Set in the charming town of Charmey, Switzerland, a grand Swiss tradition takes place each September: Désalpe (“from the Alps”) celebrates the descent of local cows from the Swiss Pre-Alps to graze in lower altitude pastures. The Désalpe festival symbolizes the end of summer and the beginning of cooler autumn days in the region.
Charmey is located in the La Gruyere district in western Switzerland. It is well known for its lush natural beauty and picturesque views, making it a popular destination for both summer and winter activities. This district remains a popular tourist destination for those looking to experience Swiss traditions and culture.
Here are a few key points and attractions associated with Charmey:
- Thermal Baths: The “Bains de la Gruyère” in Charmey offers thermal baths where visitors can relax, surrounded by stunning mountain views.
- Outdoor Activities: Depending on the season, Charmey offers a variety of outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and paragliding.
- Gruyère Cheese: Being in the district of Gruyère, Charmey is close to the origins of the world-famous Gruyère cheese. Tourists can visit local cheese dairies to see how this cheese is produced and even taste it fresh.
- Moorland Trail: The “Sentier des tourbières” is a local moorland trail that provides insights into the local ecosystem and offers magnificent views.
- Festivals: The village hosts several events throughout the year, including the annual “Désalpe,” a traditional event marking the return of the cows from the alpine pastures to the valley in the autumn. It’s a colorful and lively event with traditional music, costumes, and festivities.
- Natural Beauty: The region boasts beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, and picturesque settings ideal for photography and relaxation.
- Proximity to Other Attractions: Charmey’s location in the Gruyère region is not far from other attractions like the medieval town of Gruyères, the Gruyères Castle, and the HR Giger Museum.
If you’re planning a visit or want to know more about specific attractions or activities in Charmey, it’s a good idea to check with local tourism websites or offices for the most up-to-date information.
Désalpe: A Swiss living tradition
The Désalpe, also known as “Alpabzug” in German-speaking parts of Switzerland, is a traditional Swiss event that marks the end of the alpine summer. As the cold season approaches, cows are led down from their high summer pastures in the Alps to the lower valleys and winter barns. This descent, which often forms a festive procession, is celebrated with much enthusiasm and tradition in various parts of Switzerland.
The Désalpe festival attracts people worldwide and allows Charmeysiens to display their village and traditions. Smells of food and sounds of music fill the fresh, crisp air. It is a festival for families of all ages, including the parade of cows, a local market, and musical performances.
The cows descend in clusters from morning until late afternoon. Each cluster is herded by local farmers dressed in traditional garments and is paraded through the town’s main street. Onlookers will be delighted by the sight of the festooned herd decorated with flowers and massive cowbells! Families cheer as the parade goes by, and children sprinkle the street to get a closer look at the spectacle.
Visitors shop at the outdoor food and craft market during the pauses between parade clusters. The varied booths offer everything from wooden cow souvenirs to regional cheese selections. Under a large tent, you will find Swiss pastries, beef, and bread to tempt your palette.
Inside the tent, the atmosphere is carefree and casual with the sounds of an accordion band. Hungry parade goers fill the wooden tables and feast on regional fare. Beer and wine are staples at this Swiss festivity and add to the occasion’s gaiety!
Here’s more about the Désalpe:
- Decorated Cows: One of the main highlights of the Désalpe is the procession of cows, which are beautifully adorned with flowers, ribbons, and bells. The lead cow often wears the most elaborate decoration.
- Traditional Attire: Farmers and herders wear traditional Swiss outfits during the procession. This often includes embroidered jackets, alpine hats, and other regional attire.
- Music: The event is often accompanied by traditional Swiss music. You’ll likely hear yodeling, alphorns, and other regional musical expressions.
- Local Delicacies: Désalpe festivals are an opportunity to savor local foods. Many festivals will have stalls selling regional cheeses, sausages, and other treats.
- Crafts: In some towns, the Désalpe is also an opportunity for local artisans to showcase their crafts. Stalls might sell carved wooden objects, textiles, and other handmade items.
- Significance: The Désalpe is not just a tourist event; it holds deep cultural significance for the Swiss. It marks the rhythm of life in alpine regions, where human activity is closely tied to the seasons.
- Variations by Region: While the general theme of celebrating the descent of cows from the alpine pastures remains consistent, the specifics of the celebration can vary from one region or village to another.
Charmey, as mentioned earlier, hosts one of the most renowned Désalpe celebrations, drawing numerous visitors each year. If you’re interested in experiencing this tradition firsthand, visiting Switzerland in late September or early October would be ideal, as that’s typically when most Désalpe events occur. However, the dates can vary based on local weather conditions and traditions.
Désalpe in Charmey is a favorite festival for children and tourists alike. Enjoy the charm, beauty, and tradition that this modest Swiss village has to offer.