Summer is over. It’s been a long one, but now it feels like it’s gone for good. We’ve been enjoying a sunny and warm September, with some last swims in Zurichsee, strolls in the city and the forest in Uetliberg… But these last days the rain has come back to Switzerland, temperatures have dropped and days feel already short. Leaves are already turning gold and falling and the roasted chestnut smell has returned to Zurich… Is it evident that I love this season?

Even if autumn is finally here, I still have so many photos of my summer in South Spain… I guess they’ll have to wait. I have the feeling that my blog and my photos are always a few weeks late. Everybody is already posting photos of golden forests, brown mountains covered in fog and deer during the rutting season and I’m still with summer views of white villages during hot days. And I’m not feeling very nostalgic about summer, as I’ve been longing for these cold days… So I’m making a little break on these summer posts and I’ll show you one of my favorite autumn traditions in the Swiss Alps!

It’s easy to know when summer is over in the Swiss Alps. If someone is the protagonist of Swiss summer, that would be the Swiss cows. They spend the hottest months high in the mountains, grazing on the rich grass of the Swiss Alps full of numberless Alpine flowers that give the summer milk its special flavour. When you are hiking in the mountains in the summer, there’s always a sound that accompanies you along the trail: the cow bells are like music in the Alps. The last weeks of summer is the time for these lovely ladies to return to their winter barns in the valleys, before the cold arrives. And this is a very special occasion in Switzerland. The farmers dress up with traditional costumes, they make beautiful elaborated flower crowns for the cows and the whole family, farmers and animals, descend from the Alpine pastures to the villages or towns where their winter farm is. The Alpabzug (or Alpabfahrt), as it is called here in Switzerland, is always a festive day in the town or village, and to celebrate the occasion, there is a market or a fair with regional products, specially cheese!!

Last year we went to out first Alpabzug in Switzerland in Elm, where we visited the annual cheese market and saw the pretty cows descend from the mountains. This year we went to the Alpabzug in a bigger town, Entlebuch in canton Lucerne. The difference between the one in Elm and the one in Entlebuch was clear: more families (farms), more cows and bigger celebrations. Before the “cow parade” arrived to the town’s main street, there was a lively market with lots of local products: cheese, sausages, dry meat, honey… There were food stalls with typical Swiss food. We saw different groups singing the traditional yodelling and playing the Alphorn… And then, we heard it… the sound of dozens of bells ringing from afar and coming towards us… the cows made their entrance in the main street and passed us rapidly wearing their gorgeous flower crowns, while the families of farmers walked proudly smiling and guiding the cows to their barns… I love this tradition. You can see how loved these animals are. And I like to see how a tradition so simple and innocent can make so many people smile and enjoy it together. With all the stressful life at the city, things like this make me long for a simpler and more natural way of life.

Now the cows are in their winter homes and autumn is rapidly taking over everything. Silence has returned to the mountains and soon all the color of the past seasons will be covered again with a white thick blanket of snow…

Here are some photos I took during this Alpabzug in Entlebuch. Which cow do you think is the prettiest ??


  1. Wonderful post Mercedes! It’s hard to take such terrific photos in a crowd, but you did a great job. I’m wondering, those floral crowns are so elaborate and each herd has matching crowns, are the flowers fake so they can be used again? Each family seemed to have their own floral theme carried through the heard.

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a million, Anne!! I admit I had a hard time taking these ones!! I arrived early and took my place but then people just started to walk in front of me during the parade and I had also some kids in front of me… I was so worried I would hit them on the head with the long telephoto…. I was so stressed I though all the photos would be bad, so I was really surprised when I got home and started to edit them… some were good enough to post them 🙂
      And yes! There were 7 families and each one had their own floral theme (well, two of them had sunflowers and that disoriented me a little, hehehe). But the flowers are real!! Some of them are wild alpine flowers, others grow on the summer farms and I suppose a few are bought, but all of them are fresh! And, surprisingly, most of the crowns survive the whole parade from the summer farms to the winter stables (for some families, it can take a few hours walking!). They only reuse the base of the crowns, but the flowers are fresh every time 🙂

  2. I must say that the cow’s “outfit” is more elaborate than those of the farmers 🙂 Beautiful photos as always!

    • mercedescatalan

      Hehehe, good observation! Well, it’s the cows’ day, they are the real protagonists of these parades, so they are the ones looking really gorgeous!
      Farmers wear their traditional costumes with the typical embroidery and colors of each region… But they are farmers, so these costumes don’t have to look rich…
      For rich and elaborate costumes, Switzerland has other parades, hehehe. My favorite is Sechselauten! But this one is in Zurich and its origins are the medieval guilds (it also implies lots of flowers!!!!):

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