The return from the Alpine pastures in Annecy

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I’ve known about the return from the Alpine pastures for a long time. I had heard of great festivals happening in Austria, Switzerland and Bavaria but only recently did I find out that Annecy in Haute-Savoie organises a similar event. The festival celebrates the start of the Autumn season with a fun cattle parade through the streets of the old town. There is also folklore music and entertainment across the city. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 festival in Annecy and experience the authentic atmosphere which was full of life. It was also lovely to see people coming together and celebrating life in the Alps!


What is the return from the Alpine pastures?

Return from the Alpine Pastures Festival, Annecy © French Moments

Return from the Alpine Pastures Festival, Annecy © French Moments

Basically it’s all about cows and sheep being herded back down to the valley in October. They’ve been grazing for around four months and it is time for the cattle to come back from the pastures before the rough and cold season of Winter begins.

This traditional practice is called Alpine transhumance. The Annecy event is known in French as “Le retour des alpages” and sometimes as “La descente des alpages” or “La fête de l’alpage”.


The Return from the Alpine Pastures Festival

Annecy celebrates this event with a great public festival where traditional activities are highlighted: craft events, demonstrations of old manual trades, folklore bands, and the tasting of local produce from the Savoy region.

The highlight of the day is the parade of Alpine herds which takes place along an itinerary meandering through the picturesque centre of Annecy. The colourful cattle parade is a feast for the eye. Alpine farmers proudly and happily wear traditional costumes. Cows are adorned with flowers and ribbons and you can hear them approaching by the sound of cowbells attached to their heavy leather collars.

Cows are not the only cattle parading, other farm animals also participate in the procession: goats, sheep, donkeys, mountain dogs…


Plan your visit for the Alpine festival in Annecy

Return from the Alpine Pastures Festival, Annecy © French Moments

Return from the Alpine Pastures Festival, Annecy © French Moments

  • As you’ll probably guess, the festival is perfect for children but you have to be aware that the big crowds can be overwhelming.
  • The cattle parade across the old town generally departs at 2.30pm and it takes 1hr to 1.5hrs to complete the set itinerary.
  • My favourite spot to attend the cattle parade is rue Sainte-Claire. This is a picturesque arcaded street that is quite narrow. People start positioning themselves 45-60 minutes before the departure of the parade. To enjoy the parade with more space, head to rue de la gare.
  • From 9am to 6pm the Alpine festival attracts lots of people and you may find it hard to park your car. Either arrive early (before 9am), park your car outside the town centre… or like us arrive by train!
  • To find out more about the return from the Alpine pastures in Annecy, check out the Annecy Traditions website [in French only]. It will give you a map and more information before each annual festival which takes place on the second Saturday of October.
  • For more practical information about the city of Annecy (hotels, restaurants, other activities and festivals), check out the Tourist Board website.

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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