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What is an Almabtrieb: Annual Cattle Drive Festival in Austria and the Alps

Across the Alps, cattle, goats, and sheep graze in the mountain pastures during the summer months (June – September).

At the end of the grazing season (September, early October), farmers herd their animals back down to their winter stables in the valley. 

This ancient practice of seasonally moving livestock from one grazing area to another is called transhumance.

In many places in the Alps, the downward cattle drive is a festive occasion. Locals celebrate the safe return of the animals with a homecoming parade, music, food, dance, and general merriment. 

The highlight of these “cows coming home” festivals is seeing the ornamented cattle and farmers, clad in traditional attire, parade through towns on their way back to their farms.

The Almabtrieb (Alpabtrieb, Alpabzug, Alpabfahrt, Viehscheid, Désalpe) is a joyful and melodious event, which marks the end of the summer season and the beginning of fall.

Traditions vary from country to country, from region to region, and from valley to valley. Each cattle drive is unique and reflects the traditions and customs of the local community. No two are alike. 

In Austria, South Tyrol (Italy), and Bavaria (Germany), these cattle drives are called “Almabtriebe” (singular: Almabtrieb). In the Allgäu Alps of Bavaria, cattle drives are called “Viehscheide” (singular: Viehscheid). 

In the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland, these processions are called “Alpabzüge” (singular: Alpabzug and Alpabfahrt), whereas in the French-speaking cantons they are called “Désalpes” (singular: Désalpe).” In Trentino, Italy, these cow coming home processions are called “Desmontegada,” whereas in Aosta Valley, they are called “Désarpa.”

Each year, we try to see at least one Almabtrieb. It’s a feast for the eyes and a tonic for the heart and soul. They say the bells drive the evil spirits away. And, I believe they do! 

To date, we’ve seen cow homecoming celebrations in Mayrhofen (Tyrol, Austria), Appenzell (Appenzell Innerrhoden, Switzerland), and Alpe di Siusi – Castelrotto (South Tyrol, Italy).

Almboschen cattle headdress, Almabtrieb, Mayrhofen, Austrian Alps
  • When: September – Early October 
  • Tips: Contact local tourist offices to confirm time and place of cattle drive descent. Online sources are often outdated. Arrive early. Do not obstruct the procession of animals. Arrive by transit if possible. 
  • Where to See Almabtriebe: Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria (Germany), and South Tyrol (Italy)
  • Alps Cattle Drive Names: Almabtrieb, Alpabtrieb, Alpabzug, Alpabfahrt, Viehscheid, and Désalpe

When Can You See an Almabtrieb, Alpabzug, etc… in the Alps

Alpabzug Cattle Drive Descent in Appenzellerland, Switzerland

Almabtriebe (Alpabzüge, Viehscheide) usually take place in September, though they can certainly happen in late August, or in early October as well. 

The timing of the alpine descent is dependent on a few factors: grass (is there still enough grass in the pastures to sustain the herd?), weather (early snow storms), and safety (wolves). 

The best resources for finding out when and where these cows coming home festivals occur are local tourist offices. 

As we’ve learned, online sources are often outdated. It’s best to email the tourist offices for current information. If you’re researching online, consult the local language website and use Google Chrome to translate, rather than the “English” website. 

Some tourist offices announce the dates months in advance, while others announce the dates mere days in advance.

Some tourist offices have stopped publishing the dates altogether, because of idiotic spectator behavior, which has endangered and stressed out the animals. 

In late Spring, the reverse cattle drive takes place. Farmers herd their animals up from the valley to the mountain pastures (Almen, Alpen). This is called an Almauftrieb in Austria and an Alpaufzug, or Alpauffahrt in Switzerland. 

Unlike the downward cattle drives at the end of summer, these upward springtime cattle drives are not accompanied with festivities and celebrations. 


Almabtrieb Etiquette 

Almabtrieb cattle headdresses, Austrian Alps

It’s beyond exciting to experience an Almabtrieb in the Alps. I literally cry everytime I see one!

Understandably, everyone wants to capture the clanging procession of animals on their phone and camera. 

But, please, watch the cow parade from the side of the road. Do not obstruct the way of the animals and farmers. 

