One of the very best parts about living abroad is not all the glamorous destinations or life changing experiences . It’s getting the chance to become familiar with a culture that’s so different than your own.
Austria’s Almabtrieb or Cattle Parade is the perfect example.
When I first read about this traditional Austrian festival, I didn’t believe it was real. But it totally is! And it’s one of the most unique experiences we’ve had in Austria so far…
What is the Almabtrieb?
Throughout September and into October, villages in the Austrian Alps throw a celebration to welcome the cows, who’ve spent the summer grazing in the Alps, back down to the valley. It is a symbol of the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season.
The cows are dressed to impress in the most colorful and traditional Austrian headdresses and paraded down the mountain. At the end of their journey, hundreds of people are there to celebrate all day long. There are traditional dances, traditional food, crafts and (you guessed it) beer, beer, beer!
When we arrived, we weren’t sure what to expect. All we knew is that we had to dress in our most traditional dirndl and lederhosen, since these are the events where tracht is most appropriate. And when we arrived, this festival instantly exceeded all expectations.
Traditional Music & Dancing
The very best thing about any traditional festival in Austria is the line dancing!
Throughout the entire afternoon at Almabtrieb, kids of all ages perform for the crowd. They come out on stage in age groups, one after the other. From as young as 4 or 5 to as old as 16 or 17. Watching the little ones is just about the cutest thing you will ever see. (There’s something about little girls in dirndls and little boys in lederhosen that will instantly melt your heart.)
Then the all-boys groups come out, and they sure know how to put on a show! Between the ‘slap dancing’ (as we refer to it), the singing, the wood chopping (yes they do this on stage), it’s one of the most entertaining performances to witness.
When you hear the accordion play, while watching the line dancers perform, there is no other emotion possible but happy. You’ll be clapping your hands or tapping your feet without even realizing it.
ALL the Austrian food (and beer!)
Of course we can’t talk about Almamtrieb without talking about the delicious (and traditional) food and drinks served at the festival. One of our favorite dishes is actually the star of the food show: hendl.
Hendl or roasted chicken is one of Austria’s most famous and simple dishes. It’s a classic ‘farmer’ dish. The chicken is seasoned to perfection and roasted until the skin is crunchy. It’s usually served with a side of potatoes: french fries (pommes) or potato salad (kartoffelsalat).
Grab a beer or a spritzer (White wine and sparkling water) to wash it down, and then pick from a display of freshly prepared Austrian pastries for dessert.
It’s the perfect opportunity to try truly traditional Austrian food. Made locally, served by locals at a reasonable price.
Crafts and tractors.
Aside from the music, dancing and food, Austrian craft vendors are also set up throughout the festival grounds. From jewelry to hand-carved knives to hand-woven baskets and carved wood. All of the items are (from what we’ve seen) 100% authentic aka none of the fake touristy stuff that you’ll find in souvenir shops.
THIS is where you find the best crafts to take home and remember your trip.
They even have a weave your own basket station, where you can sit down and create your very own Austrian basket.
Another fun activity (that also provides fabulous photo opps) is the tractors and farming equipment on display and for sale (to the Austrian farmers in attendance).
But just because you’e not planning on buying any farm equipment, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with them! Hop up in a giant tractor, pretend you’re working a hard day on the farm and snap a photo. That’s exactly what we did! And they’re some of the funniest photos we have!
…and a parade of cows!
Let’s not forget the entire point of Almabtrieb – the cows! Hundreds of people gather to greet the cows back from their summer grazing in the mountains and welcome them back to the valley.
They’re escorted in a parade, wearing colorful headdresses decorated with ribbons, feathers, flowers and bells. Some are more elaborate than others, but the bells were by far the coolest part.
When they arrive to their farm in the valley, hungry from the long journey down, you can hear the bells ringing with every movement they make. So as they’re chowing down, bells are ringing like crazy. It’s really cool to witness, and people line the streets to watch the cows parade.
The BEST moments abroad.
The only way I can think to describe Almabtrieb to someone that’s never been is that it simply warms your heart. Experiencing this festival and being a part of such sweet, innocent and genuine joy makes you feel happy. Good old fashioned fun, and doesn’t everyone need that once in a while?
And it’s the kind of fun Austria’s been having for hundreds and hundreds of years. Traditional music, traditional food, and crafts. Children dancing, the crowd cheering and all for the love and respect of cows.
We’ve never seen animals celebrated so beautifully. Sure, the celebrations and festivities are (way too much) fun, but it’s the connection with animals and nature that’s so magical to witness.
For a list of Austria’s Almabtriebs throughout September, visit this site! We attended St. Wolfgang’s festival, which is about 50 minutes outside Salzburg, but there are MANY more that are equally as amazing!