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Swiss Traditions: Alpabfahrt

In September we were witnesses of one of the most popular events in the Alps, the “Alpabfahrt”. The Alpabfahrt or Almatrieb refers to an annual event in the alpine regions of Europe where the cow herds come down from the mountains. This happens because during summer cows feed on alpine pastures high up in the mountains.

The Alpabfahrt usually happens in September when the cows come down to their stables in the valley where they meet their owners. The cows coming down to the valley is definitely a reason for a great celebration. People gather to wait for them while enjoying local dishes, beer and listening to folk music. The cows are definitely the protagonists of the event, in during which we can enjoy the music from alphorns and yodelers who keep the visitors entertained until they start descending, decorated elaborately with flowers, ribbons and huge bells.

Decorated cows during the Alpabfahrt in St Stephens, Switzerland

I originally thought this only happened in Appenzell, but it turns out this happens all over Switzerland on different days during the entire month of September. We decided to go to the Alpabfahrt in St. Stephen, a tiny city in the Oberland (not too far from Interlaken) because it fell on a weekend we were free and also because it was one with the most cows during that weekend, with more than 300 heads of cattle.

Alpine Home

We went with our Italian friends Anna and Marco. Left Zürich at 8:00am and arrived at the festival around 11:00am. St. Stephen’s Alpabfahrt festival happens in the city’s airport. Parking was free, the entrance fee was about CHF7 per person. As soon as we arrived I was convinced we picked the right festival. There were not too many people, but the ones attending were mostly locals. The stands just started to open. We headed to the raclette and pastries stands right away.

Delicious raclette. This is the Swiss version of "fast food”

Making cheese “live”

After enjoying our delicious bread and cheese, we then we stopped to watch the yodelers and alphorn players when suddenly we heard the bells!


Alphorn players

Performance of alphorn players and flag throwers

The cows started descending from the Alps. Farmers, adults and kids, where dressed in traditional clothing.

And the parade began

A very photogenic cow


One very stubborn cow

Look at that flower crown!

After watching the first 2 groups of cows descending, we headed to the “Bierhalle” where we bought steak, potatoes and of course, beer. Had a nice time speaking with an older Swiss gentleman who traveled all the way from Basel just for the festival. He did not speak any English which was a good thing because it forced us to practice our German. Then we met two ladies from North Carolina who were on vacation. All this while looking at the beautiful alps and listening to the yodelers.

Wrong turn

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