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A Trip through the Countryside
of Southern France

Written by Rick Archer
March 2013

On the final day of our Barcelona 2009 cruise, we stopped in Marseilles, France.  Marla and I decided to take a bus tour through the beautiful countryside of southern France. 

We visited a castle and a village in Lourmain (#2), an amazing former "Ochre Quarry" in Roussillon (#3), and a delightful French town named Isle Sur la Sorgue (#4).

Here is the story!!

Rick's Note: In July 2014, Marla and I are considering offering a River Cruise through Southern France along the Rhone River

The journey would begin by flying into Marseilles.  From there, we would take an hour's bus ride to Avignon about 50 miles to the north. 
The ship would leave from Avignon and first visit Arles, the town that Vincent Van Gogh made famous with his artwork.  From there we would head north. 

At Lyon, the ship would leave the Rhone and cross over to the Saone River.  As the map shows, the trip would end at Chalon.   Marla had hoped to add the 3-day Paris extension to the trip as well.   As they say, once you're there, you might as well see it all.  

This is an expensive trip, no doubt.  That said, this is what people refer to as a "dream vacation."  To many people, the price of seeing this exquisite part of the world makes the trip worthwhile.  Now the question is whether we can get enough people for Marla to go ahead and actually schedule the trip.

In early March 2013, Marla put out a feeler and got some very positive response.  By coincidence, I was working on this story about our 2009 visit to Southern France.  If you read my story and think the 2014 River Cruise to this same area is a trip you would be interested in taking, by all means contact Marla ( ) and show your support.


Our first stop took us to the small village of Lourmarin located about 35 miles due north of Marseilles.

Lourmarin was filled with narrow, winding streets far more suitable for walking than for any cars. 

I don't think cars could even fit in this narrow alley way. That odd line turned out to be a path for rain to drain off quickly.


There were larger streets for cars, but we got there so early that practically nothing was moving in this sleepy hamlet.

There were flowers in every window.  The town was ridiculously clean and cheerful in appearance.

Marla and I treated ourselves to a guilty pleasure: French pastries!

We ate our pastries complete with delicious French coffee down in this cellar converted into a small restaurant

Marla discovered the most beautiful gift shop I have ever seen!!

Marla found all sorts of things to interest her.

I could not get over the richness of all the color.


People were starting to move around the town.  As you can see, even the roads the cars were allowed on weren't very wide. 

Lourmarin Castle is located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.  This castle is the main reason we had come to the charming town of Lourmarin.

I regret to say I didn't find the interior of the castle particularly interesting, but the views around the castle were stunning.

These foothills are part of the French Alps which descend all the way the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.  Therefore the countryside is extremely hilly.  Lourmarin is located in a luscious valley that is perfect for farming.

France has been called the breadbasket of Europe. 

This picture on the left evokes images of the fertile land and the ease with which crops are raised in the farmland here.

On the right is a lovely pond.  Trust me, the castle was far prettier on the outside than the inside.  No one has bothered to make the interior even remotely "comfortable".

After the conclusion of the French Revolution, the castle slowly descended into ruins.

Finally, in 1920, Robert Laurent-Vibert, who was a producer of cosmetics, bought the ruined castle & restored it.

Upon his death, he donated the castle to the townspeople and the area.  The proceeds from visitors are meant to benefit the community. 


One last look at lovely Lourmarin. Now we were on our way to Luberon Valley (see below) located to the north ten miles away on the other side of the foothills. 

Luberon Valley

Luberon Valley lies in the middle of Provence in the far south of France. The valleys north and south of them contain a number of towns and villages as well as highly fertile agricultural land.

The total number of inhabitants varies greatly between winter and summer.  The area fills up in the summer due to a massive influx of tourists during the warm season.

Luberon Valley is full of many farms and green fields as far as the eye can see.  In every direction one can see the valley framed by rolling hills that can just barely be described as "mountains".

The valley is surrounded by three separate mountain ranges known as the Little Luberon, the Big Luberon and the Oriental Luberon.   Just to the north of the valley, these foothills turn into the rugged French Alps. 

Although the mild climate is somewhat arid, there are plentiful rivers and streams flowing down from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea that can be used for irrigation. 

Provence is the name for the entire area.  Due to its proximity to Mediterranean and its mild climate, Provence has some of the earliest known sites of human habitation in Europe.  All sorts of primitive artifacts and drawing are constantly being found in caves around the region. 

Over the centuries, the Gauls, the Greeks, and the Romans have fought many battles for control of the rich farmland.

Today this area is a favorite destination for French high society and British and American visitors because of the pleasant and picturesque towns and villages, comfortable way of life, agricultural wealth, and the rich history of the region.  There are vineyards throughout the region plus a multitude of fascinating biking and hiking trails.

Some of the favorite hiking trails are located just south of Roussillon.  Known as the "Ochre Footpaths", the paths wind through a bizarre world of red dirt. 

