We heard them before we saw them. It started with a light jangling, a tinkle of small delicate bells, paired with a faint farmers ‘whoop’ as they descended the mountain.
The sound grew to a louder din of giant donging bells, slowly swinging, a snuffling of large, wet noses and the distinctive yodeling cry of ‘yeeEEEWHOwhhooo-hoo’ amongst the stomping of hoofs. Thunderously, they rounded the corner to tread down the main streets of Söll – and they were magnificent.
Austrian’s really know how to round out the summer months in traditional style.The sights and sounds of my first cattle drive in Austria were better and brighter than I could have imagined!
Almabtrieb is a festival that rolls across the mountains of Tirol in September – and it’s just become one of my favourite things. Because you guys, look at this:
It’s Cows. In flower crowns. *Squeee’s loudly and grins like a maniac*
Something about the spectacle just makes me giggle in delight! But like everything in Austrian traditional culture, it all has a purpose underlying the festivities. We headed to the mountains of Tirol this weekend to investigate and say farewell to the summer months by celebrating Almalbtrieb in Tirol.
What is Almabtrieb?
Taking place in late September, Almatrieb is a cattle drive, where local farmers bring their cow herds down from their summertime mountain pastures. It happens in many villages all across Austria, but primarily in Tirol. There are said to be over 180,000 cattle, sheep and goats taken up to mountain pastures for the summer months, who (like us) all need to head back to the reality of autumn eventually.
Almabtrieb is also a festive parade, where local farmers steer their cow herds down the mountainside. But it’s more than just a bunch of cows and goats wandering into town. To give thanks for a successful and safe summer season, the cows are decorated with elaborate headwear and giant bells – each herd in its own unique style.
As they march on down from the mountain into the village, they are accompanied by the farmers in traditional Dirndl’s and Lederhosen, and the closer you get to the village the more festive things become!
Each village hosts their own style of a ‘dorf fest’ (village festival) to welcome the cows back into their barns for the winter months. Essentially, it’s one big traditional farmers party and we were ALL here for it.
What to do at Almabtrieb?
I mean, giggling and getting excited over the cows is one thing, but there’s still loads to do at the festival between parades of Cows coming down the mountain.
Most villages will have food stalls hosted by local farmers, so you can trial some cheese and meats from the farms directly. You definitely need to gorge yourself on the freshest cheese and milk you ever did see.
There’s also plenty of standard festival snacks, including ‘Auszochne Nudeln’ – which confusingly aren’t noodles at all, but hot pockets of fried dough filled with cheese and herbs. It’s exactly as delicious as it sounds!
I would also strongly encourage you to make friends with farmers and try their tractors on for size – because who knows, maybe you’re a farmer deep down?
Strolling through the village was like a breath of fresh air – in fact the clearer mountain air definitely had something to do with the excited happy atmosphere.
Later in the day, there’s live music performers and those guys who do the slappy-knees dance, you know the one – it’s called ‘Schuplattler’. Pull up a chair in front of an elevated stage and soon enough there will be a brass band or live folk dancing happening.
Primarily what you should do at Almatrieb, is grab yourself a stein or local wine, find a place along the bench seating and sit back to enjoy a traditional festival with all the Tyrolean trimmings! Kids are free to run around and us adults can get our boogie on too – the oldies in particular were loving the live music and sunshine on Saturday, this is strictly a no age limits kind of festival.
Where to see Almabtrieb?
The festival happens on different weekends all across Tirol. In most cases there’s a 3 or 4 day programme of activities leading up to and after the cow drive itself, so you could definitely make a long weekend getaway out of it.
We’re always big fans of the Wilder Kaiser region because it’s where Stefan’s family is and visiting gives us the chance to revisit the bars where we first met (#romance, right?). So we headed to Söll, in the Wilder Kaiser region, to experience Almabtrieb.
I may be biased (Hint: I definitely am) but it was one of the most picturesque places to experience Almatrieb.
The weather was stunningly bright and sunny, the cobblestone streets of the village were lined with wooden huts selling hand carved trinkets, ham, bacon, 7 kinds of cheese, traditional farmers hats & dresses and every person there was smiling.
But you can go to most regions of Tirol to catch this lovely festival:
Wilder Kaiser & Söll have all their details here – check out the 4 day programme that happened this year!
For a full list of dates, links and even Almatrieb festivities happening in other regions of Austria, check the link here (German but you can get the gist)
How to get to Söll?
As always, we are super fans of the ÖBB rail services between Vienna and Kufstein to get to Tirol. We always book a Railjet train departing from Vienna in late afternoon on a Friday to get into Wörgl or Kufstein by 9:30pm. It’s the perfect train, as long as you reserve seats!
You can get some reading or work done, have dinner on the train – which to me is the fanciest indulgence, to sip wine and eat gulasch as the countryside whizzes past – and arrive well rested and relaxed after unwinding from the week behind you.
From Wörgl or Kufstein train station it’s about a 20 minute drive to get to the village of Söll. Taxi’s will cost anywhere between €30-€60 depending.
Otherwise if you have a car it’s a 3.5 hour drive from Vienna to Söll mostly down highways. We reccommend stopping at the beautiful Lake Mondsee service station for a coffee or dinner to break up the drive. Seriously the most stunning service station views you have ever seen.
If you fly into Munich, trains from Munich to Kufstein take about an hour.
Flying into Innsbruck, the drive to Söll will be around 45 minutes to an hour, or you can get a regional train.
Many coach services operate at Almatrieb time, we saw loads of coaches full of French and German tourists pouring into the village so its well worth investigating package deals from the likes of Bergfex or TUI Reisen.
Where to stay in Söll for Almabtrieb?
Having worked as a ski rep in Söll, I can dish the inside word on the best places to stay in the village of Söll for Almatrieb (or any other time for that matter)
For an apartment stay: Schindlhaus Apartments. Heated floors, clean and comfortable rooms with plenty of space and
For a luxury hotel stay: Postwirt Hotel. My family stayed here for Christmas a few years ago – it’s pricey but has all the traditional Tirolean style deco PLUS modern features like a spa, sauna, delicious restaurant and killer breakfast buffet. Definitely an indulgence option!
We had an absolute ball at Almabtrieb, and you know I love any kind of traditional festival. This one is fantastic for friends, families – even you’re granny (she’ll probably out-dance you). We’ll be back next autumn to celebrate the end of summer in style, all to the sound of tinkling cowbells….
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