Almatrieb… 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.
What is Almatrieb?
Almatrieb is a German word that means a drive from the mountain pasture or Alpine cattle drive. Depending on the country or region you visit, Almatreib 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), Almatrieb 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 procession includes not only cows but also 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 Almatrieb is a beautiful homecoming involving the cattle uniquely decorated in beautiful headgears 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 Almatrieb
While on holiday at Lake Constance, Germany, we stayed not far from the Austrian border. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to watch a local Almatrieb during the long weekend, and in our region of Germany in Rheinland-Pfalz, Almatriebs are not common. I looked up any Almatrieb festivities near me and found not one, but two events in Austria not far from us. I took advantage of this opportunity; I didn’t want to miss this.
Almatriebs in Montafon Valley of Austria
Montafon Valley in Vorarlberg is in the western province of Austria, close to the German border. 39-kilometers-long, it provides the perfect setting for small mountain villages perfect for those looking to get away into nature. Ideally, I was looking for a small yet lively Almatrieb festivity; this was the perfect location to experience it all.
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 this website said the Almatrieb was taking place.
There was no sign of the Almatrieb 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 Almatrieb 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, the cowbells gave them away; you could hear the cows coming down the trail while the farmers, in their traditional Alpine attire, helped herd the cattle down the pathway. Some of the cows dressed in florals and headgear made their way to the field to graze on the grass. It was a beautiful sight to see.
We didn’t stay long for the celebration. Not far from Gargellen was Sankt Gallenkirch, where another Almatrieb 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. There was already a crowd when we arrived 30 minutes before the procession was to take place. We took our spot and waited for the event to start. At the start of the procession, 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 nonetheless, it was fine. I will say I did get shouldered by a cow, but luckily no one was harmed, and these cows were very friendly.
The procession celebration lasted for about 10-15 minutes but did not end after the cows had all come through. They were then led to an open field to graze while onlookers enjoyed watching them behind fences. A huge celebration commenced out in an open parking area; again, we were also right next to Sankt Gallenkirch’s cable car.
The parking area was filled with food and drink vendors and a few local farms selling fresh delicacies of the area 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 made the executive decision 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 Almatrieb, 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 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 and in two different countries!
Helpful Links to Find An Almatrieb Event
Finding an Almatrieb was challenging at first, however, you can find these events on Google as well as travel groups on Facebook or Instagram posts. Moreover, Google was helpful in translating sites that weren’t in English when using Chrome. Since we were in Lake Constance, Germany, and close to Switzerland and Austria, I found a few festivals happening in 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 Almatrieb festivities.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if you are near an Almatrieb, 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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