autumn, after a four month idyll grazing on clover in their
alpine pastures, Switzerland's cattle herds and their keepers
descend to the warmer valleys. This tradition, known as La
Desalpe, is timed each year depending on the evolution
of the autumn weather. Local cattle keepers consult among
themselves, and after agreeing on a date, announce the Desalpe
at short notice. Two such festivals have been set on the same
day this October: one in Charmey near the charming village
of Gruyeres, and the second closer to Geneva in the village
of St. Cergue.
St. Cergue: Alpine Horns, Bernese Sheepdogs,
a "grande fete"
St. Cergue traditionally welcomes its troupeaux
home with a "grande fete," according to Madame Rosemarie
Bosson, a member of the festival's 5-person organizing committee.
Events will kick-off shortly after 8.A.M. October 2 with the
"Sonneurs des Cloches," a bell-ringing ensemble
who perform dance steps with their instruments creating a
Shortly afterwards, the melody of cow-bells
will herald the arrival of the first herd in St. Cergue. The
cattle, draped with floral garlands, and crowned with cuttings
of pine, will continue passing through at a rate of one herd
every 15 to 20 minutes until approximately noon. Other events
in St. Cergue had not yet been confirmed at the time this
article went to press, but in past years they have included
alpine horns, a folkloric chorus, a parade of Bernese sheepdogs
and during the afternoon a parade by the Vieux Grenadiers
The Desalpe is an event for early risers,
but the earliest risers of all are the alpine herdsmen themselves.
Traditionally known as the armaillis, these men who have spent
their summers among cattle on Switzerland's high pastures,
will walk with their troupeaux for up to 2 hours before reaching
St. Cergue. The men dress traditionally in an outfit known
as the Bredzon. This consists of a black puff-sleeved jacket
emblazoned with bold buttons and embroidery, worn open like
a vest over a white long sleeved shirt.
Charmey: Artisan's Demonstrations and
Market, Herdsman's Ball
Somewhat further afield, Charmey near Gruyeres
will be celebrating its famous "Rindya" the name
given to the descent from the alps in the local patois. The
first herd will enter the village at around 9:30 A.M. and
the last will arrive at around 3 P.M., but other events continue
until the end of the day and even into the evening, when you
can attend the "Bal des Armaillis," the traditional
The armaillis of Gruyeres, the tourist office
informs me, wear special color-coordinated Bredzon cut from
coarse blue cloth and embroidered with white Edelweiss.
The event in Charmey also features a large
artisan's market with nearly 60 exhibitors. Some will demonstrate
their crafts including weaving, wood carving, basket-making
and the confection of bricelets, the thin and delicious style
of waffle made in Gruyere.
The road to St. Cergue from Nyon will be closed after 8 A.M.
Traffic will be redirected to the Arzier entrance to the village.
You can also take little red the train from Nyon. Check the
Swiss Railroad English-language webpage for the schedule and
possible special trains. http://www.sbb.ch
The trip takes around 30 minutes
Take the highway in the direction of Bern/Fribourg. Take the
Bulle exit just south of Fribourg. Follow the signs for Gruyere,
passing through the towns of Bulle and Broc. After Broc you
will see signs for CHARMEY. The town is around 20 minutes
to 1/2 hour's drive from the autoroute.
Tourist office Charmey: 026.927.1498