Roussillon in Provence will most likely not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning a trip to the area, right? You first start researching lavender fields, then things to do in Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, then just things to do, and then…all of a sudden…you come across that stunning image: Roussillon in the South of France
The wildly-yellow hills with splashes of red and orange, surrounded by the lush greens of the forest. From those hills, the breathtaking panorama opens to a cozy red town sitting atop a hill. This is Roussillon, the town officially recognized as one of the “plus beaux village de France“.
Now a small provincial town, in the 18th-century Roussillon was the thriving industrial center. Its unique deposits of ochre pigments made it the go-to destination for miners to settle and work here. Ochre was mostly used in textiles. Not only did thousands of workers flock to the area, but numerous factories sprung up around the town.
The industry thrived up until the 1930s, and then, the 20th-century happened. It brought modernizations to all industries, including textile production and pigmenting. And so, one by one, the mines nearby started shutting down. Today, in order to protect the unique canyon, mining for ochre is prohibited in the Roussillon altogether.
Things to do in the area
1. Walk the Ochre Trail
The big thing to do in the area is to hike the Sentier des Ochres. The site has two tracks. The longer one is about an hour, and the shorter one will take you up to 30 minutes to complete.
Both of them are circular routes around the quarry. These are not complex trails. Most of the time, you will follow the richly pigmented trail under the shadows of the pine trees, stopping often to take pictures of the colorful cliffs and hills.
A couple of quick notes, it is better not to wear white shoes, unless you want them to be orange at the end. In addition, unfortunately, the trail is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers.
2. Shop for pottery in the artisan shops
The town sits atop the hill, and its lower part is lined with all sorts of artisan shops. The main commodity here is pottery and pigments.
But since you are in Provence, the culinary center of France, be sure to also check out the local food stores, especially pastry shops. Look for the calissons, the local Provençale delicacy – these are small petal-shaped candies made out of almond paste.
3. Take a walk around the Upper town
While lower Roussillon is more of a touristy area, with its shops, squares, and cafés, the Upper Town is calm, cozy, and quiet.
Stroll past the ochre-colored houses and then, explore the church and the bell tower, both of which date back to many centuries.
Finally, find a perfect terrace to enjoy the lovely view of the valley.
4. Try the local specialities
When the time comes to have lunch, head to any of the local cafés. Discovering the food of Provence is an experience well within itself. Be sure to try Soupe au Pistou – richly flavored bean soup with a bouquet of the provencal herbs.
Another must-try is aïoli, a local sauce made of crushed garlic and olive oil (this latter is also a local specialty).
You will also see featured on the menus the local tapenade, which is a spread made of olives and capers. Sometimes, local chefs also add anchovies.
And don’t miss out on the artichokes. These are best when they are fried and dipped into melted butter.
☞ READ MORE: ABC of French Cuisine (the Food Dictionary)
Frequently Asked Questions
How to get to Roussillon?
This small town of fewer than 3,000 people is located in the Vaucluse department of Provence. It is a 20-minute drive from the Senaque Abbey and the town of Gordes, and a highly recommended stop on a circular car route around Provence.
By car: If you are up for driving in France, there should be no trouble at all getting to Roussillon. It is off of 2 major highways, the A7 and the A51.
By Train: Like most small towns in the area, it is a bit tricky to get to by public transportations. High-speed TGV trains will take you from Paris to cities in Provence like Marseille, Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, from where you can catch a local train to the city of Cavaillon. From Cavaillon, take a local bus to Roussillon.
By Plane: The closest international airport is in Marseille about 1h10 minutes away.
By Tour: There are several organized tours that visit Roussillon and the nearby lavender fields from Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, so if you are looking for a fuss-free holiday, I recommend taking a tour.
What is the best season to visit?
We would recommend scheduling the visit for mid-June. That way, you will escape the heat of July, and be able to combine the trip to Roussillon with visiting the blossoming lavender fields near the plateau de Valensole.
Also, keep in mind when planning your trip that air-conditioning is not common in France.
How many days should you spend here?
This is a perfect day-trip from any of the bigger hubs in Provence. However, the ochre trail tends to get very busy during the high season.
So, in order to avoid the crowds, either stay in the town the night before, or try to schedule your visit earlier in the morning. This will also help you escape the daytime heat.
Where should you stay?
If you do decide to stay in Roussillon, here are two great options in the heart of the village.
If you are planning a trip to Roussillon, I highly recommend staying overnight or arriving in Roussillon early. By doing so, you’ll get to park closer to the lower town and the trail. In the daytime, all of the local parking lots are filled, and you will need to head to the one that is a bit afar from all the action, and then walk back. It will still be a wonderful trip though, so enjoy!
Bon voyage and à bientôt!
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