With the onset of autumn, farmers across Switzerland return their herds of cows, sheep, and goats from the high-altitude pastures. It is the season of alpine cow parades.
This age-old tradition marks a milestone in a farmer’s year. And this homecoming of farm animals is a spectacle for onlookers, too. We have previously tried to convince you to see an alpine cow parade in your lifetime. And when we recently witnessed several alpine descents in Appenzell, I decided to research where the désalpes in Switzerland are taking place in 2021.
First and foremost, sign up for the free newsletter of Appenzell Tourism that announces most of their parades ahead of time. I would sign up for their German-language newsletter because I am not sure whether the information about Appenzell region descents is mailed in English.
Hand-picked alpine cow parades in Switzerland:
Sept 4: Alpine descent “Züglete” in Gstaad
In Gstaad, the homecoming of cows is called “Züglete”, which means as much as “relocation.” Since cows are traditionally adorned with flower bouquets, this particular event is a feast for the eyes.
The festivities start in the morning with a parade of bells that announce the arrivals. About twice an hour, another farmer family will arrive along with their beautiful Simmental cows. Throughout Gstaad, find market booths, a show cheese dairy, and even a petting zoo.
Sept 11: Various alpine descents in Appenzell
This autumn, we have finally witnessed the arrival of cows in the Appenzell region. Each procession consists of a particular setup: white goats lead the way, followed by dairy cows, and finally cattle. In between, boys and girls, as well as herdsmen and the owner, hike all the way from the alpine pastures to the center of Appenzell.
Fun fact: the yellow pants typical for this region are only worn by herdsmen who stay up on the mountain for the entire summer.
On Sept 11, you can expect arrivals in Appenzell around 10:45 AM (Farmer Inauen), and 2:30 PM (Farmer Fässler, Farmer Rusch). Another place to catch them is in the town of Weissbad, where the parades will pass at 9:30 AM and around 1 PM.
Sept 11: Alpine descent in Innertkirchen
Each region has its own traditions when it comes to désalpes. Innertkirchen in the Bernese Alps enjoys two homecomings this year, each from a different alpine meadow. While festivities are scheduled to begin at 9 AM, the first cows of Alp Gental are scheduled to arrive around 11:30 AM.
Then, at 1:30 PM, the second batch of beautifully decorated cows is set to arrive from Alp Engstien. Each arrival is concluded with a parade in Innertkirchen, so you could hang out there to watch it all. Those who want to capture beautiful photographs, however, might want to hike towards the alps ahead of the arrivals in order to catch the cows in a natural setting.
The program calls for an alpine descent for children. Dressed in traditional shirts and outfits, you may drop off the little ones at the church at 11:30 AM. They will enjoy activities at Grimseltor before being returned to Innertkirchen.
Sept 11: Alpine descent in Mels
This is one of the most popular alpine descents in this region, and it is easy to access for the city slickers among us. We recommend arriving in Mels around 10:30 AM. The easiest is to ride the bus to the “Post” station, then walk a few steps to the central square.
The artisanal farmers’ market will be in full swing. The arrival of the cows will be one of those lasting memories. In order to celebrate a successful summer, the farmers would decorate their farm animals with flowers, twigs, and beautiful bells.
Sept 11: Alpine descent in Saas-Balen
This event in Valais is smaller scale but nonetheless beautiful. Experience how the cows return from the Hoferälpji to the town of Saas-Balen. The bovines will depart the alpine pastures at 10 AM, which puts them in the village around noon. The parade is followed by a cheese market where the summer’s dairy products are hawked. Music and entertainment continue until 6 PM.
More information via email or phone: +41 27 957 21 43
Sept 14: Cattle drive in the Suldtal near Spiez
The idyllic Suldtal above Spiez with its tall waterfall makes for a unique setting. Around noon, the parade will be passing by the restaurant. Traditionally, participating children would wear folk costumes while the well-fed cows are decorated with bells and flower bouquets. The herdsmen, meanwhile, are busy keeping all the goats and bovines in line...
The best way to access this event is by bus 62 from Spiez, followed by a shuttle transfer to Restaurant Pochtenfall.
Sept 17: Alpine descent in Appenzell
Farmer Bruno Räss is going to bring his livestock down from the summer pastures at Neuenalp. After passing through Weissbad, he will be arriving at the Appenzell Metzibrücke bridge around 1 PM. From there, the parade will walk along Obere Hirschbergstrasse - straight to the farm.
Sept 17: Alpine descent in Summiswald
As early as 7:30 AM, the herdsmen will depart from their alps towards the valley. Between 8:30 AM and 1 PM, various groups will be passing through the town of Wasen im Emmental. And between 9 AM and 1 PM, groups are expected to arrive in Summiswald.
Since there will be lots of different farmers in this event, you can expect just as many types of farm animals in the parades: oxen, dairy cows, cattle, and goats. And while you enjoy all the festivities, make sure to indulge in local food served by the various clubs.
