When the blue line of the Vosgestakes on a green hue, the gently sloping valleys of Vittel appear. This Olympian land where water springs forth everywhere seems as if it were the work of a god of nature nonchalantly drafting rounded green curves with his artist’s brush. There are no gold mines or oil fields here; wealth flows just below the surface of the ground, creating a green and pleasant land all year round.
A tectonic event that occurred millions of years ago has had fortunate consequences, dispensing unrivalled largesse in the form of water over a very small area. The Vittel fault, which runs right across the Paris basin as far as the English Channel, is in fact several hundred metres deep, enclosing a hydromineral basin. This geological phenomenon also gave rise to a wall of impermeable clay. Here and there along the fault, lapping at this rampart, the main spring, Vittel, rises naturally in the south after spending fifty or even a hundred years moving lazily between layers of limestone, white dolomite (composed of calcium and magnesium), dolomitic marl and gypsum. This incredible natural balance has been maintained for millions of years. Whether centuries ago, twenty years ago or merely over the past 24 hours, the water has been following the same path at the same speed, absorbing equal amounts of minerals.
Its nose has hints of clay and chalk, as well as a freshness and softness reminiscent of sap from succulent plants. Its full texture is also oily, making it quite fluid. It gives off the scent of wet stones baked by the summer sun. There is a balance between salty and bitter flavours, with a touch of acidity, giving it freshness and a long finish.
At Vittel in France, the Agrivair programme combines safeguarding resources for the future with sustainable development. Practices have changed as a result of an ecological pact with farmers, encouraging them to grow crops which do not pollute the soil. At the same time, their income and staff numbers have been guaranteed. Today the region is a highly environmentally conscious area. These preventive measures were initiated in the early 1990s after the rise of intensive agriculture near the Vittel sources and the risk that those practices posed to water resources. Their originality and effectiveness consisted of taking an advisory role and persuasive approach to break down obstacles to change. Golf courses, race tracks and parks are now also taking part in the programme and foregoing pesticides, herbicides and nitrates. Even the railway tracks, roads and paths are being maintained using alternative methods. 10,000 hectaresof land are thus being protected, creating an island of green in the country.Photography by Sandrine Alouf