Pastoralism and transhumance are no longer the principle activity in the Pyrénées National Park valleys, but these activities remain at the heart of the identity and the heritage of the territory. Moreover, 90 % of the farms in the Pyrénées are involved in livestock farming! Head off and discover this ancient and lively tradition which flows through the landscapes, enlivens the inhabitants and populates the valleys of these wild and grandiose mountains.
Confirmed hikers in this area won’t be alone; on your path you will undoubtedly come across some 32,000 cows, 15,000 sheep and 2,000 goats grazing under the watchful eye of 300 shepherds. The link between men and women, animals and the mountain can be felt everywhere, setting the slow pace of the passing days.
The multifaceted nature of Pyrenees pastoral activity
In the Pyrénées National Park pastoralism is a way of life. Livestock farming is mainly geared toward meat production in the Hautes-Pyrénées and for dairy milk (and cheese) in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It’s in these mountains in France where pastoral activity is the most intense. Dynamism which adds to the life and the charm of largest open spaces. Depending on the valley you walk in, you will discover different landscapes, herds and know-how. Whether in the transhumance season or not, don’t hesitate to go and meet the shepherds, the breeders and the local producers!
Head off and discover the plateau de
In the Ossau Valley and the Marie-Blanque road, the plateau du Bénou offers a superb panoramic view of the bottom of the valley. Barns, meadows separated by hazelnut hedges, water sources, with horses and cows roaming freely make this plateau something straight off a Pyrénées postcard. In the beginning of July, shepherds climb up the mountains with their herds to pasturelands and come back down mid-September. Their days are regulated by milking in the morning and the evening. The afternoons are spent watching over the herds and flocks.
Come and see live entertainment on the Bernatoire mountain pass
Since an agreement made in the 13th century, between the Pyrenees mountain communities, the Bernatoire pass is a place of extraordinary adventure. Every year, Spanish breeders from the Broto Valley come to France with over 1000 head of cattle, crossing a mountain pass nearly 2300 metres high. Among the cows, marmots and Pyrenean Chamois, you will discover a stupendous deep blue lake encased in its crater and you’ll reach a peak from where you have a panoramic view of the high summits.
Observe transhumance in the Aspe Valley
The Aspe Valley is the least visited, the wildest and probably the best preserved valley in the Pyrénées National Park. Some shepherds still bring their herds to pasturelands, spending the summer in wooden cabins where they make cheese. Speak with them and maybe they’ll tell you the secret of their delicious cheeses. You will be able to taste Pé Descaous cheese with its distinctive bear print on the rind. This cheese is the work of transhumant shepherds in an area inhabited by the last Pyrénées Brown Bears.