Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Queen of the Alps, black beauties!


alpage de BalmeYou think it’s strange that cows should fight, and indeed most cows don’t,  but the Hérens breed are unique!

Hérens is the name of a valley in the Valais Alps of Switzerland from whence these cows originate. They are robust, stocky, with solid horns, a majestic port and a fine eye. The particularity of these cows is that they fight to establish a hierarchy within the herd.

Traditionally, most families had a handful of cows, that grazed communally, in herds of 60 or more heads, the alpine pastures during the summer. Hence, after the long winter months, when the cows left the stable for their spring and summer grazing,  it was time for some serious head butting to establish who was boss.

This cow fighting is clearly a battle of wills and weight as the animals lock their horns and foreheads together and push with all their might!  The battles can last anything from 5 seconds to half an hour or more. Finally, the weaker of the two will admit defeat and beat a retreat. Some cows don’t engage in the fighting – not everybody wants to be the boss!  The young heifers are usually very feisty and they and enjoy a bit of tussling between themselves, but needless to say, they will not contemplate taking on the heavy weights! It is very rare that the cows hurt each other, and if they do, it is only superficiel.

The first battles were organised in the Chamonix Valley in 1917 and they took place on the Col de Balme. The Hauts Savoyards invited their Swiss neighbours to a challenge. At the time there were around 250 cows grazing the pastures above le Tour and the majority of the cows were the black Hérens. Across the border, on the other side of the Cold de Balme were 3 thriving Swiss herds, just as keen as the Hauts Savoyards to throw down the gauntlet!  This was to be the beginning of many battles because the “Chamoniards” were as passionate about the Hérens race as the Swiss were.

Today, a handful of breeders maintain this tradition in the Mont-Blanc region. The Combat des Reines takes place at the end of September every year and rotates between Argentière (Le Tour), Servoz, Les Houches and Les Contamines.

On 22 September 2013 at Le Tour, over 100 Hérens cows took part in this years Match. It was a beautiful day and 1,500 spectators turned out to watch. The battles began at 10h30 with the young heifers and lasted through until sunset with the crowning of the Queen of Queens, a heavyweight cow, belonging to a breeder from Morzine, who weighed in a 691kg! Rdv next year in Servoz.. entry free.

Watch the video of the Combat des Reines in Le Tour – 22 September 2013



Visit the superb exhibition, by  photographer JC Van Waes, dedicated to the Hérens Queens.
Vallorcine tourist office from 15th September to 15th November 2013

Entry free.

The Socrates project – Who are the Sicads?

Friday 13th September, 6pm to 8.30pm at the Bistrot des Sports


Meet Daron Sheehan, the author of this environmental adventure thriller and find out more about the Socrates Project.

Why Chamonix?

Daron Sheehan has a particular affection for the Chamonix Valley and spends a lot of time here enjoying the mountains with friends and locals guides!

Just as, in 1816, Mary Shelley was inspired by the Mer de Glace and subsequently began writing her novel Frankenstein, Daron Sheehan has chosen the beauty of the same glacier to stimulate  Sicad conciousness of nature!!  Hence, enlightenment comes to the hero of his novel during a perilous journey down the Mer de Glace.

The Socrates Project opens the idea of sustainability & environmentalism to a wider audience through a fictional adventure narrative – and is praised by environmentalists including Jonathan Porritt and Mark Shand!

The Socrates Project was officially launched in June at Artemis in  London and on MTV in Lebanon, so it is only natural that the next launch event should take place in Chamonix Mont-Blanc!  The book has the unusual merit of being published simultaneously in both English, by Nautilus Media, and in French by Tamyras.


The Socrates Project is a secret attempt by the United Nations to avert the predicted collapse of our civilisations. Simon Oceandis heads up the sicads, who must blend modern science and ancient wisdom to find the solutions before time runs out.

Not everybody welcomes the Project. An influential secret society plots to discredit and destroy the sicads. Torn between the love of a beautiful scientist and a fiery tribeswoman, Simon discovers an exotic world of adventure and wonder. To find the answers to save humanity, he must undergo a deep inner journey, yet his life becomes a frantic race for survival…

 “At best, this book can be a catalyst for change…” – Mark Beaumont, world record breaking cyclist 

Ambassador of The Socrates Project, environmentalist Mark Shand says: “This is a fantastic book, it is going to save the environment. The world needs more books like this.”

Max Chaya, the Middle East’s foremost climber and explorer is another Ambassador: “The Socrates Project is a mind-blowing rollercoaster of a novel, which blends gripping adventure with a voyage of discovery. A thrilling read for all ages, this is especially aimed at the next generation who must find the inspiration to come together, like the sicads, to solve these threatening challenges in real life. There is an Everest for Everyone, but this is one mountain we must all climb together!”

 Join Daron Sheehan for light refreshments  and a chat about the book. He will be giving away a few signed copies on the night.

Waiter’s derby in the streets of Cham

course-de-garcons-de-cafeTomorrow, 4th September, the 5th edition of the Waiters Derby will take place in the streets of Chamonix. Not as high profile, nor as hi-tech as the UTMB… aprons and white jackets are de rigueur instead of lycra, the distance does not exceed 2.2km… but my goodness there will be no sleeping nor dropping bottles on the way!

This traditional race was revived in 2008 after a timelapse of around 70 years, thanks to the initiative on the Chamonix Hotels Syndicate.

Take a look at the video link below which dates back to 1930 and see how much of Chamonix you recognise!


In the 1920′s and 30′s  the race took place on cross country skis!  1 bottle, 1 glass and a ski pole for propulsion. One can but wonder about the state of the skis, but they’re certainly having fun!

Today’s waiters take on 2  glasses, 1 bottle with an extra bottle added en route. The race begins Place Balmat in front of the post office and takes in the rue Paccard, ave Aiguille du Midi, rue du Lyret, Chamonix station, quai des Moulins, rue Vallot and finish at Place Balmat.

70 + participants are expected on 4th September and they will be representing many of Chamonix’s establishments.  The winning waiter and waitress both receive a prize of 350 euros for their skills. A hand carved wooden trophy goes to the winning establishment.

The race is followed by a convivial buffet and tombola for all participants. Prizes include a seasonal winter lift pass, a helicopter flight over the Mont-Blanc Massif for 6 persons and many other generous donations from Chamonix businesses.

Live concert with the excellent local group: Charlotte Lee and the Ug’s

When: Tomorrow 4th September at 3pm
Where: Place Balmat
Registration: Café Valentino – place Balmat
Fee: free of charge