We live in a country where there are cows everywhere. This is not a country for the lactose intolerant. You walk into a supermarket and the shelves are lined with chocolate and dairy items. A million types of yogurt and cremes and puddings.
The cows I see seem pretty happy. They are out in beautiful rolling hills, chewing on grass and enjoying the sunshine. Many cows live in some of the higher elevations where the semi rocky terrain is not so good for agriculture but plenty good for the cows as there is lovely grass to chew on and plenty of water. Come winter though, those cows need to come down as inevitably there will be snow and nothing left to eat.
Switzerland, being a country of tradition, celebrates the cows coming to lower pastures in ceremonies across the land called desalpe. This weekend, we traveled to Saint-Cergue to witness the cows making their fall voyage down the mountain.
We left Basel Friday afternoon and traveled west towards Geneva and into the French speaking(yeah!!!!) part of Switzerland to the little town of La Cure. The hotel Arbeze literally straddles the border of both France and Switzerland. Our rooms were in Switzerland but the downstairs restaurant was in France. The old timers tell the tales of how the hotel owners would hide Jews upstairs while the Nazis would eat downstairs. The hotel is old but the rooms are warm and the food is just what you would expect; potatoes smothered in cheese and bacon and strong white wine to wash it down. After a long day, it is just what the doctor ordered.
The next morning, it was up bright and early down to Saint Cergue to be ready for the arrival of the first group of cows. The farmers decorate their magnificent animals with headdresses of flowers and heavy decorative brass bells around their necks. The farmers themselves wear suits of black velvet and white shirts. For the long walk down, they fortify themselves with little glasses of white wine. Between the different groups of cows, there were groups of the local St Bernards, alpenhorn musicians and lots of food to be eaten.
After enjoying way too much cheese and cake, we headed to the town of Les Rousses for a walk through town and then by the lake. The lake was crystal clear, the air fresh and scenery magnificent. We vowed to come back, to see the cows again and to enjoy another weekend all that Switzerland has to offer.