This past weekend we enjoyed that quintessential Swiss experience, the cow festival. These are celebrated in small farming towns all over Switzerland at the end of summer, when the cows are brought down from their summer grazing spots in the mountains.
This particular fête désalpe (which as far as I can tell is French for de-alpification party) took place high above Lake Geneva in the small hill town of St-Cergue. We arrived at around 8.30am so as not to miss the first herd’s appearance. Its arrival was accompanied by the deafening clamor of 50 or so cow bells, some of which were as big as the heads of the cows wearing them. The lead cows and a couple of the others were decked out in headpieces made out of miniature pine trees and colorful crepe-paper flowers.
The herds continued to appear every 20 minutes or so and were led in a loop through the middle of town before disappearing. Between-herd entertainment was provided by a group of Alphorn players, a yodeling men’s choir, and a band playing traditional Swiss mountain music. We also kept ourselves busy sampling the culinary offerings of the festival booths – cheese tarts, curried chicken rice balls, homemade caramels and chocolates, tartiflette, and Glühwein.
The cows were surprisingly well-mannered (save a little shoving here and there) and didn’t seem to be bothered by the crowds of people gawking at them, even if the ones wearing headdresses didn’t look particularly amused. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them a tiny little bit.