Each fall, all over Switzerland, parades of Swiss cows descend from the Alps and settle into the lower and warmer pastures for the winter. Families guide the cows down from the mountains, often dressed in colorful traditional costumes. They dress the cows in huge ceremonial bells and headdresses made from pine trees and colorful flowers.
This ritual is quickly becoming a hallmark of fall for us. We’ve now gone twice to the Lauterbrunnen Désalpe festival which typically takes place in September. We recommend getting a table at one of the few restaurants in town to get a hot chocolate (or cold beer, depending on the weather) while you wait for the cows to arrive. Before or after, be sure to take a walk to see the many waterfalls in the Lauterbrunnen valley. The cows come in from the northern side of Lauterbrunnen on the main road, and this year were herded into a pasture at the end of the village. There you can see the ladies all dressed up and grazing in their new winter home.
During the Desalpe, farmers also bring cheese down from the mountains. Summer milk is used to make cheese since its flavor comes from the cows eating the fresh grass at high altitudes. It’s more cost-effective to make the cheese near the cows because transporting the fresh milk down the Alps would be too labor-intensive. With impending snow, you normally see the cow parade followed by a cart of the season’s cheeses.
Each village schedules its Desalpe on a different date depending on the weather. You can find the dates each year on this Swiss Website or regional websites. Some festivals include traditional food like raclette and grilled meat, Alpine horns, and more. Dates for Lauterbrunnen are typically announced on their Instagram page.