If so many people love Les Contamines it is not only for the beauty of the surrounding peaks but also because the village has maintained its authenticity. Many locals have kept certain ancestral values and traditions, as well as a real commitment to farming.
We went to meet Roger Mattel, at his farm “La Chovettaz”. He kindly let us visit the farm and told us about his passion for farming life in the mountains and for the traditional activities he continues to perpetuate.
Can you tell us, Roger, how many farms are still in activity in Les Contamines?
There are still three or four working farms of different sizes. At La Chovettaz, we have 9 cows and 50 sheep and lambs in the barn in winter. We produce 60 litres of cow’s milk per day which we use to produce reblochon cheese. In the summer months the cows graze in the fields near to the farm and are bought back to the barn in the morning and evening for milking. As for the sheep, we keep them warm in the barn in winter and in spring we lead them in transhumance towards Mont Joly and the slopes of the Jovet lake where they remain until the first snow of autumn.
It is therefore a daily job to take care of your animals. What are your other activities?
All these animals feed themselves during the summer but one must provide food for the winter. We cut the hay in June, July and early August. One cow will eat 3 tons of hay in winter. Hay making and storage occupies us for 2 to 3 months during the summer. In addition to feeding the animals it also helps to maintain the pastures, very important for the alpine environment.
In 2012, Les Contamines organized cow fighting? Can you explain what these cow fights are about?
For over 30 years Les Contamines has revived this traditional activity that was always more popular in Valais in Switzerland and the neighbouring valley of Chamonix. The fights are organized by farmers of the black breed of Hérens cows. The fighting takes place in categories. A cow is eliminated when it refuses to fight, which means that it submits to its opponent. This is exactly what happens amidst the herd. Each winning cow is declared ‘Queen’ of its category . The Queens then fight for the election of the Queen of Queens. Each year this event is organized by a village in the Mont-Blanc region. Last autumn the event took place in Les Contamines. Dragon, one of our black cows, was elected Queen of its category and came 2nd overall.
What is your point of view on the evolution of your village? Your must have seen quite a lot of changes?
It ‘s true that we are far from the 2 unique ski lifts of 1937. The village has grown and the ski area has extended from Roselette to the Veleray, suiting both locals and tourists. The resort has successfully evolved, combining dynamic development and a family atmosphere whilst retaining a genuine traditional spirit .
Roger concludes: The village no longer has the same appearance but the locals have successfully maintained its character, highlighting and sharing its heritage. Our mountains are still there and that just suits me fine!