Five Swiss folk festivals you just have to visit this summer

Caroline Bishop
Caroline Bishop - [email protected]
Five Swiss folk festivals you just have to visit this summer
Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism

If you live in Switzerland it’s essential to get to know its culture and customs – and visiting one of its fabulously entertaining folk festivals is a great way to do that. Here we pick out five of the best traditional Swiss events taking place this summer. Alphorns at the ready...


National Yodelling Festival, Brig, June 22nd-25th
Photo: Jodlerfest
Where can you see 15,000 yodellers in one place this summer? In Brig-Glis, that’s where. Held in a different place every year, the Jodlerfest returns to the Valais town 30 years after it hosted the festival’s very first edition. Expect crowds of up to 150,000 to descend on the festival ground to see not only yodelling (though there is plenty) but also flag-throwing, alphorn playing and traditional costumes, essential elements of any Swiss folk festival worth its salt. One highlight is the parade on the Sunday.
Valais Alphorn Festival, Nendaz, July 21st-23rd
Photo: Alphorn Festival
A celebration of the alphorn – a kind of Swiss didgeridoo dating from the 16th century – this festival brings together alphorn players from all over the country and elsewhere in the Alps to play to spectators and compete in an official competition. There’s also flag-waving, Swiss wrestling, parades and other traditional entertainment over the course of one weekend.
Photo: CIME
Held every two years, this local festival in the Valais village of Evolène is a celebration of mountain culture that aims to both safeguard local traditions and promote cultural exchange with others. Expect lots of colourful costumes, parades, dance and music performances from both locals and invited guests from other mountain cultures around the world -- previous groups have come from India and Uzbekistan, for example.
But there's plenty of Swissness too. This year's event is preceded by the Cantonal Costume Festival on August 9th, where 1,000 people from 40 Valais societies will show off their traditional outfits in a parade.
Folklore Festival, Zermatt, August 13th 
Photo: Zermatt Tourism
The centrepiece of this free event is a large parade down Zermatt’s main street featuring dancers and musicians in traditional dress. Start the day with a yodel in the village church at 10.30am before enjoying the food, drink and entertainment in the streets. 
Unspunnen, Interlaken, Aug 26th-Sep 3rd 
Photo: Unspunnen Festival
This year’s unmissable event is this quintessentially Swiss festival held only once every 12 years. Dating back to 1805, it’s now believed to be the world’s largest folklore gathering, attracting some 150,000 spectators to the Höhematte meadow to see events including Schwingen (Swiss wrestling), alpine folk music, flag-throwing, Hornussen and stone-throwing. 
The namesake Unspunnen stone is an 83kg boulder traditionally used in the festival’s stone- throwing competition, but its whereabouts are currently unknown after it was stolen (for the second time) in 2005 from an exhibition in an Interlaken hotel. Jura separatists, who stole it the first time back in 1984, are believed to be responsible again.
However there doesn’t seem to be any bad blood. “The ‘perpetrators’ are also assured a warm welcome to Interlaken,” say festival organizers. “If you happen to drop by with the stone before the event starts, the president of the organizing committee will open a bottle of good wine so that you can both toast to a successful festival.”
Now in its tenth edition, it is being held across two weekends for the first time in its long history.


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