Roussillon is a technicolor village, surrounded by rich ochre deposits containing varying shades of reds, yellows, oranges and pinks. Situated on a cliff overlooking the valley to the Grand Luberon, it’s painted in earthen colors that are indigenous to this region of France. Actual history aside, legend has it that in the Middle Ages a young damsel named Sermonde was married to Raymond d’Avignon, who was the lord of Roussillon. Apparently, Lord Raymond liked to go on long hunting trips and during one of his outings, Sermonde fell in love with a local troubadour. When Raymond discovered the affair, he cut out the young rascal’s heart and instructed his cook to prepare it for lunch. Sermonde ate the heart with much delight and when told what she had eaten, rushed out of the castle and threw herself over a cliff into the valley below. According to the legend, she and her lover were buried together near the village and it’s surmised that the earth around them has forever since run red with their blood.
The village you see in the images below is no less dramatic than the legend that shaped it. Again, we arrived at dusk and just before a rain, checking into our hotel at the foot of the hill and walking up into town. The colors here jump out at you like a carnival pinwheel spinning into the surrounding landscape. Village history dates back to the 1600s and Roussillon is the site of several wars of religion, epidemics, famines and pillage. A church tower was raised in 1859, on the base of a fortified precinct from Roman times. The town’s main square, the Place de la Mairie, is built on an ancient castrum and still displays remnants of several centuries. Craft shops, art galleries and cafés bestow life to the village and all around, the red dust from decaying archways drifts through the air on hot afternoons. A mere 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean, it’s hot in Roussillon most of the time.
I was initially drawn to Roussillon when I learned that playwright Samuel Beckett hid there from the Nazis during World War II. A member of the French Resistance, it’s said that he walked to Roussillon from Arles after fleeing Paris. I was surprised to learn during our visit that the farmhouse he lived in on the village outskirts is for sale, and for only 750,00 Euros! Maybe next time. I had no idea how red Beckett’s getaway could be until I saw it with my own eyes. While the powdered ochre, once used in the manufacturing of linoleums and textiles, is no longer mined from the nearby quarry, it’s still everywhere you look. Crumble unwashed ochre in the palm of your hand and it leaves a rust colored residue in the creases. Hours out of town, I looked at my palm and felt as if I had taken some of Roussillon with me. It’s a magical place. Someone should shoot a movie there.