Last weekend we went to my favorite Swiss festival, the Desalpe, a celebration of the cows returning from 100 days of summer grazing high in the mountains. Mostly I love the “cow parade” as we call it because of my (maybe excessive) love of cows. Even if you don’t share my bovine obsession, I still find it to be a really beautiful Swiss tradition.
The farming families all walk along with the cows in their traditional dress and you can see the joy and pride they feel. I have read that the cows that produce the most milk are the ones who wear the flower crowns and biggest bells as a symbol of honor. This year we visited the Desalpe in Charmey, just next to Gruyeres…meaning the cows we saw are responsible for the world famous gruyere cheese!
In typical Swiss fashion, the event was very well organized. We arrived a bit later than intended around 10:30 and parked in the village of Broc. There were free shuttles up to Charmey since parking there is limited and traffic is hindered due to the ongoing cow processions. The bus had to pull over a couple of times for groups of cows coming through, but we were able to hop off the bus and take some photos.
When we got to town, we were happy that unlike other desalpes we’ve been to (St. Cergue I’m looking at you) there was room to spread out a bit so you didn’t have to be packed behind other people if you weren’t among the first to arrive. We staked out a spot and watched a few other “troupeaux” parade through.
The boys liked this desalpe better than others we’ve been to because it wasn’t quite as crowded watching the parade so they were able to grab seats on a wall and watch the action. At others they were a bit too close for comfort and a bit scared by the big cows parading by with their noisy bells…especially when some of them chose not to follow the crowd!
There was a break in the program around lunchtime so we tried to explore the stands and stalls, but it was just packed.
We’d seen lots of cows and bought some cheese and were content, so we decided to take the bus back down to our car and go for some fondue at the Gruyere cheese factory to celebrate. It’s our favorite place for fondue! The bus ride down did take a while because we were stuck behind the last group of cows making their way down the mountain.
After a big fondue lunch, we needed a walk and some fresh air so we headed to Le Moléson, a nearby mountain peak in the Swiss Prealps. It was getting cloudy so we didn’t go all the way to the top, but instead we took the funicular halfway up to Plan-Francey and had a nice walk around there. Beautiful views and a beautiful Swiss day!
There are more Desalpes this weekend in St. Cergue and Albeuve and next weekend (Oct. 7th) at Morgins and Le Boechet. Find more details here. Best advice if you decide to go to a desalpe is to go early and wear rain boots or old shoes. And take lots of pictures!