Today was a window into Swiss tradition at the “Desalpes” festival in St. Cergue.
After spending four months in the high alpine pastures where cheese is made on site the old-fashioned way, the farmers and their cows parade down from the mountains at the end of September to rejoin their winter farms in “Desalpes” (French-speaking areas) / “Alpabzug” (German-speaking areas) festivals throughout the country. After all that work, the villagers feel that the farmers deserve to be celebrated as they make their way home. So, they dress up their cows in their finest floral headdresses and massive decorative cow bells, don traditional dress, and march through the village with their Bernese mountain dogs (from Bern!) among thousands of onlookers cheering them on their way with traditional alphorn bands creating a soundtrack.
The following are some of my favorite google translated excerpts from the village websites:
“When dahlias, chrysanthemums, alpine roses and fir twigs tower in colorful bunches on the heads of cows, it means that the summer is over. At least the alpine summer. It’s a big day for the inhabitants of the alp, high up in the mountains. After four months away from home, they prepare early in the morning for the triumphant entry into the village.”
“120 Eringer cows spend the summer on the pasture of Moiry. These small but robust cows give themselves over 1000 fights between them. But mostly, they graze peacefully juicy mountain herbs of alpine meadows located up to 2900 meters above sea level – and thus provide shepherds high quality milk. It is processed into cheese bodied mountain, a rare and highly valued. You can taste it during the Festival of désalpe Grimentz while watching the procession of cows parade through the picturesque streets of this typical Valais village. Between the wooden houses darkened by the sun, the spectacle of big cats and black cows adorned with flowers is beautiful. The most beautiful and most combative cows are presented first to the public, mostly local. Then follows the rest of the procession. The party continues around a creamy raclette and a glass cracking.”
“Each year, between late September and early October, after the summer pasture the herds join their neighborhoods of winter. On this occasion, the village is celebrating. Alphorn, flag throwers, folk music groups and craftsmen animate the streets of the village to the passage of herds and their decorated tintillantes beasts.”
“As every year and a few month later the cows leave the pastures with the queens.”
“In the land of Gruyère AOP cheese, the homecoming group is cheered like heroes: on the village square yodelers, alphorn blowers and flag wavers show off their abilities to honor the homecoming group.”
“In September, more than 100 cows richly dressed borrow narrow trails in the spectacular cliffs of the Flimserstein. They descend from the pasture to reach Their barns Foppa through Bargiz, and Flims Fidaz. Spectators Who hear await the sound of bells well before seeing the cows.”
And for sheep: “The désalpe sheep from Gemmi to Leukerbad is a special event every year for vacationers, local residents, shepherds and sheep, of course.Already on Saturday, about 800 sheep gathered in the Gemmi, then down on Sunday until Leukerbad, via the steep path to the Gemmi. Then, after a pause for shepherds and sheep in Leukerbad, they continue their descent to Leukerbad. In all the animals and will travel more than 1700 vertical meters.”
This is the real Switzerland. So if you ever happen to be here in September, follow the sound of the cowbells and join the parade!