Tourism: the ocher quarries of the Luberon

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Tourism: the ocher quarries of the Luberon

Provençal colorado unveils its multiple colors

A passage through the country of ochres, it marks you a man. But also his soles and his clothes ... In Roussillon and in this corner of the Lubéron, ocher is everywhere. Natural, wild, spectacular.

Ocher, red thread of a colorful journey in Roussillon, Underground, in the mines of Bruoux or in the open air on the paths of Roussillon: ocher is the king, in this corner of the Lubéron. On the paths of red earth or in the depths of the mines, the ochres of Roussillon look like Colorado at these incredible sites of the Lubéron. Breathtaking.

The most obvious dive is on foot, by the inevitable trails trampled each year by hundreds of thousands of visitors. Not to be missed anyway. "In Rustrel or here in Roussilon, we talk about a little Colorado," Vauclusien said. Eroded by the rain and the winds, the "Cheminées des Fées" impress with their majestic port and their bright red outfits.

What is less known is that it was man, and above all, who sculpted these splendid landscapes. The ochres of Roussillon were indeed intimately linked to the industrial revolution. "Between 1880 and 1930, it was used in bulk as coloring filler and very often associated with rubber," reminds Norbert, at the Conservatoire des Ocres. "Look at the old tubes of the bicycles, they were red-orange! The same applies to the elastics or rubbers of the closures of glass jars (note: weck). "Ocher is also used in food: the skin of Strasbourg sausages, crusts of cheeses from Holland ...

At the height of the frantic frenzy, at the beginning of the 20th century, forty thousand tons a year was extracted from this yellow and red gold from the quarries of the Luberon. A visit is required at the mines of Bruoux, at Gargas, at a stone throw of Roussillon. Here you are at the foot of an orange cliff, inflamed on sunny days, forty meters high and overhung with pine and deciduous trees. At the foot, half a dozen doors for giants invite you to discover. "For 70 years, until the 1950s, the galleries were carved by men, with double-edged picks," recalls Sylvie Houssais, coordinator of the site. "We can clearly see the traces of each of these blows." Forty kilometers of galleries are still accessible and we find ourselves singing in group a "Brother Jacques" resounding in a cathedral of sand and ocher with impeccable acoustics . Not sure that the same good humor accompanied these 150 convicts of the mine every day, in the early 1900s. "Ocher had become a sought-after material. Farmers have improvised themselves. They did not have the right techniques to secure their work. There were quite a few fatal accidents in these galleries, the first years ... "

The economic crises and, above all, the arrival of the synthetic components, almost signed the industrial death order of the Luberon ochres.

But for a few years, this noble dust found again colors. The Guigou family, at the head of the Société des Ocres de France, extracts and upgrades a small thousand tons per year (see below). Gargas' career has always lived to the rhythm of the seasons. It is extracted from September to May. And from the first days of true weather, the thick layers of ocher decanted, dried and cracked in large ponds of a hundred square meters. A process that has not moved through the centuries. In this artistic flash of a prehistoric rock painting or in the colored coating that will warmly dress the walls of your home, ocher is never far from the hand of Man.

Provence Luberon Sotheby's International Realty: Your expert in luxury real estate in the Luberon and Provence.