Why you need to see an alpine cow parade once in your life

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Flims

In the beginning of autumn, a beautiful living tradition takes place all over Switzerland: Alpabzug, the alpine descent of cows, cattle, goats and other farm animals.

At the end of September and the beginning of October, many Swiss farmers are busy returning their animals from the mountain pastures. After spending the summer grazing on meadows with fresh herbs, the bovines will be spending their winters in the barn.

Although a sort of mundane agricultural event, the Swiss turn these alpine descents into an opportunity to praise the beloved cows. By decorating and dressing them up with the biggest bells, the farmers showcase their beauty and agricultural achievements.

If you have not yet fallen in love with cows while living in Switzerland, you surely will while experiencing the return of cows. You may have seen pictures of Alpabzug (or désalpe in French), wondering whether to attend... We have put together five reasons to convince you to see an alpine cow parade at least once in your life:

1. It's an opportunity to travel around Switzerland

You are not exactly a spontaneous traveler yet you are looking for a reason to travel more in Switzerland? Joining a Swiss activity such as Alpabzug is a good reason to get out there.

There are dozens of alpine descents happening all around Switzerland. The biggest take place in more well-known towns like Engelberg, Gstaad or Urnäsch.

But do not forget about smaller villages, either. As long as they are near a mountain (like almost all places in Switzerland, I know), chances are the farmers in these less touristy villages will be bringing down the cows. For instance, here is a photograph of the cow parade in the hamlet of l'Etivaz:

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Etivaz(Photograph copyright Dominik Gehl)

This is an alpine descent in the town of Flums:

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Flims(Photograph copyright Cloudia Chan)

And here are some typical Simmentaler cows in Charmey above Gruyères:

Fiona, the Savage Cow

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Charmey

Since you will be in a mountainous place to watch the descent, why not combine the visit with a hike? Even cows are hiking during those days, so you have no excuse not to... Autumn is considered to be the best hiking season. The temperatures are lower, the sun is still out and the weather is more stable compared to summer.

2. To praise the beautiful cows and other farm animals

As you have probably figured out, the Swiss love their cows. They even had a (very emotional) vote recently on whether cows should have the right to keep their horns. Truly, cows occupy an important place in the hearts of the Swiss and in their culture.

Visiting an alpine descent is your chance to appreciate the beauty and grace of those magnificent animals. You might have observed cows enjoying their lives in the Swiss mountains. But to make the cows even prettier, Swiss farmers will decorate them with flowers, greenery, herbs and flags.

The rhythmic sound of the cow-bells accompanying the procession has a calming effect. You cannot help smiling from the aesthetic satisfaction when seeing the animals, and you might even say "wie hübsch!" – "how pretty!"

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Flims(Photograph copyright Cloudia Chan)

3. To be a part of a real Swiss tradition

Alpabzug is quite a unique and interesting event. Being that it is a Swiss tradition, it will make you feel the atmosphere of a festival where locals gather to spend some time together.

For tourists, the procession of cows might be a nice occasion to take pictures. But for the Swiss, it is about showing their pride for the cows which are an irreplaceable part of Swiss culture and agriculture. After all, who but the Swiss could create such a tradition where decorated cows parade through the streets?

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Etivaz(Photograph copyright Dominik Gehl)

To get to know Swiss people

If you have felt lonely or upset about the notorious difficulty to make friends with the Swiss, here is a chance to melt the ice. Even through the Swiss might be hard to approach and make friends with (despite their general friendliness), this does not apply during an event like Alpabzug.

As it is an important tradition, there will naturally be a high concentration of Swiss coming to the streets to watch the procession. In other words, a great opportunity to start a conversation by saying how "hübsch" the cows are. And, well, if this does not work, you can always shift the conversation to Roger Federer...

Cruising the Swiss Alps with Alpmobil

To enjoy local specialties

Alpabzug is not only a defile of cows and an occasion for people to gather. The finishing touch of a Swiss alpine descent is: food. The entertainment (cows) is often combined with a farmer’s market. What an opportunity to try some traditional Swiss specialties! Think raclette, sausages of all kinds, baked delicacies, and so much more.

Food is why Alpabzug is considered a festival of a kind. And if you want to give alpine Swiss cuisine a try but a restaurant is too boring (or expensive), look up a nearby alpine descent and bring some cash for the market booths!

Check the MySwitzerland.com event calendar and read about the time we brought home the cows...

Alpabzug Alpine Cow Parade in Gonten

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Olga Shulga

Originally from Russia, Olga moved to Switzerland to continue her studies and be with her Swiss boyfriend. Soon after, she also fell in love with the country, Swiss culture and people.

Olga is interested in event management, marketing and tourism. In her leisure time, she likes traveling in Switzerland and abroad. She can't imagine a summer without hiking in the Swiss mountains or swimming in a lake!
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  1. […] cowbells hanging on the front of the building. These are traditionally used on the cows during the Alpabfahrt (Swiss cow parade). This is where the cows are brought down from their summer pastures high in the mountains, to the […]

  2. […] after years of living in Switzerland, I have yet to witness a proper Alpabzug. The Alpine descent of cows is one of the most iconic traditions in Switzerland. It is being celebrated in various regions and […]

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