SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

SWISS TRADITIONS

Nine essential Swiss traditions to experience in Switzerland 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
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.
 
Alternatively, head to Leukerbad for a sheep descent instead.
 
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 (23rd to 25th).
 
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 29th.
 
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 29th to November 13th).
 
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 8th to 17th. 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 12th) 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 28th) 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

SWISS TRADITIONS

EXPLAINED: What is new about Switzerland’s Fête des Vendages in Neuchâtel

The traditional Harvest Festival in Neuchâtel is reaching its 95th edition this year, starting Friday, September 23rd and ending on the night of Sunday 25th. Here's what you need to know about it.

EXPLAINED: What is new about Switzerland's Fête des Vendages in Neuchâtel

The Harvest festival in Neuchâtel celebrates vines and wine, bringing together more than 250 stands (and more than 300,000 people) between Friday and Sunday evenings in the city. It’s one of the most traditional festivals in Switzerland, taking place for almost 100 years during the last weekend of September.

The festivity days have plenty of events, but the most famous ones are the procession and the flower Corso, which take place on Sunday afternoons and can attract more than 100,000 spectators. On Friday, the costumed groups start the festival with the big procession of the Guggenmusik.

Besides the wine and local food stands, other attractions are the amusement park grounds and the Miss & Mister Neuchâtel Festival contest.

The harvest festivals date hundreds of years, but the current form has been taking place in Neuchâtel since 1925.

What’s new this year?

This year, the festival comes with a modern novelty: participants may buy a CHF 10 bracelet that can be charged with cash to keep transactions easy and contactless.

Additionally, the festival has an environmental facet, adopting reusable glasses. People will pay a CHF 2 deposit per glass which will be paid back to them on the bracelet once the glasses are returned.

You can return the glasses to all stands that sell drinks (except for the long drinks and absinthe glasses, which should be returned to stands that use them) – only the person who bought the cup can return them, so your friend cannot collect your deposit for you, for example. “This method limits the theft of glasses and facilitates logistical and safety management”, the organisers said.

How do I get there?

It’s easy to reach the venue using public transport – and those who buy the official bracelet get free access to public transport in zones 10, 11, 14, 15 and 30. The best way to reach it is by taking an SBB train to the Canton of Neuchâtel.

Public transport is also the best way to reach the area, as the Neuchâtel City Center is closed to road traffic during the Harvest Festival. Still, if you travel by car, the usual road signs will direct you to the car parks available.

How do I buy the tickets?

You can buy tickets online or in the ticket office at the event.

SHOW COMMENTS