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SWISS TRADITIONS

Do Swiss cows really get airlifted down from the Alps after summer?

'Flying cows' is possibly one of the more curious myths people hear about Switzerland. But is there any truth to it?

Do Swiss cows really get airlifted down from the Alps after summer?
Cows are decorated with bells and flowers before leaving their summer pastures during the annual ceremonial "cattle drive". (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

If you talk to foreigners and ask them a surprising thing about Switzerland, many will mention the “flying cows”, and pictures of the animals being taken by helicopter up and down the Swiss Alps are not difficult to find.

“The cows in Swiss are taken to the highlands by helicopters for grazing during summers and brought down back again by helicopters in the winters!” wrote one person in an English-speaking forum.

The pictures of airlifted cows can be found all over the Internet, adding fuel to the myth – but the images are not fake.

So, are cows airlifted in Switzerland once the summer is over?

Yes, cows really get a free helicopter ride up and down the Alps, but only when necessary.

Injured cows that cannot make the journey walking will not be left to die in the cold mountains during the winter season. Instead, they are taken down to the area where the rest of the herd will join them via helicopter ride.

Healthy cows going down the Alps are also a sight worth seeing. In the alpine regions, the yearly march of the cows from grazing in the Alps is called “Alpabzug” (something like “drive from the mountain pasture”).

In the French regions, the march is known as “Désalpes”.

Farmers and shepherds will wear traditional clothes and decorate their cows.

The event takes place in early autumn, usually late September or early October. It is determined by the lack of grass, or if any cold spells start, so it depends on the region and can vary year by year.

The Désalpes festival

The event becomes a party in Switzerland, and people meet up in their villages to see the cows on their journey from the Alps.

They share food (especially cheese) and wine, and there are musical presentations (such as an alpine choir), yodelling, and of course, the cow bells making it known that they are coming through.

The cows leading the procession are usually the best dairy cows and receive decorated headdresses. The event has become a significant tourist attraction in the Alpine regions.

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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.

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