Leaving Aix after lunch, I headed north towards the region of Luberon. This area is more mountainous, the Luberon is a massif, with a highest peak more than 1000m. The area is much more laid back, with picturesque villages, scenic routes and a much more ‘traditional’ Provencal flavour. In the summer it is swarmed by tourists, mostly French, British and American that enjoy the mild climate and the laid-back villageois lifestyle
My first target was the Fort de Buoux. It lies roughly north of Aix but much higher in the mountain. Fort de Buoux (not to be confused with the modern village of Buoux which is nearby) is an abandonded hilltop village that has been deserted since the 17th century but once was fortified like a small city-fortress. The village was abandoned and partially demolished in the the 17th century for being a protestant stronghold. It stood over a commanding position above the river and the canyon. The remains are frequently visited and the nearby rocks are used by rock climbing enthusiasts
As I was driving there the scenery gradually changed. I soon left the highway and by way of progressively smaller roads I was driving towards the mountain. First I passed the Durance, the major river of the area and a tributary to the Rhone. The landscape has changed, with fields and small forests. Then I started climbing and the scenery changed again : mountainous forest, with very narrow roads (mostly wide enough for one car and a little more – glad no trucks were running there). I finally reached the Fort de Buoux in a splendind location among the woods. To get to the village you have to park the car outside a gate and walk for around 10 min. However the site had closed for the day (there was a sign that it was closing at 5.00pm and I just missed it), so I didn’t get a chance to see anything but the first few houses
Ah well, no use crying over spilt milk. I calculated I had enough time to visit two more interesting villages of the area. I immediately started for Rousillon which is a well known village that used to be a center for ochre production. It was a short ride, around 30-40 minutes in the woods and I got there before the sun was setting.
Rousillon is a magnificent, very unique place. Seems the whole village was built around ochre mining as there are rich deposits in the clay around the village. It is evident all over the village as virtually everything is painted in shades of red, orange or deep yellow. My timing also meant that I was there at the golden hour before sunset and the combination of the setting sun and the unique colors of the town made for some very good photographic opportunities. Which was very nice 🙂
Rousillion is a couple of streets around one or two small squares and some alleys and stairways that lead to the highest point where the church is. You can walk this route in less than 30 minutes, and you can spend some time visiting stores, maybe some old ochre workshop that now is used as a small museum. There is also a 30-60 minute route outside the village, to the location of on the old quarries in the Rousillion rocks just in the back of the main road. I did not do this because it was closed at the time, you have to be there in the morning
I did walk the spiralling streets, climbed some alleys/staircases and ended up on the church square with fine views all over the Luberon and even up to mont Ventoux on the north. It was well worth it, as also going down again past potteries, small shops, cafes and restaurants. The town was very lively and it would be pleasant to sit on a cafeteria but as there was still some time until sunset, I thought I could also travel to ‘famous’ Gordes, another traditional village that is nearby. So I left for the short ride, with a very fond impression for Rousillon
The ride from Rousillon to Gordes is short, around 15-20 minutes. The app I’m using, Here Maps took me to a shortcut with some very narrow and steep roads (but passable by car). I arrived before sunset and had a stroll around. Gordes was a village built on a natural fortifiable position on top of a hill. Initially the houses on top were inside a wall and surrounded a small square with the castle and the church. Access was possible only by steep staircases drawn on the rock. It seems that by the 20th century it fell into ruin and was abandonded, but then it was rediscovered by artists, designers and moviemakers. So the castle and houses were rebuilt and now the village is second home for many Parisians and other French, visited mostly in the summer and also has served as surroundings for several films, TV shows and even advertisements.
I walked around Gordes. It is nice, quite different in character (and colours 😛 ) to Rousillon. It was a little disappointing though because the town was half-deserted, I spend close to one hour there but couldn’t find a decent open cafe to sit and have a coffee or refreshment. Seems that the tourist season for Gordes starts later in the year, possibly in the summer when vacationers arrive. A pity!
I left Gordes just after sunset, heading back to Marseilles. The approach to Gordes is supposed to be one of the most photographed but since I came from another way I didn’t get to see it. But I enjoyed it leaving, as I was going another way (see the last photo on the gallery above)
I headed than straight to Marseille. It took me around one and a half hour to get back and it was pitch dark when I arrived at the Vieux Port and rather late. I tried to find something for dinner but most of the restaurants were closing for the night, so I just had a quick snack. I did manage to get a good night shot of the Hotel de Ville though 🙂
I then headed for a late night wine drink at the bar/restaurant that operates in my hotel and then for sleep. Next day’s plans were to drive up to Cannes, to meet some friends there and of course walk the famous La Croisette 🙂