High Alps Cow Festival – AlpAbzug in Flims

AlpAbzug Flims CH

Being half Swiss, and having Swiss citizenship, I feel a deep connection to Switzerland and consider it a second home. While raised in America, I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time in Switzerland throughout my life. There was a period of almost 10 years when I was building my career and marriage where I didn’t go to Switzerland. In hindsight, I think that was a mistake, because there is something about visiting Switzerland that fills me up in a way that no other place can. I have been to Switzerland over 15 times throughout my life.  I spent 6-8 week summer vacations with my grandparents, flying alone to visit them for the first time when I was 6.  On one of my visits during grade school, I went hiking with my aunts, uncles and cousins where we hiked across glaciers, only to find out later that it was a high risk avalanche zone. As a little girl, I sloshed around in a gigantic trough of water all summer long playing with my cousins. I worked in the service industry 2 summers to earn money for college. All this AND I HAD NEVER HEARD OF AN ALPABZUG.

At the end of our wonderful Balkan tour, we arrived at my aunt’s in Flims where we leave the bike.  We normally enjoy a few days of eating Swiss food, enjoying the spectacular views and connecting with family at the end of our trips. This year we did that PLUS partaking in the Alpabzug, a new custom to me. We had no idea what to expect and were in for a Swiss treat. We took a PostAuto (bus) to the mid-alps and got off at a quintessential alpine restaurant that was surrounded by fields and soaring mountains. In those fields were hundreds of cows. This is not uncommon, however, many of the cows had charming flower arrangements and flags on their heads for the Alpabzug. In addition, the traditional leather strapped cow bells that I had grown up seeing hanging in peoples’ homes were being worn by all the cows. Some of the bells were the size of a beer mug and others were the size of a 1/4 keg.

As the decent started, we observed from the top for 20 minutes, enjoying the decorated cattle. We observed a group of locals rushing down a short cut to the side of the road in front of where the cows would pass and we followed suit. For a few moments it was quiet alpine bliss, then all of a sudden a cacophonous sound, which is best described like a huge swarm of bees, first began. Then as the cows rounded the corner, the sound of the bells gonging became louder and louder until you couldn’t hear anything but bells as the cows passed us on the street.  This experience was one of many in my life that I will never forget.  I grew to know my heritage better, celebrating the the traditions and customs I had never experienced before and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

The video below shows my very up close and personal experience with being an over zealous videographer; let me just say, when you have 30  1400-pound animals coming right towards you, you have to check you undies after.


Down to the Low Alps