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New hiking trail follows historic transhumance routes of Provence

The latest Grande Randonnée path follows the footsteps of shepherds over the centuries as they moved sheep from winter to summer grazing

Grande Randonnée

The new 540km GR69 starts at Crau in Bouches-du-Rhone and extends into the valley of Stura in Piedmont in Italy Pic: wuthrich didier / Shutterstock

France has a new 540km Grande Randonnée hiking trail, the GR69.

It follows the route of the transhumance trails across Provence, traced through the ages by shepherds moving sheep from winter quarters in the lowlands to upland pastures in the summer.

Transhumance has left its mark

It starts at Crau in Bouches-du-Rhone and extends into the valley of Stura in Piedmont in Italy and has been given the name La Routo to emphasise its international nature. 

“The idea is to highlight the practices linked to transhumance and more widely pastoral livestock rearing,” said FFRandonnée association, which runs France’s GR trails.

“From Provence to the Alps, transhumance has profoundly marked the territories, leaving us a considerable heritage. 

“There are the physical buildings made up of shepherd huts, cabins, shelters and water troughs, the walls, drinking fountains and markers to show the paths, and the intangible culture of language, knowhow, and specially adapted animal breeds, for example.”

Hoped Unesco will recognise transhumance

An estimated 550,000 animals still travel up into the mountains each year, but almost all now travel in lorries, with only occasional folkloric demonstrations of flocks being driven through villages.

Volunteers along the route have been helping to mark out the hiking trail with the red and white GR markings.

One of the partners in the new trail was the Maison de la transhumance, based in the Camargue, where many of the shepherds and sheep making the longest treks start.

It has joined with Spain, Albania, Romania, Andorra, Luxembourg and Croatia to have the local heritages of transhumance added to the Unesco list of intangible culture, as has happened for Italy, Austria and Greece.

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