La Desalpe in Saint Cergue, Switzerland

A profusion of bright colours from their flowered headdresses rush towards me. The large brass bells clanging and glinting in the early morning sunlight setting off their huge brown eyes.  I can feel their breath and warmth as they pass so closely, stepping back a little to avoid being stepped upon…

La Desalpe - Saint Cergue
La Desalpe – Saint Cergue

I am standing at the side of the road in the wonderful village of Saint Cergue in Switzerland taking in the atmosphere and emotion of the return of the cows to lower pastures from the higher alpine slopes where they have grazed for the last 4 months.

Colourful headdresses
Colourful headdresses

This important annual mountain event is a common sight in the Autumn throughout our region of France and Switzerland.  Several herds of cows adorned with flowers and bells around their necks tread the streets with their herdsmen wearing traditional dress.

The proud herdsmen leading their herd
The proud herdsmen leading their herd

A commentary explains to the people gathered how many tonnes of various local cheeses each herd of cows has produced during the year and where these cows will winter. Throngs of people gather to welcome them down.

Local craftsmen and women sell their wares and other local produce including honey, breads and wines. Alongside these are cheeses made up in the mountains using milk from the herds we have watched go by, during a summer of grazing on the alpine flowers. This is such a fun day out and a very well supported local traditional festival where everyone young or old can have a great time.

Alphorns - A traditional Swiss instrument
Alphorns – A traditional Swiss instrument

The dulcet tones of alphorns could be heard during the morning, being played by proud men in their traditional costumes.  The troops of people, cows and mountain dogs paraded through the streets throughout the morning. 

Traditionally dressed alphorn players
Traditionally dressed alphorn players

Following our delightful mornings entertainment we enjoyed lunch on the terrace at Restaurant du Jura.  This is a very busy day for the local businesses in Saint Cergue and the restaurant was buzzing.  A delightful terrace outside has shade and one can soak up the atmosphere of the village.

Restaurant du Jura, Saint Cergue
Restaurant du Jura, Saint Cergue – photo courtesy of Restaurant du Jura

 There was a menu du Jour of a green salad or potage, Jambon a L’Os, Potatoes dauphionoise and green beans followed by Meringue crème double which was very tasty and served by smiling waiters and waitresses all in traditional costume.  Whether you live here or are just lucky enough to visit at this time of year,  a trip to one of the towns and villages who host this festival is a must to experience this wonderful event.  If you plan to stay for lunch after the parade it would be wise to book a table well in advance.

Saint Cergue is situated in Canton Vaud off the A1 motorway at Nyon and the drive up offers beautiful views over the lake on your way up to this pretty mountain village.  There are many hiking trails and in the winter snow shoeing paths around this area.

View over Lac Leman
View over Lac Leman

There is still time to go to beautiful Annecy in the Haute Savoie for their Desalpe on Saturday 11th October 2014 – click here to see their website for more details This is an amazing parade through the streets of the old town of Annecy, of all different types of farm animals and people in traditional dress.

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All photos ©Copyright Caro Blackwell

Traditional cow bells in the parade
Traditional cow bells in the parade
Headdresses and Cowbells
Headdresses and Cowbells

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