Transhumance - immaterial Cultural Heritage of UNESCO

One of the longest-standing and spectacular movement of sheep in the entire Alpine region

On 11th of December 2019 in Bogota/Colombia, the transnational tradition of transhumance was included in the UNESCO Representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The transhumance receives World Heritage status. This is a great success for the Schnalstal Valley, where this tradition is maintained and lived to this day.

The Schnalstal Valley Cultural Association, together with Pro Vita Alpina, has achieved the entry on the Austrian list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011. The Shepperds Association Niedertal and Rofenberg as well as the Soc. Coop. Tourist Schnalstal Valley have supported the submission.
Transhumance between the Ötztal Valley and Schnalstal Valley in South Tyrol

The transhumance in Schnalstal Valley, which is still practiced and deeply rooted in local tradition, dates back 600 years. This ancient tradition in Schnalstal Valley is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. The annual migration in Schnalstal Valley is the only cross-border and trans-glacial transhumance in existence.
Every June, the shepherds lead flocks of 3,000 – 4,000 sheep on a mass migration from Vernago/Vernagt and Maso Corto/Kurzras across two mountain passes to the fertile pastures of Vent in neighboring Austria. The transhumance in the Schnalstal Valley covers more than 40km, across gullies and snow-covered fields.

In mid-September, the sheep and shepherds with the help of sheep dogs guide the flocks back to the Schnalstal Valley on the much safer return trip. At the end of the transhumance, the successful termination of the migration is celebrated.

Transhumance in June

In mid-June, as soon as the mountain pastures at the other side of the main Alpine ridge are free of snow, the “long march” begins for about a quarter of the sheep in Laas in Vinschgau during which they cover over 44 km, 3,200 m altitude difference ascending and 1,800 m descending. The sheep and their shepherds with their dogs follow the trail used by those who originally discovered Schnalstal Valley.

The people involved stay overnight at the assembly points in Maso Corto/Kurzras and Vernago/Vernagt before setting off at dawn the next day to cross the main Ötztal ridge. Crossing the many snow-covered meadows is painstaking and finally at the Giogo Alto/Hochjoch and the Giogo Basso/Niederjoch steep ice gulleys have also to be negotiated. At the other side, the high mountain valleys are quite flat but snow, fog and storms can make the descent very difficult.

Vernago/Vernagt (1,700 m) - Giogo Basso/Niederjoch (3,019 m) - Niedertalalm Mountain Hut
Early in the morning between 3 am and 6.30 am, up to 2,200 sheep and 300 goats set off from Vernago/Vernagt in four groups, marching upwards through Tisental and reaching the Similaun refuge hut on Giogo Basso/Niederjoch about 3 and a half hours later. From there the herd travels down towards Niedertalalm Mountain hut, passing by the Martin Busch Mountain hut (2,051 m). About 3 hours after leaving the Similaun refuge hut, they reach the “shepherds’ hut” (2,134 m). The Similaun refuge hut and the Martin Busch Mountain hut is not yet open on the day of the march.

MASO CORTO/Kurzras (2,011 m) - Giogo alto/Hochjoch (2,856 m) – Rofenbergalm Mountain hut
The first of about 1,500 sheep set off from Kurzras at about 5 am in the morning. About 2 and a half hours later, the sheep and their shepherds reach the Giogo Alto/Hochjoch. Distance covered: about 5.3 km from Maso Corto/Kurzras. After a short break at the Refuge Bella Vista, the herd continues down the mountain towards Rofenberg Alm Mountain hut, passing the Hochjoch Hospitz (2,413 m). A further 2 hours are needed for the descent to Rofenberg Alm Mountain hut. The Refuge Bella Vista is open for business on the day of the march. Accommodation at the Hochjoch Hospitz hut only with request.

Transhumance from Vernago/Vernagt passing the Giogo Basso on Saturday 08th of June 2024 and from Maso Corto/Kurzras passing the Giogo Alto on Saturday 08th of June 2024

Schedule may change if weather conditions are bad.
The sheep return to Schnalstal Valley in September – as has been the case for hundreds of years

In mid-September, the march of the animals begins again in the opposite direction. Due to the milder weather conditions, the return journey is generally much easier for both man and animal compared with crossing the main Alpine ridge in the spring which is a huge challenge for all.

The sheep return to Schnalstal Valley in September – as has been the case for hundreds of years.

Up to 2,200 sheep and 300 goats set off from the Niedertal Alm Mountain hut in Vent valley (A) in the early morning, moving upwards through high-Alpine terrain (not dangerous) to Giogo Basso/Niederjoch (3,019 m) or the Refuge Similaun, the first group in the herd arriving at about 9:00 a.m. The most dangerous part of the return journey begins here, particularly if there is snow on the ground or the trail or parts of it are icy. Below the hut, the procession winds downhill on quite a narrow trail through steep and rocky terrain (down to about 2,600 m). The ground then becomes more level and less dangerous. After a short respite in the centre of Tisental valley, the herd continues down the mountain towards Vernago/Vernagt, arriving just before 2:00 p.m. From far away (1/2 hour before it arrives) you can already see the never-ending line of sheep. Accommodation and refreshments available at the Mountain hut Martin Busch and the Refuge Similaun.
Return of the sheep on sunday, 8th of september 2024

La mattina presto, un gregge che può contare fino a 2200 pecore e 300 capre parte dalla Malga Niedertal nella valle di Vent (Austria), attraversa una zona d’alta montagna (non pericolosa) e sale al Giogo Basso (3919 metri) e al Rifugio Similaun, dove la prima parte del gregge arriva già verso le 9.00. Segue la parte più pericolosa della discesa, soprattutto quando c’è un po’ di neve oppure il sentiero o alcuni passaggi sono ghiacciati. Sotto il rifugio, il gruppo si snoda scendendo lungo un sentiero non troppo largo, attraversando una zona ripida e rocciosa (fino a circa 2600 metri). Quindi il sentiero torna ad essere un po’ più pianeggiante e sicuro. Dopo una pausa nel cuore della Val di Tisa, il gregge scende a Vernago, dove arriva verso le 14.00. Già da lontano si vede una processione infinita di pecore (circa mezz’ora). È possibile sostare e pernottare presso il Rifugio Martin Busch e il Rifugio Similaun.
Return of the sheep on saturday, 14th of september 2024

Schedule may change if weather conditions are bad
ipotsch - Schnalstal Valley's felt slipper
ipotsch - Schnalstal Valley's felt slipper
Thanks to its diverse and distinctive natural and cultural landscape, the Schnalstal Valley is one of the most fascinating valleys in the entire Alps. The ...
read more