Last September my husband Blair and I (and our little dog Chilli) travelled to the little Tyrolean market village of Hopfgarten im Brixental to watch the annual Almabtrieb.
Across the European alpine regions in summer, cattle and other farm animals feed on alpine pastures high up in the mountains to fatten up on the rich alpine grasses before the colder months. When the cattle are herded back down to the valley at the end of summer, locals (and holidaymakers alike) celebrate the herd's safe homecoming by dressing the animals up in ornate headdresses, garlands of flowers and ribbons, and with bells attached to heavy leather collars. The headdresses and garlands take many weeks of preparation. This occasion is known as “Almabtrieb” in German.
Each year Hopfgarten im Brixental hosts one of the larger Almabtrieb celebrations in Austria. On the day of the celebration this usually sleepy town comes alive with a festival atmosphere. The main streets are lined with kiosks selling beer, pretzels, cheese, sausages, etc. Throughout the day there are performances by Schlagmusic bands and also a number of Schuhplattler (slap dance) performances. But of course the highlight of the day is the procession of animals walking through the streets.
Last year Hopfgarten im Brixental hosted several farming families and their animals. The processions happened at various times throughout the day as this all depended on how long it took to walk the animals down from the mountains and into the town, there was no set schedule! The enormous bells around some of the larger cow's necks ensured that you heard the animals coming long before you actually saw them, so you could get out of the way. Many people (including us) dressed up Tracht (traditional dress) for the event.
The area is know for its skiing in Winter and we stayed in one of the many ski-chalets in the area which open for a few weeks in the summer months for hikers and visitors to the Almabtrieb. Apart from seeing an Almabtrieb, September is a great time to travel to Tyrol as the summer crowds have thinned out and the weather is still pleasant for hiking and exploring the area.
The following website is a useful starting point for discovering more about the different Almabtrieb celebrations in Austria: http://www.tyrol.com/things-to-do/culture/tradition/cattle-drives