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TRADITIONS

Ten brilliant Swiss traditions to experience this autumn

Summer may be over, but there are still plenty of reasons to get outside as the days grow shorter. The Local gives you a run-down of the best Swiss festivities to experience this autumn.

A thrilled-looking cow in traditional headwear in Switzerland in Autumn.
Photo: Caroline Bishop
Take a boozy walk in the Lavaux vineyards 
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
Now in its 23rd year, the Route Gourmande in the vineyards between Montreux and Vevey is a fabulous day out if you like the local wines. Buy your pass (a glass and a special neck pouch to put it in), and then stroll a five kilometre route through the vineyards.
Dotted along the way are seven food stands and many more wine stations where you are entitled to copious food and drink, included in the ticket price.
This year’s event is held on September 9th and the menu includes foie gras panna cotta, smoked lake fish, grilled pork, meringue and cream and plenty of local chasselas and pinot noir.
 
Watch the cows come down from the mountains  
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
One truly Swiss sign that the long, hot summer is coming to an end is the sight of cows trooping through mountain villages on their way back to the valley farms for the winter.
Called the désalpe/Alpabfahrt, it’s cause for celebration: after all, the cows have spent a successful summer living on the alpine pastures and producing flavour-rich milk which their herdsmen and women turn into delicious cheese. 
 
 
On the day of the descent the cows are decorated with floral headdresses and large bells before parading through the village. Locals and visitors from miles around gather to watch them, scoff alpine cheese and drink Swiss wine. Bell-ringers, alphorn players and cheese-making demonstrations add to the entertainment. 
 
There are cattle descents all over the Swiss Alps; one of the most popular is in Charmey in the Fribourg prealps, this year held on September 23rd.
Alternatively, head to Leukerbad for a sheep descent instead – on September 10th some 800 sheep will parade down from the Gemmi pass to Leuk, accompanied by various convivial festivities. 
 
Enjoy the Bénichon in Bulle 
 
Photo: Benichon de Bulle
 
Originally a thanksgiving festival, the Bénichon lost its religious connotations several centuries ago and is now a folk festival celebrating rural life and the end of the harvest. It is most associated with villages in the Fribourg region, most notably in the town of Bulle, which holds this year’s on the weekend of September 9th and 10th. 
 
Centre to the party is eating: visitors are served a special Bénichon menu, which traditionally comprises cuchaule – a plaited bread served with mustard – before cabbage soup, then smoked ham and potatoes, rounded off with meringues and cream. Entertainment comprises folk music, alphorn playing and flag-throwing. 
 
Celebrate the start of the wine harvest in Neuchâtel 
 
Photo: Fete des vendanges
 
One of Switzerland’s main wine-growing regions, Neuchâtel has ample reason to celebrate the start of the year’s harvest, which it does in ebullient fashion at the end of September (22nd to 24th).
For three days the city centre gets into the festival spirit. A series of parades feature kids in fancy dress, huge floats covered in elaborate floral decorations, Guggenmusik bands, and carts loaded with grape-growers’ tools and equipment. A fireworks display will be held over the lake on the Saturday night.
 
Try chestnut jam in Ticino 
 
Chestnuts. Photo by Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash

Chestnuts. Photo by Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash
 
Chestnuts are an integral part of the cuisine in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. Head to Ascona on October 7th for the annual Festa delle castagne (chestnut festival), where over 2,000kg of this humble foodstuff is available to be scoffed in a variety of formats: roasted on the fire, as jam or honey, as ice cream, in cake.
Other local food including polenta, mortadella cheese and Merlot wine is also on the menu. Music and a market add to the festivities. 
 
Go truffle-hunting in Bonvillars 
 
Photo: Bonvillars truffle market
 
Didn’t know truffles grew in Switzerland? Well they do around Bonvillars. Each autumn this town in the Jura Vaudois celebrates this gourmet foodstuff with a market bringing together truffle producers, chefs, connoisseurs and truffle-hunting dogs.
As well as enjoying the market and sampling truffle-based dishes in local restaurants (fondue with truffle, anyone?), visitors can find out more on organized truffle-hunting walks, demonstrations and cooking workshops. This year’s event is on October 28th.
 
