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Say Cheese! Alpine Cow Parades

The festivals, secret and local, are a must-do while you are in the Alps in fall. Find out how and what the Alpine Cow Parades are all about in this guide.


After living in Bavaria for four years, I’m addicted to the colorful, bejeweled parade of cows known as the Almabtrieb or cow parade. Every fall, small troops of leather clad men and women climb to the high alpen pastures to collect their cows and bring them down off the mountain. This is the spectacle to watch in the Alps in the fall. Truly a do not miss event!

Decorated cows come down to Albeuve, Switzerland in their alpine parade.
One of our favorite cow parades and festivals is in the small village of Albeuve, near Gruyères, Switzerland.

Magical Cow Parades in the Alps – I’m Addicted!

In Berchtesgaden, Germany cows are really gussied up for a a ride on a boat across the lake.
Elaborate headdresses adorn the cows of the Königsee.

Let’s rewind.  First, we need to back up and go back to summer in the Alps. The snow is all but melted, the grass is green and peppered with alpine herbs, the skies are blue with big billowy clouds sitting on top of the jagged mountains. It doesn’t matter where you are in this stunning region of Europe, the Alps are filled with wildflowers, sheep, hikers, and cows. Getting off the train or bus, or stepping out of your car the first thing you notice is the far off tinkling of cow bells, and if you take a close look on those gargantuan mountains you will see plenty of bovines.

In Austria, cows enjoying the green, green grass of home still all dressed up in alpine parade finery.
A nice rest is needed after the long descent from the Austrian Alps.

What is a Cow Parade aka Almabtrieb

The Swiss, German, and Austrian farmers look forward throughout the winter to the spring and warmth so they can take their herds up, way up. The cows, and many sheep, are pastured all summer in high valleys, steep mountainsides, places you might be surprised to see them, but they are there. The cows munch and get fat on this fresh grass and herb diet. The farmers have hired hands to milk the cows twice a day, and some still make cheese all summer long. After about 100 days of feasting on this rich green grass, the farmers must fetch their herds and bring them back home for the long winter where the cows will once again rely on the hay the farmer has managed to harvest while they were on walkabout.

Decorating the cows in Austria.
The handmade decorations that are designed for each cow take hours to make before the big weekend.

Then the magic begins. From the end of August until mid-October the dairy farmers who live in the Alps have a centuries-old tradition of going back up the mountain and bringing back their cows. This is done with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Hopefully the cows have been sure-footed and the farmers have not lost any of their herd, because if they do the entire town mourns with them and not as much frivolity will ensue.

Belling the cows in Austria.
Belling the cows is an entertaining event.
Carrying the cows across the lake in a boat.
In Berchtesgadener land, the cows return from the mountainside by boat.

The cows are brought down off the mountain and decorated. Some have huge cow bells, some have evergreen fir boughs, some have flowers, and some have ribbons. They are prettied up and paraded through the town with people lining both sides of the road to welcome them home. As the cows are either pastured near a fest-tent or sent directly to the barn, the farmers, townspeople, and visitors all head for the fest. Each town has a place to eat, drink beer, maybe buy local products, listen to local folk music, and enjoy the warm last days of summer.

Even the bread celebrates the cow.
This delicious cow bread is sold as one of the many local specialties you can find at the fests.
A Swiss longhorn group welcome the cows.
Folk music is played throughout the fest. There’s nothing like an alpine horn concert.

We’ve done this as much as we can each fall.  There’s no way to say which is a better experience, because they are all so vastly different.

Switzerland Cow Parades

In Switzerland, depending on the area, there are large and small processions, some including the goats and sheep that had accompanied the cows for the entire summer. At each one, you can sample foods with the traditional cheese. For instance, in Urnäsch we had an alpine cheese with pear sandwich. While in Gruyères, we enjoyed the tasty fondue. This, along with cute young barefoot boys singing in the town square, or the massive alpine horn bands playing traditional music, makes visiting Switzerland during this time a must.

In Pfronten, the cows come right through town.
In Pfronten Germany, the cow procession moves quickly.
Everyone gets excited when the cows come home from their summer in the Alps.
The cows are not the only ones who dress up for this occasion.

