Original post September 3, 2022 | Updated September 6, 2023
Almabtrieb… a German word I learned a few years ago during Covid when I was dreaming of what we could have been doing during our lockdown nightmare. I researched this word and discovered what a unique celebration this was in the European Alps, a festival. It all has to do with the cows coming home. Read on for our experience and how to find an Almabtrieb near you.
What is Almabtrieb?
Almabtrieb is a German word that means a drive from the mountain pasture or Alpine cattle drive. Depending on the country or region you visit, Almabtreib is also known as Viehscheid in the Algáu region of Bavaria in Germany. In Switzerland, it’s called Alpabzug or Alpabfahrt. Either way, it all means the same thing.
In the Alpine region of Europe (specifically around Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Liechtenstein), Almabtrieb is a yearly event from September to October. A procession that involves a celebration of the cattle coming home from spending the summer up in the Alps. I say cattle because the parade includes cows and other animals like goats and maybe sheep; for the most part, I’ve found most I’ve seen have featured cows.
Escorted back home to the Valley at Summer’s end, the Almabtrieb is a beautiful homecoming involving the cattle uniquely decorated in beautiful headgear and wreaths of florals and evergreens found in the Alpine meadows. The cattle also wear adorned cowbells that you can hear clanging as they descend from the Alps. The bells are worn to keep the evil spirits away. With the cattle drive brought back to the village, the mountain farming villages have a huge celebration afterward, marking the end of Summer.
Searching for Almabtrieb
While on holiday at Lake Constance, Germany, we stayed near the Austrian border in a small town called Meckenbeuren, Germany. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to watch a local Almabtrieb during the long weekend, and in our region of Germany in Rheinland-Pfalz, Almatriebs are not common. I looked up any Almabtrieb festivities near me on a few websites (more on that later). Luckily, I found not one but two events in Austria, not far from us.
Almabtriebs in Montafon Valley of Austria
I found two events happening on the same day in Montafon Valley in Vorarlberg, which is in Austria’s western province, close to the German border. 39 kilometers long, Montafon Valley provides the perfect setting for small mountain villages, excellent for those looking to escape into nature. Ideally, I was looking for a small yet lively Almabtrieb festivity; the small villages of this Valley were the perfect location to experience it all. The two villages we found to be quintessentially the location to watch Almabatriebs, were Gargellen and Sankt Gallenkirch.
Our first stop took us to a quaint, in the middle of nowhere mountain village of Gargellen. I didn’t know what to expect from this village, but the view was breathtaking upon our arrival. Rain was in the forecast, but that didn’t stop us from making the trip. I parked near the cable car parking lot I found on this website. Click here for the GPS location of that parking lot. We arrived around 10:00 am at the parking lot, the event, according to the website, was to begin around 11:00 am.
When we arrived, there was no sign of the Almabtrieb event to be found. Luckily, the Tourist Information (TI) Office was nearby and open. Side note, the TI office is always a good idea to check out when in doubt about what to do in the area or if an event is taking place. The TI office confirmed the Almabtrieb was still taking place and where to find the location. From there, we walked over to the area behind the cable cars to find a small celebration with music, food, and a small gathering growing by the hour.
We found people making their way up a trail. I figured this was probably where the cattle drive will pass, so we followed suit. As we waited a few minutes and admired the beautiful Austrian mountainside view, it started to drizzle. But that didn’t scare us away as we came prepared for the weather.
Finally, at around 11:00 am, you could hear the cowbells clanging in the distance; the cows were coming down the trail. Additionally, you could see the farmers herd the cattle down the pathway in their traditional Alpine attire. Some of the cows dressed in florals and headgear made their way to the field to graze on the grass. It was such a beautiful sight to see.
After the cows passed through the trails, we didn’t stay long for the celebration. Not far from Gargellen was Sankt Gallenkirch, where another Almabtrieb was taking place. So, we got in the car and drove about 15 minutes down the road to watch more cows come home from the Alps.
We arrived at a much bigger celebration at Sankt Gallenkirch around 11:30 am. Like Gargellen, this procession also took place behind Sankt Gallenkirch’s cable car; here is the GPS location for that procession. There was already a crowd when we arrived 30 minutes before the procession was to take place at 12:00 pm. We took our spots and waited for the event to start. At the parade’s start, a little before noon, a tractor led the way for the cows to follow, with the farmers following the tractor and herding the animals down the pathway.
This was my favorite. As the cows made their way down the pathway, the bells adorned on their neck rang loudly. I admired the decoration of florals and headgear on the cows, each uniquely made for that cow. Moreover, I loved how up close and personal we were. There was no barrier between the spectators and the cows. I was hesitant at first to be right next to the procession, but it was fine. I did get shouldered by a cow, but luckily no one was harmed, and these cows were very friendly.
The procession celebration lasted 10-15 minutes but did not end after the cows came through. They were then led to an open field to graze while onlookers enjoyed watching them behind fences. A huge celebration commenced in an open parking area.
The parking area was filled with food and drink vendors, a few local farms selling fresh delicacies, and a band ready to play some music. The backdrop of Sankt Gallenkirch made the celebration so much more beautiful. The celebration was well packed and hopping. We stayed a few minutes to admire the cows before heading out.
Not far from Sankt Gallenkirch, Austria was the country of Liechtenstein. We have never been, so I decided to drive an extra 30 minutes out of the way on the way back to Germany to mark off a new country on our list. I didn’t regret this decision. Once we ventured off and checked out Vaduz, the TI office informed me that a celebration of the cows coming home was about to happen. This made me so happy. I had not expected to see another Almabtrieb, better yet, in another country!
This procession took place in the heart of the city, just below the Vaduz Castle (which still holds an active Monarch). We caught the parade right as it was finishing up near the TI office, which was around 2:30 pm. We watched as the procession came like the previous ones we’d seen. This was much bigger, and the cows were much more intricately decorated. It was a treat to see not two but three celebrations in one day and in two different countries!
Helpful Links to Find An Almabtrieb Event
Finding an Almabtrieb was initially challenging; however, you can find these events on Google and travel groups on Facebook or Instagram. Moreover, Google Chrome helped translate sites that weren’t in English. Since we were in Lake Constance, Germany, close to Switzerland and Austria, I found a few festivals near me. I narrowed it down to the closest location and factored in driving distance. Below are the links I used that I found helpful in finding any Almabtrieb festivities. Additionally, I also looked up Facebook pages for the local village we were visiting, as well as any information I could find on the farm that would be hosting the Almabtrieb, making sure the event was taking place. It’s also helpful to check out the Tourist Information Office and contact them prior to your visit to ensure the event is happening.
Germany & other areas: https://www.almabtriebe.de/almabtrieb-termine-2023/
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if you are near an Almabtrieb, Viehscheid, Alpabzug, or Alpabfahrt, go check it out! I, for one, can vouch how neat it was to see such a beautiful celebration. But, it only comes around once a year between the months of September and early October in the Alpine region of Europe, a unique festival to celebrate the cows coming home. Until next time, friends! Bis zum nächsten Mal Freunde!
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