It’s absolutely imperative to take your photos from the roadside. We mount the Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 Lens on our Sony Alpha a6400 to capture the Almabtrieb from a respectful distance. 

Foolish behavior can result in injury. And, repeated careless behavior can jeopardize the tradition altogether.

As stated earlier, some destinations like Schönau am Königssee in the Bavarian Alps no longer publicize their Almabtrieb, because they don’t want tourists to endanger and stress out the animals. 

As a rule, it’s not recommended to follow and/or join the cattle drive. This stresses out the animals and the farmers. 

Remember, the farmers and herdsmen/herdswomen are responsible for the safety and welfare of their animals, not for you. 


Almabtriebe and Alpabtriebe Cattle Drives in Austria 

Mayrhofen Cattle Drive Almabtrieb, Tyrol, Austria

Almabtriebe take place across the Austrian Alps throughout the month of September and sometimes early October. In Vorarlberg, an Almabtrieb is called an Alpabtrieb. 

If there were no accidents during the pasture season, cows are crowned with spectacular headdresses, signaling an accident-free summer season

These colorful and extravagant headdresses (“Almboschen”) are handmade with evergreen branches, flowers, ribbons, paper, and other materials.

Farmers often adorn the headdresses with Catholic iconography (e.g. Jesus, Virgin Mary, Crosses, and various Saints) as a way of giving thanks to God for the safety of their animals and by extension the security of their livelihood. 

In the early hours of the morning, farmers and their families milk their cows before fastening the Almboschen to the cow’s head with a leather halter. For the most ostentatious and flamboyant display of Almboschen, prioritize a Tyrolean Almabtrieb. 

In addition to the headdresses, cattle don large, ceremonial bells. These bells are used to drive away evil spirits and demons. Young cows are adorned with lighter bells and Almboschen. 

You can hear the Almabtrieb before you see it, because of the thundering sound of bells. Led by the “Nage” matriarch, the cows march from their Alm down to the valley. Herdsmen/women keep the herd together. 

Most Almabtrieb homecoming celebrations occur in the Austrian states of Tyrol, Styria, Salzburg, and Vorarlberg. There are also a few in Upper Austria and Carinthia.  

There’s a summary of Almabtrieb events on Austria.info. We linked to the German site, because it’s more frequently updated. 

Also, consult Tyrol.com for a list of upcoming Almabtriebe. The most famous cattle drive processions take place in Hofgarten im Brixtental, Kufstein, Pertisau am Achensee, Reith im Alpbachtal, Söll, Zillertal, and Gerlos. 

Generally, these events are free. However, some destinations charge a nominal entrance fee. 

In addition to the cattle drive, spectators can enjoy folk music, local cuisine, and other entertainment. Stalls sell local products and food. 


Almabtriebe Cattle Drives Are Not Guaranteed 

Almabtrieb Cattle Drive in Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Austria

Almabtriebe can always be canceled due to weather, or due to loss, or injury.

The Almabtrieb, by tradition, is a celebration of the safe return of the animals. If the animals were lost, injured, or killed, then the Almabtrieb does not take place. 

For example, the Almabtriebe cattle drives in the Hochkönig region of Salzburg have been canceled this year (September 2023), because many sheep were killed by wolves in the mountain pastures.

In Styria, farmers are bringing their sheep home a month early this year, because of the wolf threat (steiermark.orf.at – German only). 

Side Note. Unlike Switzerland, France, and Spain, Austrian farmers do not utilize guard dogs for safeguarding their herds. The recent return of wolves to the Austrian Alps is endangering traditional livestock farming and threatening the alpine way of life.

Austrians will have to introduce guard dogs, or employ other methods of wolf management, to ensure the safety of their animals.

This is a very contentious debate in Austria right now. It’s challenging for farmers to address the threat in a timely manner, because of bureaucratic processes. Many sheep farmers, who have suffered extreme losses this year, are saying they will not return to the mountain pastures next year. 


