The Swiss-Alpine festival of Désalpe celebrates the return of the cows from higher pastures with a procession through the villages. Farmers and their families dress in traditional costumes and attach ornate flower headpieces and huge ceremonial bells to their cows before leading them along the route. This weekend we returned to the alpine region of Charmey to witness this traditional Swiss celebration.

Decorated cow at Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
The straps that attach the bells around the cows' necks are made of intricately embellished leather.

Désalpe — also called Rindyà — happens in several locations over three weekends in autumn. The herds parade through several villages on their route, but the main celebrations are held in town.

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
The parade opens with troupes of folk musicians. These groups are only walking to the village centre where they'll play to the main crowd.

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Dancing troupes in traditional costume follow.

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Alpine horns. (I love the puff sleeves on the bredzon, the men's traditional shirt/jacket!)

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
A company of bell ringers.

Parade at Désalpes, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
The weight of these bells would be at least 15 kg.

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Farmers and their farmhands lead their herds in the parade.

Costume bags at the parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Each of the leather bags is individually hand-stitched.

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Whole farming families participate in the parade, with children helping their parents keep the cows moving.

Goats in the parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Children lead a small herd of goats. This was the only inclusion of goats in Charmey's parade, and I later overheard a bystander complaining about the lack of goats.

Parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
These children are pulling a cart with some chickens inside.

Watching the Désalpe parade, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Aisha helps Lana cover her ears against the clanging of the bells.

Watching the Désalpe parade, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
We've picked a section of the kerb that is in the shade as we watch the hot procession pass us by.

Cow at the parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
A friendly cow comes over to greet us personally.

Cow at the parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
As something a little bit different, this herd of cows is wearing small straw hats.

There’s more to Désalpe than the parade. An “official” menu of ham-on-the bone, sausages, cabbage, potato salad and meringues with cream is offered by numerous restaurants. Other marketstalls are set up, enticing visitors with soup, sandwiches and fondue. Others sell local handicrafts. It’s definitely this town’s biggest event for the year!

Charmey village at Désalpe, Switzerland, September 2014
Up in the village, the market stalls are set up to cater for the thousands of visitors.

Charmey village at Désalpe, Switzerland, September 2014
Charmey has many pretty chalets, and on a brilliant day like today, they look their best!

Cow at the parade for Désalpe, Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Between the weight of the cowbell and the height of the head-piece, these cows have to make quite an effort in the procession!

Paraglider outside Charmey, Switzerland, September 2014
Late in the afternoon, while much of the crowd is still celebrating in the town, the girls and I frolic in the nearby fields like the Von Trapp family. It's fascinating to watch the paragliders coming in to land — it looks like such a peaceful sport! (This is a great spot for them to fly almost all day; they can easily take the cable-car to the top of the mountain.)

When I was a little girl, my mother bought some brown wrapping paper in Switzerland featuring a kitschy Swiss Heidi and her boy-pal in traditional dress, holding hands alongside mountain goats and caramel-coloured cows that were decorated with flowered headpieces and huge bells around their necks. Witnessing the Désalpe festival has now given me a new standard for Swiss traditional dress and cowbells. I hope the girls remember this outing — it was loud enough!