As spring sets in, the seasonal migration of flocks and herds to higher pastures is very much a part of rural life, in parts of France. This year however, the bad weather has kept the animals patiently waiting on lower ground!
But this Saturday 15th June, the traditional ‘troupeaux’ of 600 sheep (Roussillon variety) and 600 goats (Roves), along with donkeys, horses and sheep dogs, will be arriving in the Chamonix Valley. They will be accompanied by our favourite shepherd, Jean-Luc Pitra, as he prepares to spend his 8th consecutive summer at the foot of Mont-Blanc.
So where do they come from and how to they travel?
They come from Tarascon and the Alpilles in Provence. A little too far to migrate on foot, so if you see 2 three decker lorries passing through the valley, direction le Tour this Saturday, you’ll know they’ve arrived. The animals will spend 4 months grazing the mountain pastures (2 months on the slopes of Le Tour –Charamillon and 2 months at Lognan-Le Pendant).
A date for your diaries is the 6th July 2013 for the Foulées du Sel! An alpine celebration to which everybody is cordially invited, provided you don’t mind carrying a bit of salt uphill! The idea is to carry sufficient salt up to the alpine pastures of the Pendant, to sustain the herd throughout the summer – several hundred kilos precisely, but you only have to carry between 1 and 3 kilos!
Meeting point 8am at Lognan cable car station in Argentière; bus transfer to le Lavancher, where you will set out on foot for the Pendant pastures (approx. 1h30 ). You will be greeted at la Pendant with refreshments and your will be relieved or your salt licks! Then direction Logan (approx 45 mins walk) where you will meet the herd (the animals walk up the Pierre à Ric). Festivities begin around midday with the traditional aperitifs, local cheeses and dried meats; live music with the Tuaz Cousins!
For those with reduced mobility or families with young children, it is possible to reach Logan via the Grands Montets cable car.
A little history
In the 1950’s, all farming activities had practically ceased in the Chamonix Valley. Mountain pastures and farm dwellings were abandoned in favour of tourist activities. Thanks to the Alpine Society ‘SEA’ and the agro-pastoral association ‘AFP’, the mountain pastures and properties have progressively been restored: Blaitière 1993-94, Charamillon in 1994-95, la Pendant 2002-3 and Balme 2006.
The presence of cattle, sheep and goats grazing the pastures helps to eliminate certain invasive trees and shrubs and as a result the natural biodiversity is able to redevelop. In this way, 150 hectares of pastureland have been restored over the past 8 years.