Transhumance in Provence

The beginning of the transhumance festival.

Transhumance Festival

Once a year various animals in France are moved from one area to another, usually in the late spring or early summer. It is called a transhumance which means moving animals from one field to another but it often means moving herds from a lower area to the French Alps. In the case of sheep-there are also transhumance for goats and cattle- this is so they can earn a special label saying they were raised in an area well known for great tasting sheep, rather like Bordeaux wine. You know when you drink it, it has been specially controlled with specific rules and that there is nothing else to compare to it in the world.
In centuries of tradition, sheep, goats and cows have been moved in large herds to the special fields high in the Alps with sweet green grass. Per tradition, the herds are moved along mainly country roads which often happen to pass through villages. A transhumance festival often occurs with people lining up along the side of a village street to watch a herd of sheep moving by like a living, bah-ing river.
One especially fun transhumance to observe is the one taking place in the village of Riez on the edge of the famous lavender country. It is worth visiting Riez just for their fun market set up every weekend selling no vegetables or fruit but Provencal products such as garlic, honey, olive oil and table clothes. At 10:30 the bells of the village church start ringing and then a small procession starts with villagers in native costumes holding arches of flowers over their heads. Drums are beat and small flutes are played. When they reach the end of the street there is a moment of quiet followed by the unmistakable sound of sheep approaching. At the head of the herd is the shepard, the berger, with his dog followed by thousands of sheep each with a painted symbol on their backs of the owner. They move along down the street, not moving into the sidewalks, probably due to their fear of people. At one point, they balked being scared in typical sheep fashion, and the front of the heard circles around on the street for a while until sorted out by two men and several dogs before they moved on to their first field of grass and some water by four Roman columns left from centuries past when Rome had a little village here.
A little glimpse into times past and another fun way to visit little villages in France and experience their festivals.

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