Summer is coming to an end, which means that it's time for the traditional Almabtrieb celebration. After a long summer vacation in the mountain pastures, cattle must return to the safety of their stables for winter. The Almabtrieb celebration happens every autumn in Alpine communities from Switzerland to Austria.
Every year, approximately 500,000 cattle in Austria spend the summer grazing in Alpine pastures. After a long summer in the mountains, the cattle return to their stables to ensure their safety during the winter. This practice dates back to pre-Christian times and can be found in Alpine communities throughout Austria. Not only is the Almabtrieb a fun celebration, but it's also an important process to ensure the success of the community’s livestock. Due to the harsh winters in the mountains, the cattle have to be secure in the valley in order to survive the winter.
If the summer on the Alpine pasture (Alm in German) goes smoothly, the cattle are celebrated for their good behavior with a festive parade and community celebration. As part of the Almabtrieb, the cattle are decorated with bells, colorful ribbons, and wreaths. In pre-Christian times, it was believed that the loud bells worn by the cattle would protect them from demons and ensure their safety. Each community has a unique way of decorating the cattle. It is common to see cattle with colorful flowers, sprigs of trees, braided wreaths, and even complex headdresses in the parade.
The Almabtrieb typically occurs between September to early October, making it an important harvest celebration. Since the Almabtrieb usually happens at the beginning of autumn, it marks the transition from warm sunny days to the cold season. To celebrate the end of summer and the return of the cattle, there are festivities throughout the day including music, dancing, food, and of course, beer. The following year, the cattle will be driven back to the mountain pastures in early summer so the cycle can begin again.
The Almabtrieb is like a “homecoming” celebration for the cattle and is a popular community event due to its colorful decorations. With the advances in technology, some communities no longer organize Almabtrieb celebrations since it is easier to move the cattle with trailers. As the times change, many communities have decided to publicize the Almabtrieb as a tourist attraction and community event. The Almabtrieb is not only fun to watch, but it is also a great way to support local farmers in small communities.
In Carinthia, there are only a few Almabtrieb events that remain. To support the continuation of this important traditional event, attend one of the Almabtrieb in Carinthia. In Mallnitz, the cattle travel from the Stockerhütte to the Festplatz in a colorful parade where delicious food and fun entertainment awaits the guests. Every year, Bad Kleinkirchheim organizes one of the largest Almabtrieb in the region. At this traditional folk festival, guests are invited to dine on delicious food at the Inn Hinteregger in St. Oswald and see the beautifully decorated livestock. For more information, enjoy this short video of the Bad Kleinkirchheim Almabtrieb
Chelsea Navarro is an American expat from California, USA.
She has lived in Villach with her partner and dog since February, 2016. She enjoys exploring the Austrian wilderness, drinking Villacher beer and traveling around Europe.