If you are not planning anything else for the second half of June this year, the inalpe in the mountains is great fun. The inalpe is when cattle are taken up to the higher pastures, called alpage, for the summer; the désalpe is when they are led back down to their winter quarters in the Fall. Several villages in the Val d’Anniviers hold inalpe festivities. I attended the one above the village of Grimenz last year and have some photos to show you what it was like.
Grimentz is a picturesque village in the Val d’Anniviers, which is the last lateral valley in the canton of Valais that is still French speaking. It is worth a visit at other times of the year as well. The old part of the town has many old wooden structures and the village is bedecked with flowers in the summer.
The inalpe in Grimenz is usually held on the third Saturday in June. The cattle are taken up from the villages to the pastures of Avoin and festivities are held all day, beginning with the blessing of the pastures. At 10 am le combat des reines, the contest for dominance between the big black cows of Hérens, starts. They push each other around with their heads until one of them gives up. They are given points for winning this pushing contest and at the end of the festivities the one with the most points is declared la reine (the queen). People sit around on the grass surrounding the large roped-off area with the cows and follow the events. They bring a picnic or eat at an outdoor restaurant next to the barns. At noon the cows are led up to the barns to be blessed. They are then let out for more contests later in the afternoon. The Valais is traditionally a Catholic canton and the blessing of the pasture and the cows is an ancient custom.
The Hérens is a breed of alpine cattle named after the Val d’Hérens region of Switzerland. They have different coloured coats but in the Val d’Anniviers they
are mainly black. The Hérens have powerful bodies, large heads with small curved horns and short sturdy legs on which they can easily scramble up and down the mountains. According to historians their ancestors were present in the region since the third century BC. They are much loved in the Valais for their robust appearance and bellicose temperament and are bred mainly to keep up the cow fight tradition, since they do not give as much milk as other local cattle. Most cattle owners have one or two Hérens in their barns so they can participate in the combats des reines each summer.
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