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“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! At least that is my professional opinion after attending an Almabtrieb or Verscheid in the German Alps. The tradition which loosely translates to “cow train” occurs every autumn in small Alpine towns spanning from Switzerland to Austria. If it has been your dream to watch cows with fancy flower hats parade, A.K.A run, through small European towns trailed by farmers in lederhosen ending in a celebration with local cheese, beer, and music, well then this is the autumn Alpine event is for you!
If you love autumn and welcome the turning of the leaves then traveling around for Almabtrieb around Europe is one of the best autumn activities you can do around Germany. You can catch a train or rent a car to find events 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. The Almabtrieb 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.
How is the Almabtrieb or Cow’s Homecoming Celebrated?
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 farmers 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 with the 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. Tourists come from all over the world to experience these large events. The cow parades are just a small element of these events with parades of sheep and other farm animals. 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 we had in a small town in Bavaria, Germany. It has inspired me to travel to many of these next years to compare them. How would you like to celebrate?
Where and When are These Events?
These events take place between September and October in various towns and regions of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It was hard for me to find the exact dates and times for the events, so 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!
Why you Should go to an Almabtreib.
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 party mode, giving thanks to the harvest and preparing for the long hard winter. Everyone is so welcoming and attending even the smallest events you feel like you’re right at home with the merrymaking locals. At least, I felt like one of the locals, celebrating the harvest in Haldenwang. It is a great way to experience local culture, a great 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!
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for environmental sustainability and bridges sustainable travel with environmental science.