Almabtriebe / Desmontegada Cattle Drives in Italy 

Almabtrieb in Castelrotto, South Tyrol, Italy

In South Tyrol in Northeastern Italy, cattle drives are combined with live music, folk dances (e.g. Schuhplattler), food stalls, and other traditional performances. Learn more about upcoming cattle drives on suedtirolerland.it

Compared to neighboring Tyrol, cow headdresses are less ostentatious in South Tyrol. The evergreen and floral headdresses symbolize divine protection. And, the mirrors and bells ward off evil spirits. 

The cross-border annual Schnalstal Valley Almabtrieb dates back 600 years and is an Intangible UNESCO World Heritage event. In mid-September, 3500 sheep are moved from their summer pastures in Ventertal Valley, Austria, over the mountains, to their winter home in Schnalstal Valley, Italy. 

In the neighboring province of Trentino, you can partake in the Gran Festa del Desmontegar, a 4-day event culminating in the “Desmontegada” cattle drive in Primiero Valley, near San Martino di Castrozza (Pale di San Martino Dolomites). 

In Aosta Valley, in Northwestern Italy, désarpa cow parades take place in late September and October. The festival usually coincides with the feast of St. Michael.


Alpabzüge Cattle Drives in Switzerland

Alpabzug in Appenzell, Switzerland

In the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland (and in Vorarlberg, Austria), an alpine pasture is called an Alp, as opposed to an Alm. So, the alpine descent is called an “Alpabzug.” In French-speaking Cantons, like Fribourg, the cattle drive is called a “Désalpe” (Fribourg.ch). 

Cattle, goat, and sheep descents take place across Switzerland starting in late August. You can find out when and where these homecoming parades take place on myswitzerland.com

We recently saw several Alpabzüge in Appenzell in Eastern Switzerland. In Appenzell Innerrhoden, cattle drives take place on numerous days at the end of summer.

Each farmer decides when they want to herd their animals back down to their farm. So, there isn’t a singular homecoming festival, but rather many casual processions. 

Though the animals are not decked in ornate flower headgear and there are no planned festivities, these Appenzeller cattle drives are uncommonly special.

Garbed in the distinct Appenzeller Trachten (folk costumes), farmers and herdsmen steer their goats and cows home, whilst singing Rugguusseli (alpine yodeling songs). 

Alpabzug cattle drive in Appenzell Town, Switzerland

The distinguishing features of the Appenzeller Tracht are the red waistcoat with embroidered flowers (Liibli), the black hat decorated with flowers and ribbons, the brass-studded suspenders (Beschlagener Hosenträger), the snake-shaped golden earring with a cream ladle (Ohreschuefle), and the silver watch chain fastened to the waste (Chüelichetti). The herdsmen wear yellow leather trousers when herding goats, and brown woolen trousers when herding cows. 

The Appenzellerland tourist office publishes the events as they learn of them, usually only 1-5 days in advance. If you’re visiting Appenzell between late August and late September, you may be able to see one. Contact the Appenzellerland tourist office for more info. 


Almabtriebe / Viehscheide in Germany 

Almabtrieb Cows, Austria

We have yet to see a cattle drive in the Bavarian Alps. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Bavarian Alps: amabtriebe.de (German only)

Allgäu Alps: alpen-guide.de (German only)

Alpenwelt Karwendel: alpenwelt-karwendel.de (German only)



Alps Planning Essentials


When to Visit the Alps

We recommend visiting the Alps in summer (June – mid September), fall (mid September – late October) or winter (late December – March).

Read Alps in Summer to learn everything you need to know about visiting the Alps between June and mid/late September.


Alps Road Trips

Most destinations in the Alps are accessible by transit. If you’re visiting during peak seasons, we recommend traveling with trains and buses.

If you’re visiting during shoulder seasons (late May, early June, late September, October), a car is often essential in getting around.

When we go on hut-to-hut hikes, we always travel with transit. When we want to do a lot of day hikes, we find it easier to travel with a car.

We recommend using the Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.

Check car rental rates here

Alps Road Trip Itineraries


Alps Hiking Guides

Hiking in the Alps is our passion.

To learn about when to hike, where to hike, and hiking safety, read: Hiking in the Alps: Essential Tips. For trail inspiration, check out Best Hikes in the Alps.

For region specific trail inspiration, read:


Almabtrieb Cattle Drive in the Alps Explained

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

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