“It’s not over until the cows come home.” A popular quote, but does anyone know where it originates? Well, right here in the Alps. …Ok ok, maybe I think that’s where it came from after attending a local event in Bayern. At the end of summer is marked by well, the coming home of cows in a celebration of thanksgiving. The origination of this quote dawned on me this week after attending a local Almabtrieb or Viehscheid-in Germany-, which loosely translates to a cow train in which the cows parade through the town as they come home. This event takes place in autumn in the Alpine regions and is a fantastic autumn activity in the Alps. I found a local Viehscheid happening in Bavaria, Germany in a small town called Haldenwang and had a wonderful time in attendance. However, these events happen all over the region, each one being unique ranging from large and touristy to small and intimate. Attending an Almabtrieb is a great day trip from Munich, a chance to take a break from Oktoberfest or just a reason to experience true Alpine culture in the crisp autumn air.
Cows are an important part of Alpine life in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. They spend their summer days lazing about in the gorgeous green mountains and hills, eating, sleeping and playing. When the weather begins to bite, summer is over and it is time for these cows to head down to the lower fields and wait out the winter in the warm barn. This Almabtrieb, when the cows come home in the autumn, is a huge homecoming party celebrated to give thanks to the safe return of the cattle and farmers. It is celebrated in small towns and regions all throughout Bavaria in Germany, Austria and Switerzland. It is only natural that these cows are treated to a royal homecoming as they are dressed up with floral headdresses and prized bells while the town makes merry, drinking beer, eating traditional food and selling their dairy product.
Each town, each region and each country celebrates it differently. At the small event in Haldenwang, it was an intimate festival with mostly locals. There were only two lucky cows adorned with the floral headdresses, weighing up to 20kg with the bell. A total of about 100 cows came bolting through the town, with the farms herding them and bringing them down to the Viehscheid, and an area where a celebration took place. After the cows were in the pen everyone had a chance to take photos of them, buy local dairy products and traditional food, listen to a local band and of course, drink beer. While our event was much smaller than some, it was great to see a traditional event among locals.
Some regions, such as in parts of Austria (Tyrol or Südtyrol), and Switzerland go all out and combine their Almabtrib with a multi-day harvest festival with tourists coming from all over to experience the event. Not only are their parades of cows, but also other livestock such as sheep. Towns will showcase their local talents such as basket weaving, wool weaving, and woodwork. Check out this post by Linda on her experience in Reith Alpbachtal, Austria. This was a MUCH bigger party than the one me had in Bavaria, Germany. It has inspired me to travel to many of these next year to compare them. How would you like to celebrate?
These events take place between September and October, in autumn in parts of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was hard for me, an English speaker to find the exact dates for the longest time, and I was thankful to come across this great website with all the dates, times and an English translation! You can search by location or year to find the event nearest you!
Autumn is one of the best times to visit the Alps in my opinion. The weather has cooled off a bit and the towns are in the celebratory mode, giving thanks to the harvest and preparing for the long hard winter. It’s a welcoming time to visit these small towns where often it is hard to fit in. At least, I felt like one of the locals, celebrating the harvest in Haldenwang. It is a great way to experience local culture, an alternative to Oktoberfest and a fun event for the entire family. Plus I love trying to local beer and food from each region. I hope to see you at an Almabtrieb when they bring the cows home for the winter! Let me know if you have any questions or need help planning your next trip!