Désalpe Charmey Event Switzerland 2019
40th Désalpe in Charmey, Gruyère
Here, in Switzerland, we love celebrating a host of different things. This includes the celebration of animals.
What do I mean when I say that?
Why you want to know what “Désalpe” is all about
At the end of September each year, the farmers descend the alps with their cows (and goats) after a summer in the mountains. We welcome them home for all the hard work they have done during this period. The cows are adorned with flower crowns (see main picture and video), special cows bells hung from their necks and, even the goats are adorned as they are welcomed back. When I say welcomed back I mean, many, many, people come to watch this and they clap and cheer them on.Explained by a local from the region, while enjoying the celebrations.
The first time I heard about this, I was really fascinated and beamed with delight. As an animal lover, too often we hear about sad stories of badly treated animals through the media or even witnessing these monstrosities with our very own eyes.
So when I first heard about this annual tradition “désalpe” and the crowd it brings to welcome them home, I immediately perked up. I find this tradition both joyous and fascinating. It also tied me closer to my commitment of being here in Switzerland. And as you know, I am quite the curious girl.
The charm of Charmey, Gruyère
While actually being at the Charmey désalpe, I felt like a little kid incapable of calming down in a new experience. Overly excited, I had a huge smile on my face, filled with bursts of giggles each time I saw a group of cows and farmers in their local dress passing by and being cheered on. Even the sweet groups of goats and farm-dogs made me beam with delight as they passed by.
If anyone thought I was crazy, I didn’t notice. I took so many photos, videos, and absorbed the energy around me.
What you’ll see at the Charmey-hosted Désalpe event
Those famous Swiss cows
During this event, the cows wear bigger bells, which can be likened to us wearing costume jewellery when we dress up. So if anyone is concerned, they usually wear smaller bells throughout the rest of the year. The goats also have flower crowns, accompanied by little bells around their necks.
Swiss farmers in local dress
The locals are dressed in their traditional clothes: the men wear a patterned shirt, often seen in a light-ish shade of blue with an underlying tinge of mauve, completed with braces that hold up their pants. The ladies sport a frock with frilly arms complemented by long socks (usually), which is accompanied by comfortable hiking shoes. Thus, fashion is not the agenda more than comfort.
I like that about Switzerland in general, by the way. Comfort over fashion.
Local foods and treats at the market
In between the welcoming of different families with their herds descending the mountains, is a lovely market that takes place until around mid-late afternoon. There, you’ll find a variety of local eats such as baked goods – think bread, cookies, savoury snacks; chocolates; meats, and undoubtedly, an array of different forms of cheeses. You’ll get to see tourists try to eat fondue, which can be quite funny to watch, taste varying degrees of pungent but heavenly cheese, and a large selection of vendors selling meals.
Charmey knows how to organise an event!
Where and how to park like a boss
This event is very organised. For example, even before the event, the good people of Charmey, Gruyère, advises visitors (through various communication channels) of an allocated parking space and the arranged buses that would take them to the main event area. This all makes for a smooth transition and avoids the unnecessary block of traffic into the area.
VIP escort ????????????????
So, on the morning of the event, Saturday, 28 September 2019, we were greeted by not one, but a few parking marshalls so that people could pay for their parking quickly and the flow of cars could get into the parking area without creating a snail process. After parking and walking about 100 meters to the official bus stop, we could admire the beautiful Gruyère castle, which leaves me breathless each time I see it. It was such a pleasant experience and we felt like VIPs being taken to the event. The people who chose not to follow these guidelines were stuck in traffic trying to drive and park their cars at the main event, while police officers paved the way for the buses to go before everyone one else. We were literally escorted by a policeman on a motorbike. Exhibit A:
Once there, we enjoyed watching the little goats and settled into the energetic ambience that radiated from the people already waiting.
And so the cows descend!
I cut little snippets together to give you an idea of what we experienced that day.
See how cheese is made and watch craftsmen at work live at the market
After being fully entertained by cows, calves, and goats, we made a few turns around the well laid out market surrounding us. There was plenty to see, so rather than stuffing our faces all day, we went around to all the stalls where people were selling things from jewellery, to handmade wooden sculptures and creative goodies. Also, we got a feel for what happens in the traditional Swiss way by watching blacksmiths at work, seeing how wool is spun, how a block of wood is sculpted and transformed into double cream spoons (double cream is delightful with meringues by the way!) and, we also got to see how cheese is made.
sidenote: I also learned that that big wooden round thing that the farmers were carrying down from the alps with their cows was actually cheese that they had made in the mountains! How cool is that?!
Thereafter, we got to see children enjoying horse rides, some rabbits just being cute in their demarcated grass zones, and some geese (I think they were geese!).
Finding food and a great spot to sit
Some of the food and tables prepared for the famished visitors were positioned in such a way that, if you got lucky with your seats, you could enjoy small parts of the welcoming of the cows. So when we got our food, we could still enjoy the festivities. And we got to re-hydrate at a selection of water fountains available in the village. That’s the other thing I love about this place. There are these old historic water fountains with fresh water at so many spots, it’s quite difficult to end up being thirsty around here.
After all that excitement we got some goodies that we wanted to take back home with us and made our way back to the bus, where we were taken back to point one.
A word of note: don’t leave too early
Don’t take the bus down too soon after the last group of cows and farmers have descended, it will be a long bus ride! Just wait it out until the road is fully cleared, enjoy the happenings of the market or pose yourself on the luscious lawns, which there is no shortage of.
What you want to remember
- It all happens at Charmey, Gruyère
- Last Saturday of September each year
- Have some cash for the parking and food markets
- Park your car at the bottom, where they have allocated parking – you’ll be guided!
- The bus ride is free and much, much faster than using your car to get to the event
- The cow poop is pretty strong, just saying
- Bring your camera and enthusiasm
- Wear layered clothing so you can peel off layers and put them back on easily as the weather changes
- Come hungry!
Cool stuff around the area:
- Cailler chocolate factory – A must-visit place if you haven’t already been.
- Gruyère castle – Like a real-life set of beauty and the beast.
- Gruyère cheese factory – Needless to say, but, you can taste cheese here and see how it is made.
- Hotel Cailler i.e. Charmey hot pools and hotel – where do I begin, this is luxuriously delightful in every way. Complete with a Nespresso machine in every hotel room, lovely bathroom (but don’t burn yourself with the shower handlebar), amazing buffet spread for dinner, great hot pools indoor and outdoor, and super sauna facilitates.