Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Long Way Home

You lookin' at me, biotch? 
Dairy herds in the Swiss Alps only stay up in the mountains during the warm months. With the cold weather of autumn, the cattle are herded down the mountain passes to lower fields, where they are kept in barns and fed hay. The alpages have become seasonal festivals in these rural villages, celebrated in local folk art and are referred to as la Poya.

This lovely work of decoupage (a popular Swiss craft) by Rehane Favereau can be inverted, to show the going up and the coming back down.
The day following our own descent from Murren to Gimmelwald, we greeted the beautiful day.

There were no curtains on the window. For privacy, you had to open the window and close the shutters.
Winkie and I did not figure that out.
Then we made our way to Charmey, Switzerland, to watch the cows descend through a village to lower pastures.

Knowing how much Pat loves mountain passes, with their sharp switchbacks and narrow lanes, Ross took us to Charmey via the Jaunpass. It was absolutely spectacular.

When we reached Charmey, which ordinarily has a population of fewer than 2,000, we encountered a traffic jam. Not to worry; we parked and walked to the centre of the festivities within about five minutes. Many of the farmers and children were dressed in traditional garb.

The men wore short-puffy-sleeved jackets and pants made out of a sort of denim. (You can also see how crowded it was in these pictures.)

The shirts had a ribbon-like pattern of Edelweiss flowers. I seriously wanted to take this little blondie home with me.

I also wouldn't mind his pain au chocolat.
Some of the women and girls wore pretty aprons and shawls.

Some also wore black, lace-trimmed hats. (At first, I thought they were wigs and wondered why so many local girls had cancer.)

But the cows were really the main event. Each herd was preceded by the farmer, followed by jubilantly decorated cows.

"Oh, Isabel, did you see Pearl? She was totally wearing last year's flowers." 
I have to say they did not look happy. And occasionally, one would try to edge past other cows by moving onto the sidewalk. Erp.

Periodically, a troupe of "bellringers" (I don't know what their official name is) would perform.

Those bells weigh a TON.
Here's a little video that shows how heavy the bells are and how loud -- so you can see why the young man at right is plugging his ears.

There were market stalls all over the place. One of the first things I did was buy a chunk of well-aged Gruyere cheese.

I'll bet her back was sore that night.
Fair food was also quite different from what we find at North American fall festivals. (No deep-fried Snickers bars, for example.) We had crusty bread, frites (French fries), and big sausages.

If you enlarge this picture, you can see the Edelweiss pattern on his shirt.
While we strolled, ate, and shopped, the small herds of dairy cattle kept coming and coming and coming. Each herd had typically fewer than 10 cattle, but these cows looked stressed, spraying poop and milk along the road as they walked.

It was rather distressing to watch, actually.

And then we retrieved our car, only to discover that the only way through the town was to follow behind the cows. At a cow's pace. Suddenly, we gained an appreciation for how much of a march this really was. Poor animals. I'm sure they were all greatly relieved to reach their pastures!

On our way home, we drove through the Lavaux vineyards.

We had stopped to take a look at the vineyards on our way out to Shilthorn (most of these pictures are from that pause).

Enlarge this panorama to see more detail.

Love those Roman arches.
These terraced vineyards are actually a UNESCO heritage site.

Even with the cities and towns growing up around them, these vineyards have been tended for about a thousand years.

They reach right down to Lake Geneva.
On our way back home, however, we stopped for a cold drink at Le Baron Tavernier, a restaurant with a spectacular view of Lake Geneva.

Optical illusion
It is only now that I realize that the picture makes it look like a toy boat. It is not. It is, in fact, a regular sailboat far below on Lake Geneva, as seen from the patio which happens to have an infinity-edge pool as part of its decor.

Another day full of memories and, again, graced with perfect weather!


  1. what a cool little festival. the cows I grew up with didn't like the daisy crowns I made for them either - LOL
    More cowbell! all I can think of is that Saturday Night Live skit. :)

    1. I know, right? I've been calling out "More cowbell!" for dinner every night as I ring the souvenir bell I bought.

  2. I loved the photos of La Poya as our trip began after the cows had journeyed down the mountains.

    1. It's so funny that our paths almost crossed there!


What did you think? Any comments?

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...