In one of my many trips to Provence I was told of the existence of a place called Colorado Provencal. We were intrigued by the descriptions they had given us and so we decided to stop in Roussillon and Rustrel.
Colorado Provencal: Where it is located
We were in the area where the departments of Vaucluse, Drome and Haute Provence intersect. After visiting Fontaine de Vaucluse where Petrarch lived from 1337 to 1353 and met his beloved Laura and stopped first at Gordes and then at the Abbey of Senanque, our journey took us to the foot of the Luberon massif and more precisely to Roussillon continuing along the D2 and then to Rustrel. From Cavaillon you will take the D900 directly to Roussillon.
Roussillon e le Cave d’Ocra
The first stop not to be missed when visiting Colorado Provençale is one of the most characteristic villages in the whole of Provence, that of Roussillon.
Highly scenic to be clinging between the rocks and almost suspended between incredible ochre formations, what fascinated me were its houses with their colourful shutters that manage to emerge from the hill on which they are located.
Like all French villages, Roussillon gathers all around the central square, animated by the many tourists who disperse among the many small restaurants and craft shops.
The houses of the village were built using ochre extracted from the nearby quarries, finding in them all the shades of this beautiful material, so much so that they are defined by the inhabitants themselves as a real palette of Ochre colours.
Roussillon based his economy precisely on the sale of this pigment which was very flourishing until 1958, when the quarries were closed. To learn more about the history of Roussillon’s ochre, we visited the Conservatory where, in addition to learning more about the subject, we visited an old pigment factory.
Roussillon and the Ochre Path
But it is from this very village that you can reach the famous Cave d’Ocra, which amaze because of the spectacular panorama they offer.
Remember that the entrance to admire such a show is on payment, with a ticket price that amounts to a few euros. There are two paths, one for thirty minutes and one for one hour, which will take you almost into another world among multicoloured pinnacles.
The famous Ocre Trail is open from the middle of February until the end of the year every day. It is a small, particularly fragile site to which the utmost attention must be paid, remaining within the marked path to avoid stress to the rock formations.
I consider the Ochre Trails of the Luberon to be a truly impressive route situated between Roussillon and Rustrel. In these few kilometres of land you can admire all the shades of red and yellow that are present in an area that was unknown until it was chosen as the location for a film making it famous with the general public.
Colorado Provençal: The triumph of nature’s colours
In the Luberon, near the town of Apt, is the delightful village of Rustrel otherwise known as Colorado Provencal. This tourist destination is a hymn to the rejoicing of nature and, for this reason, has become a valuable destination for conscious tourism.
What is known as Colorado Provenzale is a territory managed by a private association that takes care of its protection and tries to raise the awareness of tourists to preserve this spectacle of nature. But why is this area known as “Colorado”? It is easy to guess that it is because of the similarities with the most famous Colorado in the United States, although obviously to a lesser extent.
These are ancient quarries that time and climate, eroding them, have created spectacular scenery where the ochre colour dominates with incredible shades and plays of tones ranging from bright red to ivory white passing through straw yellow and shades of grey.
Rustrel and Colorado Provencal
An ancient legend of Rustrel, tells that the earth has turned red because of the blood shed by Sirmonde, who committed suicide down the cliffs because her betrothed was her lover. In reality these formations date back more than 200 million years ago thanks to the alteration caused by the rain of some sandy sediments. The ochre deposits began to be exploited in the 18th century and today’s rock formations are the result of erosion and excavations over the years.
Those who have had the opportunity to visit the National Parks of the U.S.A., coming to Colorado Provence, cannot but connect it with Bryce Canyon, the famous park in Utah. What will surprise you the most is the intense colour of the green pine forest that highlights the ochre of the weathered rock formations that have been raging against them for centuries as you can see them.
You will find a suggestive landscape where a bright yellow that turns to orange and red ochre, explodes in the nature of a lush pine forest where you can immerse yourself choosing one of the various paths that there are.
To visit Colorado Provence in Rustrel you only pay for parking (5 euros for the whole day), while the walking tour is free. You can choose from many marked routes, with a walking time ranging from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
One of the most impressive is the path leading to the fairy chimneys, rock formations similar to those found in Colorado and the most famous in Cappadocia in Turkey.
If you travel to Colorado Provence for the first time, don’t be surprised! You’ll admire an area where the red colour of the sand is so overwhelming that it stains your clothes and you’ll feel like you’re in an African desert dominated by high rock formations with strange profiles that invite you to climb.
Remember to use suitable shoes and clothes, you will come out with red shoes, also always bring a good reserve of water with you because the heat is very hot and there are not many points to replenish yourself.
Visit Colorado Provence in several days
I’ll tell you straight away that this area deserves to be known as calmly as possible so that you can enjoy the beauty offered by nature and the slow pace of Provence.
The two towns are close to each other and can be visited in a single day to get to know the Colorado Provençale, perhaps through an excursion if you have your hotel accommodation in another place.
The advice is to base yourself at Roussillon where there are several accommodation facilities even at a really cheap cost.
And it is from this very village that you can already enjoy what you will visit by going to the Sentiero delle Ocre, whose entrance is paid (less than three euros) as well as the adjacent daily parking (about three euros). The peculiarity of the village is that all the external walls of the houses must be painted with colours that are in harmony with the red. A walk inside this delightful little village allows you to take a step back in time especially if you walk during the hours of sunset, when the rays of the setting sun illuminate the village with reflections that are impossible to describe.
The town of Rustrel, on the other hand, is the starting point for a visit to the Colorado Provencal National Park. In this area there are several paths that are prohibited depending on the weather conditions, especially in summer when the risk of fire is considerable, so it is a good idea to follow the instructions that you will have when you pick up the map.
There are two paths that develop inside the Park: the yellow one and the red one. The first one is shorter than the second but my suggestion is to go for the red one. Also this park has well defined openings that go from February 1st to the end of the year from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and in summer (July – August) from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The car park is about five euros.
Apt and its geological museum
If you have time left and you are still in Provence, I suggest you reach Apt and visit the Geological Museum which has a rich collection of ochres as well as archaeological finds from the area. Also interesting is a visit to the Mathieu factory in Roussillon which, by hand, produces artistic ochres after having extracted them in special areas where this is allowed. To get to know an ancient and hard work, the Mines of Bruoux in the nearby Gargas can be visited by appointment.
Our journey then continued towards the Valensole plateau to admire the flowering of lavender in all its splendour.