The earth’s surface in the French village of Roussillon is the color of cumin, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. At sunset it is the color of the hottest cayenne and the palest of gingers and its name, ochre, conjures images of the exotic. Ochre was first used as a natural paint in the painted caves of prehistoric man. It was later rediscovered at the time of the French Revolution, and was sold throughout the world for over a century. Ochre has been an ingredient in the dyes of fabric and in the pigments of the yellows the reds of Renoir and van Gogh.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region has been inhabited by humans for over 450 thousand years and because of its strategic location has always been a battleground. Legions of Romans, Visigoth tribes, Frankish armies, Moorish colonialists, French, Spaniards and Portuguese armies fought over domination of the area and much blood was spilled.
During the Reign of Terror French Revolutionaries fought back the armies of the Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms in the war of Roussillon. A brutal outcome after its three-year war saw the execution of all French royalist prisoners and the guillotining of French generals who disfavoured the local deputies while fighting for them.
It was a key post for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in the Second World War . The writer and decorated Resistance fighter Samuel Becket lived in Roussillon after escaping the Gestapo for his work in the Resistance in Paris. He wrote his second novel while living there.
The village of Roussillon, perched on ochre cliffs, is a quiet spot in winter. Few restaurants and boutiques are open but the empty streets resonate with its long history. Arriving at noon via a journey from the south side of the Luberon we had lunch at one of few open restaurants – a Bar/Pizzeria. It was excellent. Omelets du jour, served with ratatouille, really hot, skinny frites, a Pichet à rosé from the Roussillon region, fromage frais avec fruits rouge et café.
It was meal substantial enough to brace us for cold, but sunny afternoon and provide energy to discover this most exceptional place.