As summer turns to autumn in the Austrian Alps the valleys begin to chime with the sound of cow bells. The annual ‘cow train’, leading the cows off the hillside and into their stables for winter, is an occasion for celebration throughout the mountains and the resulting festivities are a visual spectacle.
This traditional festival is known as the Almabtreib, literally meaning ‘driving down the mountain’. Hundreds of cows form an extravagant procession as they pass through the mountain villages. The cows, dressed in time-honoured, decorative costumes of lavish head-dresses made from flowers take on a colourful, carnivalesque appearance.
In many villages, the Almabtreib is accompanied by live music and dancing. A full day of celebration usually kicks-off with the cattle drive in the morning. Stalls selling hand-made crafts and local cuisine are eagerly visited by locals and tourists in the afternoon. And the festivities continue long into the evening with plenty of schnapps and food to go around.
Here are a few of our favourite Almabtreib celebrations:
Achensee Almabtriebsfeste, Pertisau
Towards the middle of September villages around Achensee spring to life as they prepare for the annual cattle drive celebrations. Central Pertisau, is a great location from which to witness many of these events and it also hosts its own Almabtrieb with live music and a crafts market.
Cattle drive and Mountain Festival, Westendorf
The Brixental Alpine cattle drive marks the start of autumn in Westendorf. One of the most famous examples of the Almabtriebe, it is particularly good for those looking to indulge in fare typical of the Brixental valley. Much of the food on offer is created from produce sourced from local farms.
Almabtrieb in Reith im Alpbachtal, Alpbach
One of the largest Alpine cattle drive festivals in Austria, the Almabtrieb in Reith takes place over the last two weekends in September. A highlight of the Alpbachtal calendar the festivities are supported by a large farmers market with plenty of opportunities to hear traditional Tyrolean folk music. Head down the valley from Alpbach to Reith to witness this fantastic event.