The Massif des Ocres du Luberon


In the heart of Provence, the Massif des Ocres du Luberon is an exceptional geological area located in the heart of the Luberon Natural Regional Park (and the UNESCO Global Geopark). It is one of the most significant ochre deposits in the world. Human activity (mining of the ochre on an industrial scale) has shaped this postcard landscape, which is unique in Europe. Numerous villages and hamlets surrounded by vines and lavender fields complete the scenery. A journey into a colourful land, the industrial adventure of which is retold via the ochre mining remains. Thanks to its original landscape steeped in history, this destination was distinguished by the EDEN competition in 2017, the theme of which was cultural tourism. 

A land of flavour and colour

Welcome to the Communauté de Communes Pays d’Apt Luberon, land of flavour and colour where 25 villages welcome you! In the heart of the Luberon Natural Regional Park, discover this territory, cross the multiple marked trails and enjoy the diversity of the landscapes. Take the time to visit the heritage and the very picturesque hilltop villages which give Luberon its charm.

 

A colour rich route

The Massif des Ocres du Luberon offers a spectacle of flamboyant colours. In line with its make-up, the colour of the ochre is displayed in warm hues ranging from yellow to red. A pallet of colours accentuated by the wonderful Provençal light. To top it all off, the blue of the sky and the green of the flora serve to complete the picture. All around you is a real explosion of colour. Cliffs, hoodoos, mounds of ochre sand, the landscape shaped by man to mine this famous natural dye has now been reshaped by the natural elements, the rain and the wind. A unique and original place which is great to explore from all perspectives. With road routes to cross these fabulous landscapes or walking trails to access the most wonderful sites, Les Ocres du Luberon is accessible to all.

The welcoming of disabled people is beginning to be organised with, for example, accessibility to the Ochre Trail, which is free for them, as is the access to the three floors of the Apt Museum. The sites of the Bruoux Mines and the Conservatoire, regularly receive disabled members of the public, even though the set-up of these facilities does not allow for them to be Tourism and Accessibility certified. 

 

The ochre industrial adventure

The region's ochre has been used since prehistory. Yet it was in 1780 that Jean-Etienne Astier, a resident of the village of Roussillon, found a new use for the properties of this ore. After processing, the ochre could be used as a permanent and non-toxic dye. Jean-Etienne Astier became the first ochre miner in France and the ochre industrial adventure of Luberon began. Its exploitation gave birth to an extraordinary landscape. The deposits graced the land with its fabulous colours and visually transformed the region. The production reached a record 40,000 tons in 1929, then the crisis occurred with the appearance of synthetic dyes. Artisan production continued slowly. Nowadays, it is minimal. But ochre now arouses a new enthusiasm of a cultural kind.

 

A dynamic cultural region

Thanks to the Ôkhra association, the Mathieu plant, an important ochre site between 1921 and 1963, has reopened its doors – this time to visitors. The renovated plant unveils to the public the production secrets of this precious and colourful ore. The history of ochre is made accessible to all, as is its use. Passing on knowledge is at the heart of the approach of this association. Courses and practical training are organised for curious amateurs as much as for professionals of the colour. Painting, photography, arts and crafts, the offer is a varied one. For example, a beginner’s course in the colour can be taken there, or how about creating a personalised notebook, a renaissance fresco or taking a digital colour photography or pinhole camera course?

Distinguished in 2017 by the EDEN competition, the theme of which was cultural tourism, the Massif des Ocres du Luberon combines an extraordinary history with a spectacular setting. To make the most of what the region has to offer, nothing could be better than a bespoke tour. So here is the Ochre Route, which takes Provençal routes full of charm on a circuit of approximately 4 hours (excluding visits). This route will allow you to follow in the footsteps of the ochre miners of the previous century. Visits to the former ochre mining sites, explanations of the techniques used, meetings with enthusiasts of the colour, and a plentiful offer of activities to do as a family or among friends.

 

Itinerary of the Ochre Route:

From Apt to Rustrel via the hamlet of Les Jean-Jean
The starting point for this itinerary, Apt, is the ideal place to begin discovering the ochre region. There, you will find the Musée de l'Aventure Industrielle (Industrial museum). As its name suggests, it is the perfect introduction to find out about the history of ochre and its mining from 1780. Upon continuing towards Rustrel, the hamlet of Les Jean-Jean offers a photogenic Provençal stopover. In Rustrel, a small, typical Provence village, a 17th century château now houses the town hall. Ochre mining began in this village towards the end of the 19th century and ended in 1992 when the last ochre miner retired. Near to Rustrel, the fabulous Colorado site, with its landscapes with fantastical forms and shimmering colours, stands out as a regional must-see.

