A few years ago I was visiting the small village of Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée, up in the mountains along the Tinée River, when I saw a flier for an upcoming festival. I wasn’t exactly sure what the festival was all about, but there were photos of sheep on the flier and that got my attention immediately. Turns out that “la transhumance” is the process of moving the sheep from the low pastures (where they stay during the winter) to the high pastures (where they stay during the summer). I was very intrigued and made plans to head up for the festival, which was still a few weeks away.
Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée is a beautiful little village, not one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages Of France,” but it certainly should be in my opinion. Located about 1 1/2 hours north of Vence it’s at the foot of one of my very favorite cycling climbs in France, the famous Col de la Bonette. A high mountain pass near the border with Italy, the Col de la Bonette is known for having the highest paved road in all of Europe. I attended the festival by myself in 2016, but this year Carole and I went together. We left the night before and spent the night in a small ski resort, Auron, just a couple of miles away.
The main feature of this festival is the parading of the sheep through the tiny streets of Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée. Let me tell you, it is a site to see! All of the sheep, hundreds, maybe over a thousand, are held in a big field at the edge of the village. Around 9:30AM they bring them all out and lead them through the village winding up one tiny road and down another until they’ve covered most of the town. It’s fantastic. As you can see in some of my photos they fill the entire little roads to the brim. Everyone in the village comes out to watch. One of the sweetest things is that there is a retirement home in the village and they bring all the old folks who live there out, sit them in chairs in front of the home and they watch as the sheep come parading past.
But the parade of sheep is only the beginning. The rest of the day is filled with a huge festival. Booths of crafts. Booths of food. Animals for the children to pet. A demonstration of sheering sheep. Men and women dressed in clothes from centuries past celebrating and honoring their heritage. It’s wonderful. There is just so much to see and do.
There’s a ski lift in town and though it’s the middle of summer they open it up and charge only 1€ to ride to the top of the mountain. You get incredible views of the village and the surrounding valley.
Carole and I had a fantastic time. If you’re ever in this area in late June you should definitely make plans to attend the fesitval if at all possible. You won’t be disappointed.