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Last Updated: 15 June 2024

We had never visited Rustrel before the autumn of 2023, even though we had heard about it and had explored the nearby Colorado Provençal. 

Our curiosity finally got the better of us, and we decided to spend a day wandering through this quaint Provençal village.

Rustrel, with its charming, narrow streets and old stone houses, is a relatively small village, but it radiates a unique charm.

The moment we arrived, we were captivated by its timeless beauty. The village seems to have stood still in time, preserving the essence of old Provence.

Strolling through Rustrel, we were greeted by friendly locals and picturesque scenes at every corner.

Rue du Moulin à Huile, Rustrel © French Moments

Rue du Moulin à Huile © French Moments

The historic heart of the village, with its notable landmarks like the Saint-Roch oratory and the Place de la Fontaine, offered a glimpse into its rich past.

Each spot told a story, from the 18th-century olive oil mill museum to the grand château now serving as the town hall.

One of our favourite moments was discovering the Place de la Fontaine, a shaded square perfect for escaping the autumn heat.

The gentle sound of water from the fountain and the serene atmosphere made it an ideal spot for a quiet rest.

Rustrel may be small, but it is full of character and history. It offers a peaceful retreat away from the bustling tourist spots like Gordes or Roussillon.

With its rustic charm and welcoming ambiance, Rustrel is a hidden gem in Provence that we were delighted to finally uncover.

Whether you're a history enthusiast or simply looking for a tranquil escape, Rustrel has something to offer every visitor.

Watch this short video on the Luberon!

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Rustrel: A Bit of History

Let’s step back in time as we recall the storied past of Rustrel.

The Roman Emperor's Friend from Rustrel

In Roman times, Rustrel was owned by the Fronton family. 

They were a large and influential patrician family with several estates in the Apt region. 

The Frontons had direct ties to Rome.

One of them was a tutor to Marcus Aurelius and a personal friend of Emperor Hadrian.

Excavations around Rustrel have uncovered villa foundations and a Latin inscription mentioning their name.

Church of Rustrel © French Moments

Church of Rustrel © French Moments

Iron factories in Rustrel

It’s hard to imagine that in the 19th century, Rustrel was home to two iron factories. 

The presence of ore and significant charcoal production allowed the iron industry to benefit the village’s economy from 1840 to 1887.

The Rustrel Colorado

Rustrel is inextricably linked with a natural and tourist site that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.

The Rustrel Colorado is a former open-air ochre mining site, active in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Mining began in 1871, and the last ochre miner retired in 1991. 

The golden age of ochre in the Luberon was between 1876 and 1930. 

Here, you can admire exceptional colours in the old ochre quarries, as well as industrial remains such as quarry faces, settling basins, channels, and pipes. 

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Rustrel Colorado © French Moments

Atomic rockets in Rustrel!

In 1966, the tranquillity of Rustrel was disrupted by the unexpected arrival of 18 atomic rockets, causing quite a stir in this rural region of Provence.

From 1972 to 1996, the plateau of Albion hosted a part of France's nuclear force, with intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. 

Under the plateau, the French army had dug several kilometres of tunnels to house the missile launch sites.

This complex was designed to withstand a nuclear attack and be able to retaliate by launching missiles.

The construction of this military complex was the largest project in Europe at the time.

The most notable part was the Rustrel launch site.

It was accessed through a two-kilometre tunnel with curves to absorb shock waves.

This launch site was a 1,250 m³ armoured capsule where two officers awaited a possible launch order from the President of the French Republic.

Rustrel © French Moments

Rustrel © French Moments

The Underground Laboratory of Rustrel

In 1996, Jacques Chirac announced the end of this land-based nuclear force.

After 25 years of service, the installations on the plateau of Albion were dismantled and decommissioned.

The site was taken over and transformed into a scientific laboratory by local and regional authorities.

Thus, in 1997, the Low Noise Underground Laboratory of Rustrel - Pays d’Apt was founded.

The Discovery Guide of Rustrel

Here's some tourist information to help you explore the Provencal village.

🎦 Check out my guided walk on YouTube to explore Rustrel with me:

Understanding the Village

Rustrel is located ten kilometres northeast of Apt, at the foot of the Monts de Vaucluse. 

The commune overlooks the Apt region from an altitude of 400 metres. 

Rustrel © French Moments

Rustrel © French Moments

The countryside here grows cereals and vines that produce AOC Ventoux wines. 

You’ll also find olive trees and orchards of fruit trees. 

Today, the commune of Rustrel has just under 700 inhabitants.

If you’re looking for a village in the Luberon to stay during your holiday, Rustrel is a great option. 

