La Desalpe
Switzerland's Best Dressed Cows

More information about Charmey and the desalpe:

Please note that that this article is based on past events. The timing of and nature of the events may be slighly different each year. Please check with the local tourist offices to confirm.

Every 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 carillon effect.

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 of Geneva.

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 herdsman's dance.

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.


Getting There


St. Cergue
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.
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