Ochre is a natural dye that has been used since prehistoric times. At one time, 17 different ochre tints were quarried in Roussillon. The ochre business was at its best towards the end of the 19th century and ochre from Roussillon was exported all over the world. The area of ochre in the Luberon valley is the biggest in the world, giving the area the nickname the "Colorado Provençal".

The small French town of Roussillon is world-famous as the site of the one of the richest lodes of ochre clay in the world.

However, at this point, I think the townspeople are more interested in preserving the remaining supplies as a tourist attraction than they are in selling it commercially.

Here we get our first look at the weird landscape created by the mining and the erosion of the ochre hills near Roussillon. 

The place is so rugged and uniformly red, I swear you feel like you are walking on the surface of Mars!!

The quarries can be visited via the 'Sentier des Ocres' (Ochre Path), a walk of 30 to 60 minutes through the old workings depending on your pace.

Roussillon is a small village in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France.  The current population is somewhere around 1,200.  It is said that in the summer the tourists outnumber the townspeople. 

The village lies within the borders of the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, the French name for "National Park".

The large ochre quarries of Roussillon were mined from the end of the 18th century until 1930.

Back in those days, thousands of people found work in the quarries and factories. However the discovery of less expensive and less fragile synthetic pigments rendered the mining obsolete. 

Nowadays the ochre quarries have been permanently closed to further mining.  This prohibition was put in place in order to protect the sites from degradation and further destruction.

Using Google Earth, this picture shows the extent of ochre hills with their distinctive red hues.  These ochre hills stretch for one-third of a mile.  This fragile area was named a conservation site in 2002.

As you will see, the townspeople of Roussillon have turned the area into a delightful tourist adventure.  They have created a labyrinth of delightful footpaths that take you through the former quarries that are now being returned to nature. 

And now its time to walk with Marla and me down the amazing Ochre Path.  We were shocked to be instantly transported into one of the most extreme environments imaginable. 

I honestly felt like I had been placed on a different planet.   Welcome to the Red World of Mars!


Faces in the Crowd: Maite Rombado

Faces in the Crowd: Millie Cagle & Carolyn Novogradac

OMG!  It's the terrible Red Ochre Monster!


By the way, I played a little trick on you back there.  I slipped in a picture from America's own Garden of the Gods located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Did you catch it?  During our walk, Marla remarked that the Ochre Hills reminded her of the Garden of the Gods.  I smiled because I was thinking the exact same thing. 

Our next stop was the picturesque town of Roussillon for lunch.  Notice the entire town has the distinctive red ochre tone.  Hmm.  I wonder where that came from?


After lunch, we left Roussillon and took a short trip over to L'Isle Sur la Sorgue, a quaint village built on both sides of the Sorgue River. 

In this part of France, it seems like there is a river every five miles.  All that rain and snow up in the French Alps to the north has to go somewhere.  As a result, there is a series of rivers taking the rain waters down to the Mediterranean.  The town has many attractive water wheels that are still in working order.

The town is fun to visit. It has many waterside cafés and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other.   L'Isle Sur la Sorgue is famous for its many antique shops. It hosts antique markets most Sundays that are visited by both locals and tourists from far and wide.


There were all kinds of lovely canals to look at.

Marla and I got a little bored, so we decided to walk through the park.


So what is Marla doing down there?  We came upon a bunch of ducks. 

I fished a box of Cheerios out of my back pack and gave the box to Marla.


Instantly Marla became the most popular human on the planet. 

Marla created a feeding frenzy of the greatest magnitude. 

Marla's popularity didn't end after the Cheerios were gone.  The ducks followed her everywhere.  She was the Pied Piper of ducks!

The village of l'Isle sur la Sorgue was truly a very charming place.  We loved seeing the restaurants, shops, canals, flowers and of course the ducks.


That night after we got back to the ship, we had a small Going Away Party for the group.  Here is Mike and Jan Davis.

MG and Gay Anseman


Linda and Jon Monteith

Jeff Gobeli and Becky Bratton

Wendy and Jim Felker


Ann and Mike Harrah

Nancy McCormick, Rick Archer, June Singh


Marla and I absolutely adored this day.  We loved our visit to the countryside of southern France.  Everywhere we went during our visit we saw beauty.   I can definitely see why the world flocks to southern France.

There is of course the rumor that the French are not always the nicest people.  I do remember a small incident in Paris where a waiter snubbed us to wait on French customers first.  However I would like to put in a good word for the French.

The people we met today were warm and gracious.  Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles and helpful attitudes.   Personally I can't imagine why not.  Who could possibly be unhappy when surrounded by so many blessings? Rich land, warm climate, lovely rolling hills, forests, and stunning mountains looming in the distance.  What more can you ask for?

Marla decided the 2009 Barcelona Cruise was her second favorite trip of all-time with 2007 Hawaii as her first pick.  I disagreed.  This trip was without a doubt my own personal favorite.  I would take this trip again in a heartbeat.

Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
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The Fabulous French Riviera Nice and Eze Monaco Fast Lane Grace Kelly Cote d'Azur
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