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The Provence Palette – Finding Lavender and Ochre Mines in Rustrel

It’s early July in Provence, France, and the lavender fields of the Luberon are at last in full bloom. The usual earthy tones of the Provençal landscape are interrupted by patches of purple, while the violet flowers fill the air with their heavenly scent.

With my mother visiting from New Zealand, I was keen to show her the iconic flowering lavender fields of Provence.

We drove inland, through beautiful hillside villages (including two of France’s most beautiful), orchards bursting with stone fruits, and olive groves heavy with next season’s harvest.

The destination? Rustrel – a petite village tucked into the northern reaches of the Luberon Natural Regional Park.

But purple isn’t the only colour that dominates the undulating earth surrounding Rustrel. Lush green vegetation defies the dry weather and blankets the hillside. And at one point it slides away to reveal the rich earthy tones known as the Colorado Provençal – a former ochre mine turned nature walk through a fiery landscape more akin to the desert of its western American namesake.

Discovering Rustrel

Arriving in the village of Rustrel, my first impression was how quiet it is. Unlike nearby Roussillon with its large (paid) car parks and tour buses queuing in the streets, Rustrel seems untouched by tourism on this sleepy Tuesday morning.

Where to eat in Rustrel, Provence.

Our usual rushed morning to get Arthur (4) off to school meant that I’d skipped breakfast, so we stopped by Brasserie des Ocres in the village centre.

Filling up on salty pissaladière and steaming cups of thé vert, the sun warmed our shoulders as we sat and watched the passersby.

The village was just waking up from its slumber, supplies being offloaded into the restaurant next door and dogs being walked before the day gets too hot.

Where to eat in Rustrel, Provence, France
Mum enjoying the sun in Rustrel.

With renewed energy, we set off through the village towards the Colorado Provençal. Pretty houses framed with colourful foliage and ancient stonework kept stealing our attention as we walked through the crooked lanes. But we soon reached the edge of the village as the last few houses blended into the countryside.

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The Colorado Provençal

Having already visited the nearby Ochre Trail in Roussillon, the Colorado Provençal wasn’t high on my Provence wish list. But the sight of the flame red and burnt orange cliffs peeking out between the leafy green hills caught my attention as soon as we entered Rustrel.

The entrance to the site is just a short 15-minute walk from the village centre and saves you paying for parking at the attraction (€5 for cars).

The Colorado Provencal in Rustrel, Provence.

The route is well signposted and the entrance is obvious from the main road. We walked past the queue waiting to enter the car park and followed other walkers down a dusty path into the forest.

The feel is much more rustic than the Ochre Trail, and the route more of a suggestion than a requirement. A sign indicated we’d soon reach an aqueduct and I had visions of the grand structures I’d seen in this part of France, but the reality was somewhat more humble…

The Colorado Provencal in the Luberon, Provence.

After the mini aqueduct, the ground started to turn a warmer shade, suggesting we were on the right track. And sure enough, a few turns later we were greeted with towering cliffs the colour of caramel.

The Colorado Provençal in the Luberon, Provence, France. Walking the former ochre mine.

We wandered around the track marvelling at the range of colours and the unique shapes that have been etched into the earth over time, pausing occasionally to seek shade under an orange-tinged tree.

Walking the Colorado Provencal near Rustrel, France

Eventually, the sun got the better of us. And with the mercury rising above 35°C we retreated back to the shady streets for a respite while we returned to the village.

Walking in Rustrel, Provence, France

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Lavender Fields of Rustrel

Taking another route back to the village, down quiet country lanes, had us walking by old stone farmhouses. Their pastel-coloured shutters firmly closed to keep the heat at bay.

Ducks happily bathed under leafy trees while butterflies floated past on a warm breeze.

Where to find lavender in Provence, France

It wasn’t long until the telltale sight of a field of purple flowers stopped us in our tracks. Walking carefully between the neatly plotted rows, bees happily buzzed around our ankles as they flew from one beautiful bud to another.

Lavender fields of the Luberon. Finding lavender in Provence, France.

It was like stepping into a photograph, an impression enhanced as a powder-blue Citroën 2cv drove past – the low hum of its engine lingering as I gaped open-mouthed at the perfectness of the scene before me.

We passed two more open fields of lavender on our walk back. Stopping each time to take in the scent and sight – and feeling inadequate as I’d try desperately to capture the beauty on my camera.

Where to find lavender in Provence. Exploring the lavender fields around Rustrel in the Luberon.

I’ve mapped our walk as a bucolic loop back from the Colorado Provençal to Rustrel village, where you’re sure to spot a lavender field or three. The patches of purple we passed are at points D, E and F below.

From point F you can actually follow a path back to the village without having to walk the main road (as demonstrated by Mum below), but Google Maps wouldn’t allow me to draw that ‘unofficial’ route!

Lavender fields around Rustrel, France

Rustrel was the perfect day trip from Aix-en-Provence. I got to show my mother the essence of Provence, complete with archetypal villages, fields bursting with fragrant lavender, and the very source of the warm tones that colour this part of France – the ochre mines.

If you’re spending time in the Luberon this summer – do not miss a trip to Rustrel!

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Looking for the archetypal Provence experience? Visit Rustrel, a petite village tucked into the heart of the Luberon Natural Park in Provence, France. You'll find fields bursting with lavender, and the legendary Ochre mines that played a huge part in the history of this area of France.

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Monday 31st of August 2020

[…] the stunning Calanques bordering the Mediterranean to the ochre canyons of Roussillon and Rustrel, the iconic monumental towns, fairytale villages of Provence and Colmart, the romantic spells of […]

Polly Van Winkle

Tuesday 14th of May 2019

I will be staying in Rustrel in just a few weeks and would love to enjoy your walking tour of lavender there. Is there a way I can print the map you have included in your dialog?

Nadine Maffre

Thursday 16th of May 2019

Hi Polly, I think you should be able to print it from this link. Have fun!


Monday 3rd of July 2017

Sooo beautiful. Got to add to my bucket list


Monday 3rd of July 2017

Beautiful! I went to Roussillon a couple of summers ago, but I didn't know there was another village with so much ochre.

Nadine Maffre

Tuesday 4th of July 2017

Thanks Laura. Yes, it surprised me also! I had vaguely heard of the Colorado Provençal, but had forgotten it was in Rustrel. It's actually just as impressive - just somewhat less touristy ;-)

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