This peaceful village is far from urban hustle and bustle, and it doesn’t attract the hordes of tourists that the perched villages of the Luberon, like Gordes or Roussillon, do. 

In the village, you’ll find restaurants and cafes, a post office, a tobacconist, and a bakery.

Rustrel © French Moments

A general view of the village © French Moments

The Village Walk of Rustrel

We start our exploration of Rustrel from the car park located at the entrance of the village, along the Route d’Apt.

Cross the Route d’Apt to reach the historic heart of the village.

Saint-Roch Oratory

At the corner of Route d'Apt and Grand-Rue is the Saint-Roch oratory.

Saint-Roch oratory © French Moments

Saint-Roch oratory © French Moments

It was the site of a chapel dedicated to Saint Roch, built in 1740 in memory of the plague of 1720 that devastated Provence.

The chapel has since disappeared, and only this small oratory remains today.


Head up the Grande-Rue, which serves as the high street of the village.

Grande-Rue © French Moments

Grande-Rue © French Moments

You will arrive at a small square, the Place Farinette, where there is a lovely fountain from 1881.

It provided water to the Farinette neighbourhood until the 1960s.

Place Farinette © French Moments

Place Farinette © French Moments

Rue du Moulin à Huile

Let's continue the visit by following the Rue du Moulin à Huile

We enter a charming part of Rustrel. 

Rue du Moulin à Huile © French Moments

Rue du Moulin à Huile © French Moments

There is the small olive oil mill museum, located in the property of the former royal notary of Rustrel. 

It's an 18th-century mill that operated until the early 1930s.

It was powered by animal traction and is exceptionally well preserved.

Turn right onto the Rue du Barry. 

Rue du Barry

A few fine mansions border the Rue du Barry.

Rue du Barry © French Moments

Rue du Barry © French Moments

On the right is the Rue du Moulin à Vent, a cross street that joins the Grande-Rue we followed earlier. 

Take a right onto the Rue du Vent, which leads us to the castle.

The Castle of Rustrel

The castle of Rustrel replaces the first castle known as Villevieille, demolished in 1590.

It is typical of Upper-Provence castles, with its quadrilateral shape and four rounded corner towers. 

Castle of Rustrel © French Moments

The Castle of Rustrel © French Moments

Today, the castle houses the Rustrel town hall.

We will now leave the heart of the village to reach the church. 

It is located at the end of this street, the Rue de la Gravière.

The Church

The Romanesque-style church was built around 1200 by the Bishop of Apt.

The church was destroyed by Raimond de Turenne in 1392 and rebuilt identically at the end of the 15th century.

Church of Rustrel © French Moments

The façade of the Church of Rustrel © French Moments

Let's continue exploring Rustrel by descending the Rue de l’Église, then Rue de la Poste until we reach the Route d’Apt.

On your left, above the small wall is the war memorial. 

It is a square column, flanked by four shells. 

Its marble plaques list all the residents of Rustrel who died during the First World War, the Second World War, and the Algerian War.

Brieugne Hamlet

You are now heading to a hamlet of Rustrel: the Brieugne neighbourhood. 

At the next intersection, take a right onto the Boulevard Pierre Fenouil.

It's actually a street lined with plane trees, which later becomes the Boulevard du Colorado.

Boulevard Pierre Fenouil © French Moments

Boulevard Pierre Fenouil © French Moments

As its name suggests, the Boulevard du Colorado leads to the Provençal Colorado. 

However, it’s not the recommended route to get there because the street is narrow and later becomes one-way.

You will arrive at the Place de la Fontaine with the lovely Brieugne fountain. 

Place de la Fontaine © French Moments

Place de la Fontaine © French Moments

This is a charming, shaded spot, perfect for finding some coolness on hot summer days. 

Turn around and take the same route back to the Route d’Apt.

Place de la Fête

You will pass by the charming Place de la Fête and its refreshing fountain.

You can imagine here a festive atmosphere in summer when holidaymakers enjoy their stay in Provence on the terraces of the square’s restaurants and bistros.

Place de la Fête, Rustrel © French Moments

Place de la Fête © French Moments

All we have now to do is to go down the Route d’Apt to reach the visitors’ car park.

Find out more

Here are some pages from our blog and other websites to find out more about this Provencal destination.

Where to stay near Rustrel

Rustrel and surroundings have a high capacity for holiday accommodation. The commune and its surroundings has hotels, bed and breakfasts (covering all price ranges), estate agencies offering seasonal rentals and gîtes.

Click here to book your accommodation in the Luberon or browse the map below:


What to do in the Luberon

Be inspired by a list of things to do in the Luberon:

Pin Rustrel on Pinterest

Rustrel © French Moments
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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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