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.
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.
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.
Dancing troupes in traditional costume follow.
Alpine horns. (I love the puff sleeves on the bredzon, the men's traditional shirt/jacket!)
A company of bell ringers.
The weight of these bells would be at least 15 kg.
Farmers and their farmhands lead their herds in the parade.
Each of the leather bags is individually hand-stitched.
Whole farming families participate in the parade, with children helping their parents keep the cows moving.
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.
These children are pulling a cart with some chickens inside.
Aisha helps Lana cover her ears against the clanging of the bells.
We've picked a section of the kerb that is in the shade as we watch the hot procession pass us by.
A friendly cow comes over to greet us personally.
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!
Up in the village, the market stalls are set up to cater for the thousands of visitors.
Charmey has many pretty chalets, and on a brilliant day like today, they look their best!
Between the weight of the cowbell and the height of the head-piece, these cows have to make quite an effort in the procession!
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!