Every year in September, approximately 380,000 cows who have been happily grazing on mountainside pastures in the Alps during summer, come back down to the valleys in a procession called the Alpabfahrt or Désalpe. The cows, as well as goats and sheep, make the descent to their homes in the valleys below in preparation for the cold winter.
In Alpine villages all around Switzerland, farmers often adorn their herds with elaborate flower headdresses, garlands or embroidered pieces, and large jangling cowbells in festive celebration as they parade through the streets. The parade begins at the crack of dawn on the mountainsides where the cows commence their slow and steady decline. By dusk, the cows complete their journey back home safe in their stables at the bottom of the valley for a much needed rest. Along the way, many tourists and Swiss locals enjoy the wonderful spectacle of vibrant colours and sounds, and cheer on the farmers and the cows.
In the Appenzell region, for example, the cows are led by the white, hornless Appenzeller Gäässe (goats), which are tended by children wearing pretty, traditional children's costumes. The goats are followed by the milk cows, heifers and calves, a steer and the horse pulling the Ledi (a wooden wagon with two axles), which has room for all the equipment that was once needed in the Alps for making cheese and butter. Cattle owners are dressed in brown and walk at the very end of the procession. The Appenzeller mountain dog at his side, known locally as de Blässe often accompany his side to make sure that none of the livestock go astray.
The most important thing about every alpine ascent and descent are the three bell cows, which are led by an alpine herdsman wearing a traditional festive costume. On his left shoulder he carries the Fahreimer, a milking bucket with an ornately painted bottom, the Fahreimerbödeli. The three bells harmonised in the sixth, seventh and eighth overtones are the pride of the farming communities on both sides of the Säntis mountain. The most important job of the four alpine herdsmen walking behind the bell cows is to sing and yodel to the three instruments, which―like nowhere else in the world―are played by cows.
One can expect mud, crowds, alphornists, brass bands, yodellers, street fairs and farmers' markets during the festival.
YouTube clip: 'Alpabzug / Desalpes Switzerland - Autumn Festival 2017 - Albeuve FR' by toptabjourney.
For more information about the Alpabfhart, please visit MySwitzerland.com or Appenzell.ch.