From Rustrel to Gargas via Villars
After Rustrel, continue to Villars. The route crosses fields of lavender, cherry trees and vines. It is dotted with pretty hamlets with Provençal colours. It is in this calm and serene setting of Villars that the painter, Paul Guigou, was born in 1834. Away from the very popular sites, admire the flamboyant colours of the ochres on the Bruyère site. By continuing along the Ochre Route, you now reach Gargas. It is the last village in Europe where ochre is still mined. Visit the spectacular remains of the Bruoux Mines. With its 650m of galleries, sometimes 15m high, it offers a real immersion into the world of the ochre miners. On the programme, a presentation of the mining techniques as well as an introduction to painting with ochre.

From Gargas to Apt via Roussillon
In Roussillon, towards the end of the 18th century, Jean-Etienne Astier invented a process which was able to extract the ochre from the sand. It was the start of the increasing exploitation of this colourful pigment. The Conservatoire des ocres et de la couleur aims to preserve the techniques and expertise surrounding ochre. Created by Ôkhra in 1994, it was the first cultural cooperative for the colour. An educational trail exhibits, via 15 panels, all the production stages of ochre: washing, drying, grinding, baking, packaging and exportation. Roussillon is also the starting point of the Sentier des Ocres (Ochre trail), a wonderful walk over the ochre mining ground. Informative panels, placed regularly, will teach you all about the geology of the terrain. It is a fun and educational trail to be undertaken as a family (paid ticket - €2.50 - 30 to 60 minutes of walking).

There is the ochre of the earth, of course, but also the green of the pines, the blue of the sky... and all the other colours of Provence. Whatever the season, the Massif des Ocres du Luberon offers a wonderful setting for outdoor activities. The Massif des Ocres can be visited on foot, by bike or even in a hot air balloon. The outdoor activities in the Luberon Natural Regional Park offer numerous routes with all the practical information useful for your getaways.

 

The trails of Ochre Country

Between the soil of a thousand colours and a Provençal vegetation, Ochre Country is the ideal place for walking. Near to Rustrel, the beauty of Colorado Provençal can be discovered on foot. Several marked trails cross this former ochre site. A landscape hollowed out by man, then shaped by the natural elements, in which orange cliffs and hoodoos appear one after the other, accessible via narrow valleys. Not far from Villars, the Ocres de la Bruyère showcases a typical vegetation consisting of Scotch and maritime pines. It is also the habitat of various animal species such as deer and boar.

Another site to admire the beauty of this fantastic shimmering scenery is the Ochre Trail in Roussillon. Two marked routes (30 and 60 minutes) allow you to meander between the mineral and rock formations with ease. Ochre, indeed, but not just that. Thanks to its biotope of rare plants, the Pérréal hill is listed as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. It is also a palaeontological site where you can observe the fossil deposits from the Upper Cretaceous.

 

Other outdoor activities - discovering Ochre country differently

A gentle bike ride or sporting circuit on a mountain bike, there is something for everyone. The Ochre Route offers a 50km tour which crosses the most stunning ochre landscapes. It connects the towns and villages of Apt, Gargas, Roussillon, Villars and Rustrel. Signposted in green, red ochre and yellow ochre, the route is dotted with information panels on the most remarkable sites.

For the sportier among you, the tour of Colorado Provençal by mountain bike lets you enjoy the colourful scenery of the famous ochre mining site. Its route also affords wonderful views from the crests and on the Vaucluse Mountains.

Finally, for an unforgettable experience, climb aboard a hot air balloon. A balloon flight above Luberon guarantees absolute calm and a breath-taking view over Ochre Country. For a refreshing break, the leisure centre of Riaille Lake offers a great variety of outdoor activities. It is a family leisure and relaxation area. From the start of April to the end of November, water sports are practised there, as well as fishing, tennis and skateboarding. A mountain bike trail and a BMX pump track are also on offer.

The ochre processing technique was invented in 1780 by Jean-Etienne Astier. This innovation marked the beginning of the ochre industrial adventure. But first of all, what is ochre?

 

But first of all, what is ochre?

Ochre, a mineral pigment which is made from marine sediments deposited between 200 and 100 million years ago, is a mixture of sand (quartz), clay (Kaolinite) and iron oxide (goethite). Its colour palette is infinite, ranging from white to purple and from pale yellow to bright red. In the Apt region, the Massif des Ocres stretches over 25km from east to west. The layers of ochre can be up to 15m thick. The mining of ochre by man has, in some areas, reshaped the deposits. The result is a fantastical landscape with bright colours.

