the best period
Spring, Summer, and Autumn
This afternoon, I met up with Anaïs, a sheep farmer. On the Causse Méjean, in Hyelzas, South-West Lozère. In this wild land that was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2011, Anaïs led me through the "Of sheep and men" experience. By her side, I explored a traditional farm, stroked some sheep, and tasted some dairy delights. I stepped back in time and travelled to the far ends of the earth. I touched, watched, tasted and felt. By the end, I felt like I knew the Causse spirit.
In her dual role as a guide and sheep farmer, Anaïs had warned me that the Causse would not leave me unmoved. Yet I was completely surprised when I emerged from the Tarn Gorges. In front of me, the vertical walls of the Gorges suddenly made way for a plateau of sun-yellowed grasses. A plateau that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. A plateau resembling the Mongolian steppe. It was as if I'd crossed a fair chunk of the globe in just a few minutes!
As I gradually composed myself after this stunning sight, I reached Hyelzas. The nearest town. Population: 60. Ah yes, I forgot to tell you that the Causse Méjean only has 1.4 inhabitants per square kilometre. Less than Mongolia.
The resemblance between the Causse and Mongolia is such that the TAKH Association chose the Causse Méjean for its operation to save a breed of Mongolian horse called Przewalski's horse!
All smiles, Anaïs led me to an old farm building, "La Ferme Caussenarde d'Autrefois". There I met Hélène, the manager. She told me the story of her forebears and how their agropastoral traditions have been passed down the generations to the present day. The Caussenard people's ingenuity has, too.
Take this farm, for example. It was built from 1640 onwards... and is still standing! Within its limestone walls, I stepped back in time. The sink carved into the rock. The all-important bread oven. The barn. Everything was designed and optimised to save resources. And to enable farming in an austere land. A real life lesson.
"Know where you come from and you will know where you are going": such was the motto of Armand Pratlong, founder of La Ferme Caussenarde d’Autrefois and Hélène's great-grandfather.
Quelques pas seulement, et me revoilà au XXIème siècle. Dans une ferme bien d’aujourd’hui. La ferme d’Anaïs. Elle me propose alors un petit quizz sensoriel. A l’aveugle, je dois reconnaître plusieurs essentiels de sa vie de bergère. Pas facile ! Et ne comptez pas sur moi pour vous souffler les réponses : c'est à vous de deviner !
Anaïs me présente ensuite ses brebis. Certaines sont timides, d’autres au contraire accourent à notre rencontre. Comme ce petit agneau, qui demande son lot de caresses. Que son pelage est doux ! Une dernière gratouille, et Anaïs m’entraine vers la salle de traite et ses multiples machines. Ici, le circuit court n’est pas un vain mot : le lait est transformé dans le village !
Just a stone's throw away, I came back to the 21st century. I was on farm that's very much in keeping with the times. La Ferme d’Anaïs. She invited me to take a little sensory quiz. Without looking, I had to identify several things that she needs in her job as a shepherdess. It wasn't easy! And don't count on me to tell you the answers: you have to guess!
Anaïs then introduced me to her sheep. Some were shy, while others flocked to meet us. One little lamb was very keen to be stroked. How soft his fleece was! After one last affectionate scratch, Anaïs led me to the milking room and its many machines. Here, the short supply chain isn't just an empty promise: the milk is processed in the village!
It only took us 5 minutes to reach the "Le Fédou" cheese dairy. In order to make the most of this beautiful day, I took a seat on the cheese dairy's panoramic terrace. As I admired the view over the Jonte Gorges, a cheese platter appeared before me. Time for a feast!
Because the sheep spend much of the year in the meadows, grazing on plants and wild flowers, the milk is flavoursome. Characterful. And thanks to the cheese-maker Florence's skill, it is turned into an array of delicious cheeses. I was very pleased about that.
So, I'll sum it all up! "Des brebis et des hommes" ("Of sheep and men") offers 3 experiences in 3 different places that are very close to each other: La Ferme Caussenarde d'Autrefois, Anaïs's working farm and the Fromagerie du Fédou! Soon you'll know everything about the village of Hyelzas.
When I finally decided to leave Hyelzas, the sun had already begun to set. It bathed the Causse in red light, making it seem even more mysterious. Timeless. Unreal.
Yet it was there, all around me. And after the experience I'd just had, it also had a special place in my heart.
And while the infinite-seeming landscapes contributed to that of course, it was above all the sense of balance between people and nature that won me over. And UNESCO clearly saw that, too.
To prove it, the area was made a World Heritage Site in 2011.
Worth the detour
The Aven Armand. Continue your exploration of the Causse Méjean... beneath the Causse! This cavity is so big, Notre-Dame Cathedral would fit in it!
Our suggestions Grâce aux bonnes adresses ci-dessous, poursuivez votre immersion dans la nature sauvage du Causse Méjean.
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