In Occitanie in the South of France, many traditions and local customs are kept alive. Like transhumance or herding of livestock. Some villages celebrate this ancient pastoral culture by showing young and old that shepherds are still part of the land, history and regional economy. Last weekend, the Fête de la Transhumance took place in Nissan-lez-Enserune, Vendres and Lespignan. This transhumance festival yearly celebrates the departure of the sheep herd to the Pyrenees.
Every year, several Fêtes de la Transhumance are celebrated in France. I went to the one organised by La Domitienne, a community of municipalities in the Hérault department. Spread over three days, three villages of the low plain of the Aude department participate in the festivities. In spring, the herds are led to the higher summer meadows of the French Pyrenees. And after summer, the animals travel back to the lower valleys for the winter.
The shepherds and their flock of sheep started in Nissan-lez-Enserune on a Friday. The next day, they moved to Vendres, and I joined them on Sunday to walk to Lespignan. When I arrived a bit before 10 o’clock (on a Sunday morning), there was no sign of sheep or shepherds in Vendres though. I slightly started to worry, thinking that I had misread the programme. But luckily, I found them when driving in the direction of Lespignan. Soon enough, several shepherds and sheepdogs directed the herd to the road. Flanked by a couple of horse riders to keep the sheep on the road, the flock set off at a firm pace. I thought it would take double the time to get to Lespignan, but to my surprise, it only took about one hour for four kilometres.
Hundreds of sheep
It was impressive to see the herd arrive in the village. Hundreds of sheep walked neatly in pace through the streets of the village. Like Nissan-lez-Enserune and Vendres the days before, plenty of activities were organised in Lespignan. Besides a little market with local products and educational walks, there were wool spinning and sheep shearing demonstrations. Children could go to a small petting zoo and go on a donkey ride or a horse carriage ride. And each day, a traditional transhumance meal was served upon reservation. Altogether, it was a great weekend to get to know more about French pastoral culture.