The Road to Roussillon

There are many places to start from if you are visiting Roussillon in the Luberon area in the alps of Southern France. However I am assuming that a visit to Roussillon would be a great part of a day’s drive from Avignon where the visitors to Provence would start the day early and take in stops at the river town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue before moving on to Fontaine de Vaucluse and finishing at Roussillon in the afternoon. If the trip to Roussillon was completed without stops it would take less than an hour to do the 47 Kilometres.Avignon to Roussillon 25

Roussillon 15aTo assist foreign tourists in France, their tourist gurus have developed lists of great villages to visit and Roussillon rates a mention on the list of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France”. It is not only a village with the usual picturesque ancient houses and civic buildings, it is on top of a high mountain range built over a huge deposit of ochre. The mainstay of the village in the past has been the mining of this ochre. As a result, the colours of the village are in the many shades of red, yellow and brown and the bush walk through the old mining areas next to Roussillon is a delight.

There is a very convenient car-park near the centre of the village so we strolled through the alleyways of Roussillon before deciding on whether we needed lunch or ice-creams or both. Not everybody is a fan of churches and bell towers but if you do any travelling through the towns and cities of France, you come across a lot of bell towers, some attached to churches and others standing alone near the village square. Some have fallen silent over the centuries, some are ready to toll out the hours of the day or in the case of one campanille (a bell tower not attached to a church) in Roussillon, tell you the time via its Roman ‘numeraled’ clock.

Roussillon 5 a Roussillon 4

In doing a bit of research about Roussillon, I came across the following question on ‘Tripadvisor’ concerning problems with bell-towers and campanilles. “Has anyone stayed in, or lives in Roussellin? The clock tower looks charming and I’m sure it sounds charming too 🙂 I know its very subjective but do you think it would trouble a light sleeper ?”

I have never chosen a place myself anywhere in Europe based on the noise levels of bell-towers…each to his or her own I suppose! The ochre bell-towers of Roussillon are lovely in all ways.

Roussillon 6 a Roussillon 11a

After strolling the gorgeous back streets of Roussillonn, we headed back up to the centre of town which just happened to have a great ice cream shop, a view across the valley as well as a view up towards the town cemetery and the start of the ‘Ochre Path’.

Roussillon 16a Roussillon 36a

After checking out the rest of the village’s main street we then headed up past the car park and the cemetery to the start of the Ochre Path. It is from up here that you get a great view looking back towards the town.

Roussillon 28a Roussillon 34

The Path takes visitors through the area where the ochre was mined back from the end of the 18th century until 1930. The area is now fragile so the mining of ochre is banned. Rousillon has a much smaller population now that mining has closed down but the locals make a living out of catering for the tourist trade these days. There is a museum in the village for those who want to get more info on the ochre trade. The Ochre Path itself provides an almost extra-terrestrial landscape for visitors to wander and wonder and take amazing photos before returning back to the village.

APPENDIX 1: Samuel Beckett and Roussillin

Roussillon 33aThere is a tourist poster on the ‘Ochre Path’ of Roussillon that briefly refers to one of its famous inhabitants, the Irish Playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Among the many awards this literary giant of the twentieth century received was the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. Becket studied for many years in France in the 1920s and he returned there in 1938 to live and write. He was caught up in the arrival of the Nazis in Paris in 1939 and rather than escape home to Ireland, he joined the French resistance in 1941 and worked with them before his group in Paris was betrayed to the invaders. With his long-term partner, Suzanne, they received an early warning and travelled to the unoccupied area of southern France (Vichy). From Vichy they walked the long road to Roussillon where they believed they would escape the notice of the Gestapo. Becket lived a hard-working hand to mouth life for the next few years in Roussillon, supporting the local resistance in their attempts to undermine the occupying forces. After the war he received two more medals, the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance, from the French Government. In later years he referred to his work in fighting German Occupation as “boy scout stuff”. However, Roussillon is very proud of their Beckett heritage!

It was in 1970 in my first year of Uni studies when I encountered Samuel Becket for the first time. His masterpiece, Waiting for Godot was on our reading list. It was the first time I had heard of the Theatre of the Absurd and in this tradition, our tutors and lecturers put on a reading-production of  another Beckett play, Endgame for the first year group. Like Waiting for Godot, Endgame consisted of a couple of characters dialoguing about their lives with little action to break the monotony of their lives. To make matters worse, one of the characters spends the entire play in a garbage bin, centre-stage. Beckett’s bleak outlook on life where individuals sat around talking, doing nothing, waiting for ‘Godot’ who never arrives was a confronting life perspective for a young person growing up in sunny Sydney Australia. It was only when I visited Roussillon and heard some of the story behind Becket’s war-time experience that Waiting for Godot made much more sense. One critic described Waiting for Godot as a “metaphor for the long walk into Roussillon when Beckett and Suzanne slept in haystacks during the day and walked by night.” Early in Act 2, the following dialogue sounds like Beckett recalling his life around Roussillon

VLADIMIR: Where else do you think? Do you not recognize the place?
ESTRAGON: (suddenly furious). Recognize! What is there to recognize? 
All my lousy life I've crawled about in the mud! And you talk to me 
about scenery! (Looking wildly about him.) Look at this muckheap! I've 
never stirred from it!
VLADIMIR: Calm yourself, calm yourself.
ESTRAGON: You and your landscapes! Tell me about the worms!
VLADIMIR: All the same, you can't tell me that this (gesture) bears any
resemblance to . . . (he hesitates) . . to the Macon country for example.
You can't deny there's a big difference.
ESTRAGON: The Macon country! Who's talking to you about the Macon 
country?
VLADIMIR: But you were there yourself, in the Macon country.
ESTRAGON: No I was never in the Macon country! I've puked my puke of a
life away here, I tell you! Here! In the Cackon country!
VLADIMIR: But we were there together, I could swear to it! Picking 
grapes for a man called . . . (he snaps his fingers) . . . can't think 
of the name of the man, at a place called . . . (snaps his fingers) 
. . .can't think of the name of the place, do you not remember?
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