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The Ochre Trail
The Ochre Trail

Click on the upper image to see the video.

The Ochre Trail

Ochre is a natural pigment that is in the sandy soil which makes up the cliffs around Roussillon. Iron oxides colour the sands with shades ranging from yellow to violet. The mineral landscape reflects the effects of erosion and mining work done by man.

Two different trails, one short, one long take you through the ochre lands on a 30-minute or 60-minute walk. You can stay as long as you like. Information signs along the way describe the geology, the flora and the history of the ochre deposits in the Luberon…

Protect this beautiful site – follow the safety instructions and enjoy this trip 110 million years back in time !
Dogs on leash accepted

Fee :
Full price : 2.50 €
Discount price : 1.50 € (groups over 15 persons)
Free for children under 10.
Combi-ticket for trail and Ochre Conservatory : 7,5 €

2015 opening hours :
February 7th to 28th : from 11am to 3.30pm
March 1st to March 31st : from 10am to 5pm
April 1st to 30th : from 9.30am to 5.30pm
May 1st to 31st : from 9.30am to 6.30pm
June 1st to 30th : from 9am to 6.30pm
July 1st to August 31st : from 9am to 7.30pm
September 1st to 30th : from 9.30am to 6.30pm
October 1st to 31st : from 10am to 5.30pm
November 1st to 15th : from 10am to 4.30pm
November 16th to December 31st : from 11am to 3.30pm

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An original geological formation
230 million years ago, Provence lay under the seas, and remained underwater for a long, long period.

Several thousand meters of sediments washed away from the surrounding land masses and slowly built up on the sea floor. This sediment later formed the white limestone so characteristic of this region – Mont Ventoux, the Luberon range, Sainte Victoire, Verdon canyon, the calanques etc.

Then, approximately 110 million years ago, the sea grew deeper. Grey clay formed a new sediment which deposited on top of the limestone, creating a formation which geologists later called the “Aptian stratotype” .

Little by little the sea filled in. The water became very shallow and turbulent, and green sand containing small mineral grains known as glauconite settled on top of the grey clay.

Then, approximately 100 million years ago, major upheavals took place in the land masses around what is now Provence.

After the long period of marine life, the earth shifted and the area that is now Provence found itself totally out of the water.

The climate was tropical at the time. Strong and steady rainfall leached the green sands from the newly emerged land mass. The rain slowly transformed the green sand into ochre sands, then into white sand in several long steps. First the groundwater produced by the heavy rains dissolved all the elements in the green sand except for the sand itself, which was highly resistant. The minerals in this solution, such as kaolinite and goethite, crystallised and filled the empty spaces between the grains of sand, creating the ochre sands.

The iron hydroxide concentrated on the surface, forming a hard, impervious layer similar to laterite.

The red, yellow and orange colours in the ochre sands continue to be somewhat of a mystery. We know that goethite is involved, but what mechanisms has nature applied to create such a profusion of shades? Our work continues !

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The legend

Lady Sermonde and Lord Raymond d'Avignon lived in the castle in Roussillon. Guillaume de Cabestan, son of the Lord of Cabestan in the Hautes Alpes was taken on at Roussillon castle to work as a page and to apprentice to a knight in order to learn knightly ways.

Raymond d'Avignon, who was an avid hunter, preferred the company of his horses and huntsmen, and often left his wife alone. And with time, Dame Sermonde and Guillaume fell in love.

The young page’s songs became more insistent and obvious, and the domestics at the castle reported their suspicions to Lord Raymond d'Avignon.

Wanting to know more about the situation, Lord Raymond invited young Guillaume on a hunting party, and turned the conversation to his wife. So as not to betray Dame Sermonde, Guillaume told Lord Raymond that indeed he was in love, but with Dame Sermonde’s sister, Agnès.

To be sure, Raymond d'Avignon decided to travel to the nearby town of Tarascon, with Guillaume, in order to have confirmation of Guillaume’s story. Agnès quickly understood all that was at stake, and to save the two lovers, she played along. Dame Sermonde learned of her husband’s actions, and was both furious with his behaviour and indignant that her love for Guillaume went unacknowledged. She demanded that Guillaume tell their story in one of his songs.

Guillaume sang of their love and, hearing the truth, Raymond d'Avignon flew into a rage and took his revenge. During a hunting party, he stabbed Guillaume in the back, cut off his head, and cut out his heart.

He returned to the castle with the heart and had his cook prepare it with a spicy sauce.

Dame Sermonde delighted in the dish, until her husband informed her that she had just partaken in dining on the heart of her lover. "Seigneur”, she said, “you have given me such a good meal, that I never want to taste anything else again”.

Realising that his wife was escaping his control, Raymond d'Avignon drew his sword, but Dame Sermonde fled out of the castle to the edge of the cliff, and threw herself over the top. It is said that her blood coloured the lands all around, and that a spring gushed forth at the point where her fall ended.

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