I am thankful for the opportunity I had in September to enjoy the wonderful tradition of cows descending from pastures in the Austrian, German and Swiss alps. For many years cows, sheep, goats and horses have spent summers grazing on the alps. As the weather turns cold, they are herded down to the valley amidst great ceremony, celebration, and clanking of bells. This is referred to as Almabtrieb in Austria, Viehscheid in the Allgäu region, and Alpabzug in Switzerland. I visited six parades of cattle and the one in Haldensee had the most decorative headdresses.
The animals are adorned with flowery headdresses, garlands of flowers and of course very large bells. These traditions go back many years. To give thanks for a good grazing season, the leading cow or “Kranzkuh” wears a decorative headdress that contains a cross and a mirror. The other cows wear very large bells to ward off any evil spirits the cattle may encounter on the journey to the valley. Several local farmers said that if over the summer a cow had died while grazing in the alps, the remaining cattle returned to the valley adorned with bells, but no decorative headdresses.
Upon their arrival in the valley, the cattle are sorted and returned to their owners. Depending on the distance to their home pasture, some owners herd their cattle through the village while others load them onto trailers to drive them home.
The large bells are replaced with smaller bells and stored until the next Viehscheid, Almabtrieb or Alpabzug. To learn more about the Alpine cattle drives visit the Austrian National Tourism Office, Bavaria, and Switzerland Tourism.
So, what does a vacation in the alps have to do with living greener and healthier? Well, vacations are good for your health and this setting provided me with ample time to commune with the natural beauty of the alps. Researchers have found that vacations help to reduce stress by removing us from daily activities we associate with stress. We return from a vacation with fewer stress-related physical complaints like headaches and are more productive at work. Studies also indicate that you may be at lower risk of heart disease, sleep better, and are happier. Time for a vacation!