Austria Cow Parades

In Austria, there are many small hamlets and dorfs that hold a cow parade. If you get there early, you can even watch the locals bell and adorn the cows with flowers and evergreens. Some cows love it and can’t wait while others feel affronted and do everything in their power to remove the beast that rests on their heads. The headdresses that are handmade by the local women are truly amazing and seeing the cows all bejeweled is really an unparalleled experience.

Pretty cow with flowers.
Prom queen!
You can hear the cowbells long before you see them coming up the path.
A beautiful backdrop for this cow parade in Tannheim, Austria.

Germany Cow Parade – Alpenfahrt

In Germany, the fest-tents are huge and the farmers are more than happy to run their cows through the town as quickly as possible to get to the beer. One of our favorites is in the town of Pfronten. We love the wursts, the oompah band, and the huge market where you can buy all kinds of local handicrafts and foods. Another favorite is Lake Königsee where the cows have no path to walk, so they must be fetched by boat.  Let me tell you, that’s a sight!

Plan your European trip this fall to include at least one cow home-coming. You won’t regret it.

This man is calling and singing to his cows as they amble down the road.
In Urnäsch, Switzerland the men wear one earring that is a replica of the cheese pan.
Men walking their cows.
Cow calls as the Swiss men herd their cows through the town.

Practical Information 

How do you find out where the cow parades are taking place?  Each area has their own website with a list of dates, but here is one that promises to have the full list: Termine Almabtriebe und Viehscheid

Austria – Allgäu

Germany  – Bavaria

Some words that will help you search on the Internet as well as looking at local signs:
In German – The almabtrieb is the most common word for the return off of the Alm or the high pastures.
In Swiss, they viehscheid or désalpe (French) to describe coming down from the mountains.

This beautiful cow has a heavy load of flowers on her head.

Alpine Cow Parade Hotels

It goes without saying that many people love this centuries-old tradition and if you are interested in seeing a cow parade I would definitely spend the night. Hotels are plentiful but can get booked up rather quickly. Therefore, you should book as soon as you can to make sure that you are able to really enjoy the parade and the festivities afterwards.

Albeuve, Switzerland

Albeuve holds a wonderful alpine cow parade, and there are a few places to stay in the area. Check out these hotels.

Urnäsch, Switzerland

This was our first cow parade, and the town holds a complete fair. It was pretty amazing. You can stay anywhere in town and see the goings on. Check out hotel price here.

Pfronten, Germany

There are plenty of hotels in Pfronten, you can compare hotel prices here.

Berchtesgaden, Germany

Check for the best hotels in Berchtesgaden here.

Have you been to any cow parades?  Where is your favorite?

Pin the cow parade info for later!

Say Cheese! Alpine Cow Parades - Don' t miss them in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland.
Don't miss out on some of the best cultural events of the Alps. Celebrate with the locals as the cows come home from their summer pastures.
Celebrate with the locals as the cows come home.
Fall cow parades are a cultural must-do in the Alpine regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland each fall.

Erika

Monday 19th of September 2016

Connie any tips for the Almabtrieb at Königssee? All dates are tba . I've been to Kufstein and Reith im Alpbachtal the last 2 years. Danke!

Jim Vail

Wednesday 21st of September 2016

Erika, I just got word back from the tourist office in Berchtesgaden. The Almabtrieb across the lake on boats is currently scheduled for the 1st of October in the morning and another on the 7th or 8th of October. Of course, it is all dependent on the weather...

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 20th of September 2016

Erika, It should be the first weekend in October. You can keep checking the Bavaria event calendar, but we too found it difficult to pin down. It depends on weather!

Rhonda Albom

Tuesday 2nd of August 2016

what a great ceremony to bring the cows home.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 2nd of August 2016

We've done this in several different regions now, and it's always a blast!

Jill

Tuesday 2nd of August 2016

I couldn't love this anymore than I do! It would be wonderful to see this in person - someday1

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 2nd of August 2016

Jill, I do think you would love it Plan a trip! You can go with us.

Lolo

Friday 29th of July 2016

OMG I think we were at the Lake Konigssee Almabtrieb at the same time because I totally have pictures of the same boys!!! What a small world!! https://caliglobetrotter.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/konigssee-almabtrieb-cows-with-flowers/

Corinne Vail

Saturday 30th of July 2016

Lolo, Yes! That is awesome. I wish we'd met.