The Grumpy Cows of the Simmental: the Alpine Festival in Lenk

Lenk im Simmental, Switzerland

Since moving to this part of the world, our annual highlight has been to go and see the traditional transhumance festivals.  The process of bringing cows down from their summer pastures is almost as old as these hills, and there is great charm in seeing the farmers lead their flower-crowned cows through crowds of cheerful people.

After having been to two desalps in French-speaking Switzerland (Albeuve and Les Charbonnières), we decided to go to the German-speaking lands this year.  I’d seen that Lenk im Simmental has an AlpKultur Festival so that seemed promising.  They have a series of events which runs over two weeks, and various workshops which look interesting, including making the flower head-dresses for the cows in readiness for their big moment.  The day we went was the day of the Alpine Festival – it was all about the return of the cows and the crowning of this year’s Miss Lenk.

Miss Lenk is a cow, naturally.

And you can vote for the Miss Lenk even as a non-local.  If you have strong opinions on what makes one cow prettier than another, this is the place to be.

Lenk itself is located in a very beautiful spot, with dramatic views of mountains all around.  The town is teeny and compact, and so you literally just follow the crowd to get to the zone which is set up for the festival.  There are various stalls where you can get locally made products – and cheeses – and there was, in 2019 anyway, a stall of amazing Swiss Papercuts by Elisabeth Beutler.  To see some of her works, you can click here.

The highlight of the day, though is the Zügleten – the parade of cows through town.  Interestingly in Lenk, the same herd loops around town twice, so if you miss them the first time, you get a second chance.  It was great to see the farmers wearing traditional costumes, and that even the littlest members of the family joined in during the parade.  One family even had their little boy throw out sweets to the crowd!!

But what of the cows?  Well, they looked very pretty with their flower crowns, but what made the whole thing quite amusing was the fact that they were quite bad-tempered and seemed unwilling to follow their farmers unless they were repeatedly poked.  A recalcitrant cow is a frightening creature.  As it happens, everything was fine – even when a group of three ladies decided that they didn’t want to follow their friends and went into the crowd instead.

So the experience really was fun.  The only disappointing thing was that between 10.30 and 1.30 there were only three lots of cows coming down.  We caught the last group by happy accident as we were waiting at the train station.  It didn’t really matter, because it was all so nicely done, but it would of course have been nice to see more participants.

We couldn’t stay at the event all day, but we caught the Alpenhorns and some singing, which was fun, and we surveyed the 25 candidates for Miss Lenk of 2019.  I sort of expected them to walk along a catwalk and tell us what they would do to bring about world peace, but sadly, they just stood around in a row munching and defecating.  It’s a good life, if you can get it.

So In Summary

Lenk is a pleasant town in a beautiful location.  It makes a great backdrop to the events of the festival, whether you’re watching the cows, judging Miss Lenk, listening to the Alpenhorn music, or just sitting and having a coffee.  This was the first time that we’ve managed to take Mama Chickpea to see the cows come home, and she thoroughly enjoyed the whole atmosphere and the setting.  It’s the magic of Switzerland…

Further Information

There is a lot going on in Lenk during their Festival period, so it’s worth checking out their schedule.  Most of the more detailed information of what’s going on is only in German, but some is also in English so you can get an idea of things.  The tourism website seems to be the place to go for information: www.lenk-simmental.ch

The event is very child-friendly.  Not only were there hundreds of children milling about, just looking at the animals and randomly jumping around on straw, there was an awesome bouncy castle, and even more awesome bunnies and goats to pet.

There’s not much else to do in town, but we wandered around a bit and went past some very pretty houses and some happily grazing cows and wallowed in the Swiss-ness of it all.

How To Get There

While Lenk is tucked away in the middle of the Simme River Valley, public transport makes it easy to get there.  Just check out the ever reliable www.sbb.ch for planning your trip.

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