone buildings and red tile roofs sitting in a deep green pine forest on bright red-ochre hills. We spent a beautiful afternoon there, it was one of our favorite places we stopped at during our summer road trip this year through Provence.
There are 161 villages in France rated as a Plus Beaux Village (as of 2013). The ratings are awarded by the Plus Beaux Villages de France association. The basic requirements to be considered by the association are: population under 2000, at least two village sites or buildings classified as ‘protected’. We stopped at 3 or 4 during our trip to Provence.
The clay hills of Roussillon have been an important source of ochre pigment since the 18th century. French scientist Jean-Étienne Astier who was from Roussillin in the 1780s was fascinated by the cliffs of red and yellow clay. He invented a process to make the pigment on a large scale. First the clay was extracted from open pits or mines. The raw clay contained about 80 to 90 percent sand and 10 to 20 percent ochre. Then he washed the clay to separate the grains of sand from the particles of ochre. The remaining mixture was then decanted in large basins, to further separate the ochre from the sand. The water was then drained, and the ochre was dried, cut into bricks, crushed, sifted, and then classified by color and quality. The best quality was reserved for artists’ pigments. These mines are closed now but the brilliance of the ochre hills still entice visitors!
Here is Roussillon in 20 pictures
We loved the colors of the quaint little village and especially the 19th century clock and bell tower – Campaniles de fer forgé (or wrought-iron belfries) are the ironwork cages at the top of many bell towers in the Provence region. Although they are all works of art, and some extremely ornate and magnificent, these campaniles came about for purely practical reasons: they withstand even the fiercest of the Mistrals that occasionally blow through the Provence.
After wandering through the streets and ateliers we sat down at a café. While the kids had some crepes, we had some cappuccino at the Café Sucre Sale chatting to the friendly owner and admiring the beauty of Roussillon!
Table for two – isn’t it perfect?
Some crepes and cappuccino before we say goodbye to Roussillon!
Have you been to the beautiful villages of France? Tell us about your experiences and which ones are your favorite?