On the Road in Provence
Roussillon is a small village set atop appropriately named Mont Rouge (Red Mountain) in the Luberon district of Provence. There really aren’t any particular sights to see — no castles, museums, or medieval ramparts — which can actually be a welcome relief for the long-term visitors like us. Roussillon’s attraction is purely one of beauty and charm stemming from its one unique feature. It sits on the world’s largest deposit of ochre, a reddish clay which produces a pigment that has had many uses throughout history. Primarily it is has been used in paints. The mining of ochre was the town’s economic base until WW II when cheaper substitutes were found.
A winding narrow road leads up the hill to Roussillon’s 2,000-foot high perch. At the top, the spectacular views are accompanied by a stiff wind better known as the legendary mistral. A walk around the quaint village, now totally dependent on tourists for its income, provides a sufficient amount of Provençal charm. Surrounded by red cliffs, the houses are painted in shades of yellow, brown, and red ochre accented with brightly colored shutters and doors which provide inspiration for any artist’s or photographer’s palette. This is how we enjoyed our time in Roussillon — capturing intriguing images created by the combination of shapes and colors.
Avignon’s claim to fame is that it was the headquarters of the Catholic church for 94 years beginning in 1309 when the first (and last) French Pope was elected. The church bought up the then tiny village and turned it into a Catholic metropolis which it believed would be much more secure than continuing residence in Italy. The town still thrives today but is no longer under the church’s influence and once again belongs to the French. What remains are various palaces, bridges, and fortresses that were built to support and defend the church’s endeavors.
A mix of old and new, Avignon is a combination of narrow cobblestone streets and wide avenues. It sports architectural styles from many periods in history. The Palace of the Popes covers 3 acres and is the largest surviving Gothic palace in Europe. The Church of St. Pierre holds an ornate golden Baroque alter. A few examples of architecture exist from the Middle Ages and can been seen in some buildings along the narrow streets now inhabited by residents and shopkeepers. And, if you’re not yet confused about where you are in the historical timeline, there’s a synagogue from the 11th century that was redone in Neoclassical Greek style in the 19th century.
This architecture and its accompanying ambience are what attracted us to visit Avignon. As we approached the walls of the city by crossing the Daladier Bridge on foot, we took in the views across the Rhone River. Once inside, we strolled past all the notable sights stopping here and there to sit, look, and listen. Eventually, we made our way to the park at the top of the hill, Jardin du Rochers des Doms, where more beautiful vistas of the Rhone River Valley awaited. Shaded from the increasingly warm sunshine and cooled by a strong wind while resting in this lush park, we were able to truly appreciate this opportunity to spend time in one of France’s most heralded regions, Provence.
If you haven’t discovered them already, please take a look at the individual gallery pages titled by region with additional photos from our travels. More to come…