Roussillon, France: The Orange City
Roussillon, France is one of the most picturesque towns in the Luberon mountains. We ended up in Roussillon on our Provence trip because it combined a visit to a cute town with a factory tour and a nature hike. That’s the perfect combo for our family – town for mom, factory for dad and a hike for the kiddos.
We started our visit to Roussillon at the Mathieu ochre factory just outside of town. Parking is free at the factory. You can purchase a combo tour ticket for the factory and the ochre nature walk in Roussillon.
Ochre is a pigment used in painting. It has largely been replaced by synthetics, but in its hayday this factory produced 1,000 tons of ochre per year. The facilities for orchre have been restored and you can go on a walking tour that showcases the process of creating the pigment. A limited amount is still produced on site and sold in the gift shop.
You have a chance to see a variety of pigments and learn about their use. The sign boards are in French but there is an English language sheet. There is also an informative, albeit old, video that shows the process. There are also several art installations as part of the tour.
Our favorite part of the tour was getting to experiment with the pigments and painting. The boys loved seeing the colors and how they changed as you added water. Most of the tour is outside and not stroller friendly. And it was so cold when we visited in February that the paintbrushes were all frozen in hunks of ice in the rinse jars. But we found some hot water to melt them out!
We drove down the hill to the city of Roussillon, whose houses are entirely painted in the hues of ochre. There is some parking in the city, but we parked in the lot for the ochre walk. (In February this parking was free but it appeared that it is paid at other times of the year.)
The walk goes through the ochre hills that surround the city. There is a short and a long hike option depending on how much time you have (35 min vs 50 min trails). We chose the shorter walk due to the cold temperatures. There are several signboards that are in English and French.
The walk was ideal for the kids, although we did come home with ochre stained clothing. (Luckily the map had directions for removing the pigment before washing so it doesn’t become permanent.) The walk is not stroller friendly and has many hills, roots and stairs.
The trail dumps you out into town, which was perfect timing for lunch. We ended up at Chez Nino and had an amazing lunch. Chez Nino doesn’t have a webpage and is located right by the parking lot in the center of Roussillon. You can see its back patio on the bottom right of the above photo.
Chez Nino is the sort of place we usually walk past. They had several neon signs and sign boards out front advertising kids meals. We made a loop through town looking for other options, but everything else was either too fancy for our crew or closed. We sort of resigned ourselves to eating at Chez Nino as a last resort.
We walked in and the place was packed. We even saw a few locals come in and be served their regular meal right away. Everything we ordered was simple but tasty! They even have a desert platter made up of pastries from the town bakery. Don’t walk past this place!
Make sure you take a stroll around Rousillon to really appreciate the beauty of the ochre colors in this little town.
Each little street is charming and perfect for a little stroll.
I just couldn’t get enough of Roussillon. Every building was adorable. I’m sure in the summer it’s crowded, but we found ourselves there with just a handful of other visitors.
Since you’re already in Roussillon don’t miss Pont Julien, a Roman stone triple arch bridge that dates from 3BC. Until 2005 regular traffic crossed this bridge! The bridge is now for pedestrians and bikes only. There is a small parking lot available. We walked over the bridge and then crossed the river to get the best view of the bridge. There is a well marked trail going down to the water on both sides.
Another worthwhile stop in the area is the Lavender Museum. We were on the fence about visiting since it wasn’t lavender season. It is incredibly informative about the lavender industry and worth a visit. Your admission includes an audioguide, an informative movie and then the museum itself.
The museum often has programs running. In the summer they run outdoor demonstrations of the distillation process. (The demonstration garden isn’t at a high enough altitude to grow real lavender and instead grows lavandin, a cheaper hybrid which you learn all about at the museum.) During our visit the Lavender Museum was using the remains of their Valentine’s Day workshop to let guests make their own small lavender sachet.
The museum has a lovely kids program – just ask for the packet at check in. Kids get a whole packet and if they complete the quiz they win a certificate and key chain. My Big Little was very in to it, searching the museum for the correct answers. The museum also has a drawing corner set up, perfect for the kids to sit and draw while we explored.
The gift shop is packed full of Lavender products. I’m not usually a souvenir person but decided on some lavender bath salts to bring home to remind me of my time in Provence.