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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!