There is a wealth of history and culture to be discovered in Hautes Alpes. The local people have been farming and working the mountains for centuries and the culture of the valley is inextricably linked to the farming calendar.
Life was tough in the valleys with cold winters, little work other than farming and poor access. People lived off the land and had fun when they could and their traditions are still very much alive today. There are a series of festivals and events throughout the year to mark important agricultural events and to celebrate the history of the area.
There are at least 400 farms in just the Champsaur valley alone today, of which there are 120 sheep and goat farmers, about 100 dairy farmers (16.5 million litres of milk are produced each year) and 100 beef farmers. And about 80 others producing goats’ milk, pig farming or involved in farm-tourism.
‘Le Tardon’ (spring lamb)
After the long winter when the snows start to melt, the shepherds bring their sheep out of their winter shelter to feast on the fresh new shoots and grasses. This is the lambing period when ‘le tardons’ are born. Just a few weeks later the new lambs follow their mothers up to the alpine pastures for the summer. ‘Le tardons’ are these spring lambs, brought up by their mothers in the summer alpine meadows, and then sold in the Autumn after the flocks are brought back down for the winter.
In autumn in the Valgaudemar Valley, it’s the goats who are celebrated. This annual celebration gathers together nearly 600 sheep and goats in the village of Chapelle in Valgaudemar. The day is usually around the beginning of October and then for the rest of the month there is a veritable goat eating fest. The traditional way to cook the goat is in a big cooking pot over an open fire for about 4 hours. And for the month of October you can find several variations on this theme in most of the local restaurants.
Farmers’ Open Days
Both the Champsaur and Valgaudemar valleys have a strong and active farming community, particularly amongst the dairy farms. For the farmer's open days various different players in the farming community get together to show off their techniques and their produce. It’s an opportunity to come and get to know the farmers, taste their produce and learn how it is made.
The days are organised around a number of different events and activities and provide a direct link with modern day farming in the valleys: cattle shows and competitions, presentations for children, science workshops and information about milk production, farm visits, cheese making demonstrations, art workshops for children on the farming theme, displays, local produce for sale and a special dinner ‘Au fil du Lait’ on offer at partner restaurants.