The transhumance occurs twice a year to transfer livestock between the low-land pastures and the alpine meadows. In the summer, the movement towards the alpine destinations begins in June, traditionally around Saint-Jean's day (24 June). When the first snows begin in October, the flocks begin their descent back to the winter pastures in the low-lands.
In the early days, the flocks were herded by shepherds and their dogs, and the animals had plenty of time to become acclimated to the change in altitude during the journey. Today, most flocks are moved by large, double-tiered, articulated trucks; behemoths on the tiny mountain roads. Even so, if you're traveling in the Beyond country during the time of the transhumance, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to see flocks of sheep being herded down the small roads and through villages often to staging points for the longer trip.
In the Southern Alps, around 10,000 sheep are transferred during the seasonal transhumance. The summer transfer towards higher altitudes is celebrated every year with the traditional Fête de la Transhumance in several towns and villages.
Our photos are mostly flocks of sheep in remote areas, with shepherds and sheep-dogs; not really transhumance, but it gives you the idea.
Some of the many towns of Provence with a history of transhumance markets or fêtes, are
- Guillaumes (06), at the top end of top of the Gorge de Daluis in the Alpes-Maritimes, has an annual sheep market (Foire aux Tardons) in mid September.
- Larche (05) - the transhumance crossed the pass here to winter in the Peimont even before the grands transhumants of the 15th century, where the flocks came from as far as Aix-en-Provence.
- Roubion (06), at the top of the Gorge de Cians in the Alpes-Maritimes, has had an annual fêtes de la transhumance since 2003, on a Sunday, end September.
- Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée (06), in the northern end of the Alpes-Maritimes
- St Martin-du-Brôme (04), on the Valensole plateau just north of the Lac d'Esparron
- St Rémy-de-Provence (13) has a fête de transhumance in May-June and at the end of Sept.
- Jausiers (04)
- Riez (04) has their fête de transhumance in June.
Sheep Dog Trials
On a related subject, we've run across sheep-dog trials at several places across Beyond. One local one, between Grasse and Tourrettes-sur-Loup in the Alpes-Maritimes, is at Courmettes. In mid August, Thoard (in the Haute-Alpes) has a Grande Foire with all-day sheep-dog trials. Today, most flocks are moved by large, double-tiered, articulated trucks; behemoths on the tiny mountain roads. Even so, if you're traveling in the Beyond country during the time of the transhumance, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to see flocks of sheep being herded down the small roads and through villages often to staging points for the longer trip.
Provisions for the Shepherds
The shepherds, up in the hills following the Spring transhumance, need to eat, and they need someone to get the food up to them. There was a time, roughly for the past century, when when tired men and heavily burdened donkeys arrived at the high pastures loaded down with the provisions for the shepherds. Today much of the provisioning to the Alpine pastures is done by helicopter.
In the Alpes-Maritimes, the Chambre d'agriculture has had a helicopter provisionment system in place since the 1970s. This year (2006) some 200 rotations have been flown to provision around a 100 shepherds.