Watching the Cows Come Home for Winter - Val d'Anniviers

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Saturday 20 September 2014

Watching the Cows Come Home for Winter - Val d'Anniviers

During our stay in the the Lauterbrunnen valley, Jane and Ron (who had been visiting the area for 35 years) had recommended we pay a visit to the village to see the annual festival when the cows came off the mountains for winter. Sadly we didn't get the chance in Lauterbrunnen so were happily surprised to find that we had arrived in Val d'Anniviers just in time to see their annual bovine festivities. With cow culture still dominating many of the remote mountain regions of the Swiss Alps, the safe return of the herd each winter is cause for big celebrations, with the local population turning out en masse to eat, drink and party until the early hours in places. 

With celebrations taking place in Ayer, St Luc and Chandolin simultaneously last Saturday afternoon, we chose Ayer as the closest celebration to our base in Zinal and set off early to hike the 90 minutes down the valley. 

The celebration began with the cow parade in to the village, which is what we were most eager to see. The cow which has produced the most milk that year leads the way, wearing flowers and decorated with a carved wooden headdress. Close behind are the top producers of previous years also sporting their own decoration and then followed by the rest of the herd making their slow procession through the narrow ancient streets.

Looking on as the locals clapped and cheered the cows, led by the shepherds, down towards the winter pastures it felt special to be watching an age old tradition in the autumn sunshine. Although we didn't stay for the afternoon eating and nighttime disco (instead we head over to Chandolin for a hike and a romantic mountainside meal on the Ilhorn), it was a real treat to be up close and personal to the best dressed cows I'd ever seen.

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