Ride the carousel at Basel Herbstmesse 
The oldest fair in Switzerland, the Herbstmesse dates back to 1471 when the mayor of Basel was granted the right to hold an autumn fair. Traditionally it’s held from exactly midday on the Saturday before October 30th to the following third Sunday evening (this year October 28th to November 12th).
 
Held in seven venues in the city, the fair comprises tons of fairground rides, hundreds of stalls selling artisan crafts and food, plus installations and street entertainment. Scoff flammküchen, raclette or bratwurst at Barfüsserplatz, ride the bumper cars in Münsterplatz or freak yourself out on the ghost train at Kaserne.
 
Scoff sausages at St Martin’s Fair
 
Photo: David Pursehouse
 
Dating back centuries, the Feast of St Martin in the Jura was traditionally a festival to celebrate the end of the harvest, where farming families would get together to eat a pig that was slaughtered to provide the makings of a huge meal.
These days pork dishes such as choucroute garnie (pictured) remain the centre of the traditional St Martin’s menu, served in village restaurants across the Jura area from November 10th to 13th. On the following weekend – known as the Revira – a large artisan market takes place in Porrentruy. 
 
See beetroots turned into incredible lanterns
 
Photo: Micha L Rieser/Wikimedia Commons
 
Much as many of us like to create a pumpkin lantern at Halloween, the town of Richterswil on lake Zurich has its own variation on the theme.
On the second Saturday in November (this year the 11th) the town stages an incredible lantern procession, where some 29,000kg of beets are hollowed out, illuminated by 50,000 candles and formed into impressive displays that are paraded through the village in an after-dark procession known as the Räbechilbi.
A tradition since the 1920s, the event also includes a market earlier in the day where you can pick up a bite to eat and enjoy musical entertainment. Some 20,000 spectators are expected this year.
 
Eat onion soup and drink Glühwein at 5am  
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
Before the Christmas markets kick off, head to Bern on the fourth Monday in November (this year, the 27th) for the Zibelemarit (onion market), when veg growers from the region come into town to sell 50 tons of onions and garlic presented in pretty braided strings.
Dating back to the 15th century, this festival has become an excuse to eat, drink and be merry – all with an onion theme. It starts at 5am, so get up early and join the locals by tucking into onion soup and onion tart, drinking Glühwein and throwing confetti at each other.
 
 
 
For members

SWITZERLAND EXPLAINED

Why are Swiss people among the happiest in the world?

Even though the news has been mostly depressing in the past two years, Switzerland’s residents have found the proverbial silver lining amid dark clouds. This is what makes them happier than residents of most countries.

Why are Swiss people among the happiest in the world?

For the 10th year in a row, Switzerland’s population ranks among the most content by the World Happiness Report, a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network that draws on global survey data from people in about 150 countries.

In the just-released 2022 edition, Switzerland is ranked fourth globally, just below three Scandinavian nations: Finland (1), Denmark (2), and Iceland (3). Sweden and Norway are in the seventh and eighth place, respectively.

Switzerland’s neighbours, however, didn’t even make it to the top-10. Austria is in the 11th position, Germany in the 14th, France in the 20th, and Italy in the 28th.

Why is Switzerland rated so highly?

Clearly, happiness and well-being are subjective terms, inherent to each individual, and as such they can’t be measured scientifically.

“Our measurement of subjective well-being continues to rely on three main indicators: life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions”, the report said. “Happiness rankings are based on life evaluations as the more stable measure of the quality of people’s lives”.

Researchers used seven categories to assess each country’s contentment level: Dystopia (evaluating how much better life is in a given country in comparison to ones with bad living conditions); perception of corruption in a country; generosity; freedom to make life choices; healthy life expectancy; social support; and GDP per capita.

Switzerland ranks especially well —  (better than higher-ranked Finland, Denmark and Iceland) in terms of its GDP, and also in regards to how respondents view their overall quality of life and living conditions when with compared with other nations.

The “social support” category is also highly rated by survey participants, as is healthy life expectancy and freedom to make choices.

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It fares less well, however, in the generosity category (as do most countries) and perception of corruption.

Switzerland is no stranger to high scores (both positive and negative) in various international rankings, ranging from quality of life and competitiveness, to cost of living.

You can find more about those topics here:

Switzerland named ‘world’s best destination for expats’

Zurich ranked world’s best city for ‘prosperity and social inclusion’

It’s official: Switzerland is the world’s ‘most competitive’ country

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