The Massif des Ocres is a unique landscape in France. It contributes to Luberon's reputation. This exceptional geological site, shaped by its history, captures the curiosity of a public seeking authenticity, history, expertise and majestic landscapes. To stop its irreversible degradation, the Communauté de communes Pays d’Apt Luberon has registered the site to obtain the Grand Site de France certification.

 

Discovering the techniques relating to ochre

Ôkhra is a cooperative society in the public interest. In 1994, it created the Conservatoire des ocres et de la couleur. It trains practitioners and craftspeople working with the colour, thereby preserving historical expertise. For the public, it is a chance to immerse themselves in the world of the ochre miners, thanks to a visit to the Mathieu ochre plant. This former site produced up to 1,000 tons of ochre per year between 1921 and 1963. Abandoned then renovated, the plant is now an invaluable reminder of this industrial age.

There, you will see the different processing stages of the ore, from mining to delivery. The tour is interspersed with archive photographs and explicative panels. It is an educational and fun visit which even children will love (from 7 years old). In Apt, the Musée de l'Aventure Industrielle (Industrial museum) tells the story of ochre in this region, its boom and subsequent crisis.

 

Ôkhra, a cultural project on the colour

This desire to share the passion for ochre and the colour is extended via meetings, workshops and exhibitions on the subject. As such, every year, temporary exhibitions are organised on various themes dealing with the subject of the colour. The association offers numerous courses designed for both novices and experts of the colour. Painting courses, courses on using mineral materials, photography, arts and crafts and lots more besides make up a range of courses that is unique in France.

 

Experience life at a Provençal pace and listen to the cicadas singing. To help you plan the very best trip to the Ocres du Luberon, here are some establishments: Luxurious hotels, comfortable guest houses, gourmet restaurants, family eateries, multi-coloured cuisine; the scent of Provence wafts through the gite and around the table. The cuisine gives pride of place to regional produce, with, for example, unmissable lamb specialities, like lamb with asparagus. Vegetarians will be delighted with the abundant use of vegetables, like Papeton d'aubergine (egg and aubergine based local dish) or Tian Provençal (Provençal Vegetable Bake).

 

Where to sleep

  • Domaine de la Coquillade, in Gargas: 5 star hotel-restaurant, Provençal charm at its finest. Set menu from €38 - Double rooms from €170 - www.coquillade.fr - Le Perrotet, 84400 Gargas - 04 90 74 71 71
     
  • Ibis Budget Apt Luberon, 2 star hotel, in Apt: a simple and modern hotel with standard comfort. Double room from €31 - www.ibis.com – 523 voie Domitienne, 84400 Apt – 08 92 700 697
     
  • La Maison des Ocres 3 star hotel, in Roussillon: in a wonderful ochre-coloured building are spacious and modern rooms. Single/double rooms from €103/€123 - http://lamaisondesocres-hotel.com - 457 avenue Dame Sirmonde, Route de Gordes, 84220 Roussillon - 04 90 05 60 50
     
  • Mas Jorel, in Gargas: 4 guestrooms and 2 studios in a wonderful Provençal property with a view of the Vaucluse Mountains. Double rooms from €95 - www.lemasjorel.com  – 104 impasse des cerisiers, 84400 Gargas, Hameau de Tartuguière - 04 90 75 62 79
     
  • Li Poulidetto, in Lioux: guestrooms committed to sustainable tourism, pretty ochre house with a pool. Double rooms from €79 - www.lipoulidetto-luberon.com/index.php/fr/Lieu dit sur le château, La combe, 84220 Lioux - 04 90 72 42 19

 

Where to eat

  • La Coquillade, Gargas: choice of 3 restaurants. A gourmet restaurant set menu from €80 - A bistro set menu from €42 - A set menu in the Italian restaurant from €38 - www.coquillade.fr  – Le Perrotet, 84400 Gargas - 04 90 74 71 71
     
  • La Treille, in Roussillon: Provençal traditional cuisine, shaded terrace, welcoming service. Set menu from €17 - Rue du Four, 84220 Roussillon -  04 90 05 64 47
     
  • La Fontaine, in Villars: Mediterranean cuisine revisited in a family setting. Set menu from €22 - www.restaurantlafontaine.com  – Place de la Fontaine, 84400 Villars - 04 90 75 48 55
     
  • La Table de Pablo, in Villars: part gourmet restaurant, cuisine based on fresh, local and organic produce. Set menu from €32 – www.latabledepablo.com – 19 La Côté St Jaume, 84400 Villars – 04 90 75 45 18
     
  • Chez Sylla, in Apt: dishes consisting of aged cheeses to go with the wines from the Sylla Cellar. Dishes from €14.50  – www.sylla.fr – 406 avenue de Lançon, 84400 Apt - 04 90 04 60 37

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