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Colorado Provençal

Regional Natural Park of Luberon, Vaucluse

43.913167,5.49634
43°54'47.4"N 5°29'46.82"E
Published: February 2010
last updated: March 2011
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The visit

Colorado is likely one of the most colourful places in the whole Europe. Over thirty hectares of martian landscapes now open for hiking and family walks used to be ochre carriers until the beginning of the last century. The great thing about visiting Colorado Provençal is that you have a rich choice between challenging hiking trails, easy strolls along the bed of river Dôa, adventure walks through the caves and tunnels or even picknics in red sands of “Sahara”. If you are afraid to miss one of local curiosities, ask for a guided tour (association Colorado Provençal offers individual or group visits for 6 € per person, call 04.90.04.96.07 first). If you prefer to visit Colorado on your own, follow the marked trails. One of the most fascinating geological curiosities of Colorado is fairy chimneys - tall thin stone columns crowned with a larger stone, which protects the column from erosion.

Around ochre carriers you will still find carcasses of machines once used in ochre extraction and preservation and the vestiges of stone-huts, which served for keeping workers’ tools. For the curious Association of Colorado Provençal organizes demonstrations of ochre washing process (le lavage des ochres).

History

Geologists date ochre deposits back to cretaceous era. At that time the seas draw back, leaving the sands rich in iron. Ochre is used as natural pigment from prehistoric age. However, the sand deposits around provencal villages Roussillon and Rustrel rested unexploited until the end of XVII century, when Jean-Étienne Astier invented the method of extracting ochre. On the first stage ochre sand was washed with large quantities of water; then ochre-coloured water was kept in sedimentation tanks until evaporation of the liquid; then ochre pigment was cut into “bricks” and dried during the whole summer to preserve its colouring qualities.
Construction of the railway to Apt in 1877 gave a boost to extraction and export of ochres of Luberon, however economic boom was not long. Growing popularity of synthetic colourants in the beginning of XX century seriously undermined ochre business: exploitation of ochre carriers has been in decline since 1940s. The last carrier of Colorado Provençal was closed in 1992. However, ochre is still used and is even returning back to fashion: it is an unexpensive, non-toxic and versatile pigment that can be successfully used in biologic and environmently friendly production process. The last active ochre carrier in France is in Gargas.

Practical information

Colorado Provençal is situated just off departmental road D22, 10 km on the north from Apt. Large parking has picknic tables and can serve as a camping place. It is free off-season. In the high season use of parking costs 4€ per car and 10€ per camping-car.

Off-season we reccommend you to take your own lunch, in the high season you can also eat in the small restaurant “Mille Couleurs” next to the parking (another option will be to choose a restaurant in the nearby villages Rustrel or Gignac). Souvenir shop “Le Maison du Colorado” is open in the high-season and proposes some truly original souvenirs.

Access to the ochre carriers and hiking trails is free of charge, you can also book a guided tour.

Avoid visiting Colorado Provençal after the periods of strong rains, as a lot of trails then are absolutely inaccessible. In the summer don’t forget to take enough water, hats and sun-screen.

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