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Running With the Sheep in Provence

The sounds of bleating sheep and goats warn onlookers the sheep are on their way.
The sounds of bleating sheep and goats warn onlookers the sheep are on their way.
Janice McDonald

There is nothing like seeing a wave of 3,000 sheep heading toward you on a cobblestoned street to get your attention. This is not the Provence most have heard of, but it’s definitely an event worthy experiencing.
The place is St. Remy de Provence a tiny town in heart of Provence. And while the proper name for the annual event is “Fete de la Transhumance,” you will hear it referred to more than once as “The Running of the Sheep.” It’s far safer than running with the bulls in Spain.
The tradition is hundreds of years old. In late spring each year, herdsmen must move their sheep from the lower grasslands of Provence to the cooler pastures in the lower Alps. In these modern days, most of the sheep make the journey by truck, but to keep tradition alive, St. Remy hosts an entire festival to help send the sheep on their way.
The event is tailor-made for the locals. Most of those lining the streets are actually from St. Remy and neighboring towns. Vendors sell everything from olive oil, wine and fresh lavender to arts and crafts. Ground central is Place de la Republique, the small square at the heart of town.
The sheep run takes place in the morning and as time draws near for the event, the curious park themselves on the street curbs to wait. The only indication it has started is when the sound of clinking bells and the bleating of sheep and goats can be heard.
Led by herdsmen in traditional garb, the wave of wool stretches for as far as the eye can see. A few dogs and donkeys accompany the parade while onlookers cheer on encouragement. It may seem it is all over too quickly, but don’t be fooled. The parade comes through twice for those who may have missed it the first time.
Even if it weren’t for the sheep, the town alone is worth a visit. Filled with history, churches, galleries and shops, St. Remy has numerous pedestrian-only places to stroll or to sit and have a coffee or a glass of wine.
The festival is held each year on Pentecost Monday, the Monday 50 days after Easter. St. Remy is small, so if you plan to stay there during the festival, its best to book early because hotels are limited in the small town. That said, the Fete is can make a great Day Trip from elsewhere in Provence. St. Remy is just more than an hour from either Avignon, Arles or Nime.

Sheep fill the streets of ST. Remy during the annual Fete de la Transhumance
Janice McDonald