Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments
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Pierre

Last Updated: 15 June 2024

The unexpected Provençal Colorado of Rustrel ranks among France’s most beautiful attractions.

Situated on one of the largest ochre quarries in the world, the Colorado of Rustrel was, at one time, one of the best known producers of ochre in France.

Today, the hues and the strange looking shapes of the outcrops, shaped by centuries of exposure to the elements, are simply breathtaking.

 

The Provençal Colorado of Rustrel

The remains of the ochre quarry are accessible from a large user-pay car park just out of the village of Rustrel along the D22 road.

A path leads directly to the site, winding its way around the forest before arriving at the red and yellow sands of the quarries.

The landscape is reminiscent of a Wild West movie set. Ochre is a pigment containing 10% iron oxide and a mixture of sand and clay, resulting in an intense colour.

The grandiose site of the Colorado displays up to 25 different colours, varying through white, ivory and orange to crimson, reddish-brown and even violet.

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Historic Overview of the Colorado of Rustrel

The quarry was first mined in 1871 when Jean Allemand introduced the first ochre-washing works to France.

Out of the 40,000 tons of pigment produced by the ochre industry in 1929, most came from Rustrel.

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Old house in the old quarry site © French Moments

The Ochre Production Stages

There were several stages in the process to produce ochre out of sand.

First, the sand was washed in the Doa River to separate it from the oxides. 

The ore was then crushed, washed again and decanted into shallow basins. 

After a drying stage that lasted for a month, the ore was then crushed to a fine powder.

The Destiny of Ochre Production

The site was mined until 1992 when the last worker in the quarry retired.

The fortunes of the mining company had declined after 1940 when chemical dyes began to replace ochre for most industrial purposes.

There is still a company mining ochre in the Luberon. It is located in Gargas between Roussillon and Apt: the “Société des Ochres de France”.

Ochre map in the Luberon © French Moments

Ochre Map in the Luberon © French Moments

The Gargas site features 650 m of galleries in the Mines of Bruoux. There, miners carved no less than 40 km of underground tunnels to extract the ochre-laden sand.

Ochre usage

Today, ochre is used by building companies for colouring plaster and cement, decorative tiles and roof tiles.

Villages in Provence, such as Roussillon, have become famous for their colourful façades, where ochre has been used as “enduit” (the coating covering the outside of a house). 

Roussillon © French Moments

Colourful ochre façades in Roussillon © French Moments

This kind of render was popular because it let the stone breathe and, as many houses face south, ochre is resistant to the sun and heat.

Ochre is also found in industrial and artists’ paints and also in cosmetic powders and pastes, rubber inner tubes and jam jar seals.

It is also found in Dutch cheese rind and sausage (such as Strasbourg sausage or knack).

Walking in the Provençal Colorado

These vast stretches of sand can be explored along two main marked tracks, of 2.1 km and 3.9 km in length respectively.

The Sahara Trail (Blue)

Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

The Sahara Trail is 2.1 km long and takes 40 minutes. 

The shortest path leads directly to “le Sahara” after a short hike through a forest of chestnut trees, ferns and truffle oaks.

“Le Sahara” is composed of dunes of pure ochre soil with flamboyant colours that blend magnificently with the deep green of the forest and the azure blue of the sky.

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

In "Le Sahara" © French Moments

Roller-coaster paths wind through canyons of all sizes to the delight of young and old, where one can easily make out the different layers of these strangely shaped-rocks.

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Part of "Le Sahara" © French Moments

The soil is quite soft and the sand sticks to skin and clothing.

The Belvedere Trail (Orange)

The Belvedere Trail is 3.9 km long and takes 100 minutes. 

The path passes above columns topped by “pointed hats”, also called “Cheminées de Fées” (Chimneys of Fairies). 

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Cheminées de Fées © French Moments

And by a lesser-known site, the White Desert.

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

The White Desert © French Moments

The colourful hues were extracted by ochre and iron-ore miners and the columns have been shaped over the years by nature's elements, in particular the Mistral wind.

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

The Sahara seen from the Belvedere Trail © French Moments

Visit Tips to the Colorado of Rustrel

The classified site of the Provençal Colorado is managed by the Association du Colorado de Rustrel. 

Founded in 2009, the association works to enhance, preserve, and ensure the safety of the site. 

They also organise the reception at the site and its services to make your visit as pleasant as possible.

Before visiting the site, I recommend checking the official Provençal Colorado website. 

You will find useful visitor information on the official website

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Beware of Last-minute Changes

Additionally, there may be scheduled or last-minute changes to the access conditions to the Provençal Colorado.

For example, fire hazards can affect visiting conditions.

  • If the fire risk level is Red, only the Sahara Trail will be accessible.
  • If the risk level is Red E, the entire site will be closed.
Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Colorado Provençal © French Moments

Safety Instructions

It is important to be aware of the safety instructions. These help preserve the Colorado and ensure your safety. 

These are just a few common-sense guidelines, and you will find the complete list on the website or in the tourist brochure handed out at the entrance.

When walking in the Colorado, make sure you have adequate shoes and protect yourself from the sun and heat. 

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Walking in the Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

For instance, stay on marked trails and do not venture into the sand dunes or the forest. Of course, do not climb the cliffs and rock faces.

Stay on the marked paths and don't wander off as the cliffs are dangerous. Take photos without putting yourself in danger. 

Keep your rubbish with you during your visit and dispose of it in the containers in the car park. 

Book your visit (when needed)

You must book your visit on the website if you come in the morning until 1 pm from May to August. 

Access to the site is then without reservation from 1 pm until closing. 

Moreover, if you visit from February to April and from September to October, no reservation is needed.

Access Fees

Access to the site is subject to a fee. 

The "per vehicle" rate includes parking, access to the trails for all occupants of the vehicle, a tourist brochure, and an activation code for the mobile discovery app.

Provençal Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

At the carpark © French Moments

Catering

There is a bar not far from “le Sahara” which serves refreshments: la Rinsoulette (which means in Provençal dialect 'the place where one stops to drink').

Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Colorado of Rustrel © French Moments

Other Ochre Sites in the Luberon

Former ochre quarries can also be visited in Roussillon and Gargas in Luberon. These colourful sites are always surprising, thanks to the different light which plays on the fantastic cliffs and outcrops throughout the day.

Ochre Pathway in Luberon © French Moments

Going down hill on the ochre Pathway in Roussillon © French Moments

Visit the Official Website of the Colorado of Rustrel

Discover the neighbouring village of Rustrel on the blog

🙏 Many thanks to the Association du Colorado de Rustrel for kindly granting permission to publish our video.

Gems of Paris by French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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