Sept 18: Alpine descent in Appenzell
Farmer Chläus Peterer will be bringing his cows down from Alp Bommen, a pasture at 1230 meters above sea. There, the family runs an inn during summer months. After passing through Weissbad, they will arrive in Appenzell's main street around 1 PM.
Sept 18: Alpine descent in Blatten - Belalp
As summer is drawing to a close, the farmers of Blatten-Belalp traditionally drive their cows back to the valley. In order to celebrate this occasion, the farmers will decorate their cows for the long journey to Blatten.
Starting at 7 AM, the cows will embark on their journey. They are expected to arrive in Blatten near Naters at 11 AM. You might want to arrive a bit earlier, however, as the festivities at the valley station of Blatten are set to begin at 9 AM already.
The program calls for flag-wavers and yodeling, as well as the traditional crowning of the “Belalp Alpine Queen” at 3 PM.
Sept 18: Désalpes in La Fouly
The alpine parade in La Fouly takes place in the French-speaking part of Valais. The village is quite a ways from even Martigny, which is a 35-minute drive or 52-minute ride on public transport. Nonetheless, this will be a scenic désalpes involving four mountain pastures: Mont-Percé, Ars, Peule, and Léchère/Plan de la Chaux.
The arrival of the animals is preceded by a 10 AM parade. Starting before noon, the food stalls with everything from raclette to BBQ will open. A definite highlight will be the cow fights at 2:30 PM. The winning cow will walk away as the official “Queen of Désalpe”...
Sept 18: Alpine descent in Urnäsch
The Appenzell region offers a perfect setting for the homecoming of cows. Throughout the morning, different farmers will be arriving in the town of Urnäsch. But the best time to enjoy this tradition is between 10 AM and 1 PM.
On the same day, there will be a farmer's market on Kronenplatz with over 50 stalls, as well as a variety of entertainment and musical performances. (Don’t miss the pig races at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM!) Park your car at Appenzellerstrasse or at Werkhof Furt. From there, hop on a shuttle bus to Urnäsch. Or better yet, arrive by public transport...
Sept 20: Alpine descent in Appenzell
The alp at Fährenenboden offers stunning views at the Alpstein massif. From these altitudes, farmer Andreas Inauen is going to herd his livestock back to the farm in the valley. This Monday cow parade is expected to hit Eggerstanden at 3 PM.
Sept 25: Alpine descent in Anzère
Anzère above Sion welcomes the cows of Alp Serin home at 11 AM on this Saturday. The best place to enjoy the procession will be at the cable car - or at Restaurant de la Poste where the cows arrive. The latter is also where all the entertainment takes place and local food is sold.
Sept 25: Désalpes in Blonay
Very easy to access by car is the town of Blonay near Vevey. Around noon, the herd departs from the Guedères alpine pasture. Until the arrival at the castle of Blonay around 1 to 2 PM, the bovines and herdsmen will have walked for a dozen kilometers.
Starting at 11 AM, those awaiting the arrival of the cows will get to indulge in local food, alphorn concerts, flag throwing performances, and more.
Sept 25: Alpine descent and market in Emmetten
From 10 AM through 5 PM, the town of Emmetten is welcoming farmers and their livestock. In this beautiful setting on the southern shores of Lake Lucerne, there will also be an alpine market. Expect a selection of the summer's best cheese, meats, and honey, among other things. The children will surely enjoy the petting zoo. And who knows, you might try your luck in the milking competition?
Sept 26: Alpine descent and market in Isenthal
The day after the events in Emmetten, another central Switzerland commune is celebrating the autumn's homecoming of livestock. At Isenthal, the beautifully decorated cows will be arriving in the afternoon. We have good memories of Isenthal from an alpine cheese-making experience. On this day, there will also be an artisanal market showcasing some lesser known trades: bell-making, wood-carving, basket-weaving, or even the production of roof shingles.
The best way to arrive in Isenthal is by public Postal Bus. Shuttle busses will take you straight to this idyllic village above the lake. Alternatively, you could hike from Klewenalp to Isenthal in about five hours' time.
Oct 2 - 3: Alpine festival in Seewis
This year, the Prättigauer Alp Spektakel is celebrating its 15th anniversary. If there is a single happening to experience it all, this festival is it. There will be a colorful alpine descent involving cows, sheep, and goats. There will also be a beauty contest crowning the nicest alpine beards, as well as an artisanal marketplace.
The best way to get there is by public transport. Get off at the train station in Grüsch or park your car at the valley station in Grüsch-Danusa. Every 20 minutes, a shuttle bus will take you to Seewis where the festival is taking place.
Important: due to the ongoing pandemic, many alpine descents are not being advertised this year. Please check the website before attending an event. Changing circumstances might lead to further cancellations.