Isaac Newton once said, “What goes up must come down.” Newton’s original context may have been gravity, but the same can be said of Switzerland’s cows!
In the spring, they are herded from valleys and pastures high into the mountains to graze for the summer; then, each autumn, the cows are paraded back down to their valleys for the winter in “Desalpes” (French-speaking areas) / “Alpabzug” (German-speaking areas) festivals throughout the country.
Desalpes festivals offer a full day of entertainment for expats and locals alike, and for adults and children of all ages. In addition to the procession of cows, at most festivals you can enjoy local music, see traditional dancing, purchase handcrafted goods, and sample freshly made alpine cheese and local wine.
Tips & Hints
Arrive early and anticipate crowds. To maximize your time at the festival, arrive early (before the cows are scheduled to descend) and plan for crowds. Festivals near larger cities (such as St. Cergue, near Geneva) tend to be more crowded than festivals in more remote areas, and both parking lots and public transportation tend to be quite busy.
- Bring cash. Admission to the festivals is free of charge, but should you want to have lunch or purchase local wine or alpine cheese, you will need money. Though some festivals accept payment by credit cards and Maestro, others may not. You may also be required to change cash into tokens at a central booth and use the tokens to pay for food and drink.
- Wear boots and watch where you step. With cows, goats, sheep, and horses about, be prepared to dodge droppings and plan to give your shoes a good scrubbing at the end of the day. Even on a warm day, desalpes festivals are no place for sandals!
A Selection of Upcoming Festivals
- September 26: Charmey (Gruyère), Grimentz, L’Etivaz
- October 3: St. Cergue, Semsales, Albeuve
Myswitzerland.com has a comprehensive list of the upcoming events (search for “alpine festivals”). Regional tourism websites for Lake Geneva (Canton Vaud), Canton Valais, La Gruyère, and more also have information in English, French, and German.
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