Bleating Beautiful: the Shepherd’s Festival in Zermatt

Shepherd’s Festival, Zermatt, Switzerland

Be prepared for cute sheep.

Be very prepared.

When I first found out that we were coming to live in Switzerland a few years ago, I spent a great deal of time looking at Swiss culture on Pinterest.  One of the things that popped up was a picture of a sheep.  It looked like a cross between Shaun the Sheep and a felt toy.  I didn’t believe it was real, so I looked into it more and found out that it was indeed real and was native to the canton of Valais.  Not only that, but thanks to the Shepherd’s Festival in Zermatt, I can confirm that up close they are insanely cute.

I’m not the only one who thinks so: everyone just seemed to be smiling.  That’s how you could tell the difference between the tourists and the farmers.  The farmers weren’t smiling.  But they were engaged in the very serious business of walking by the age-categorised pens and deciding which was the most attractive sheep.

And that is the main point of the day – a prize goes to the most beautiful of the sheep – crowned Miss Zermatt.  Sadly, we had to leave, so we didn’t see the winner, but I’m sure the best sheep won.

The breed of the Valais Blacknose is documented as far back as the 15th century, although there has naturally been some cross-breeding with imported sheep.  They are originally from the mountains of Valais and the Bernese Oberland, and they are able to roam on stony pastures, which is a good thing since it’s their natural environment.  They are bred for their wool and meat: the wool is somewhat coarse, but good for making blankets, and apparently because of all the lovely mountain herbs they eat their meat tastes really good.  I didn’t have the stomach to sample any after I’d been petting them all morning.  I had some schnapps instead.

So In Summary

Okay, so I’ve decided that I want some of these sheep.  If I ever have the good fortune to come into a lot of money, I’m going to set up a sheep farm and breed these little bundles of cuteness.  They’re quite friendly, not too smelly and are strangely hypnotic to watch.  On sleepless nights I’m going to try and picture a sheep chewing on grass instead of having them jump over fences – I’m sure I’ll drift off like a baby.

So I loved the sheep.  From that point of view, the festival was a success.  However, I was a tad surprised that there actually wasn’t much of a ‘festival’ atmosphere.  There was one giant tent where people could eat some food which was prepared in another tent – and there was some live traditional music.  But there were no stands selling anything other than a few types of food and drink.  That’s not a problem, but I was surprised that there also wasn’t, say, a stand selling goods made of the Blacknose wool, or other tat which eager folk like me would buy… you know, like the Swiss Trauffer toys… (which I bought in a tourist shop in Zermatt instead).  As I say, it’s not a problem, but you feel that this event has more potential for drawing in the crowds by really celebrating their products, and hopefully the organisers will become more ambitious in the next few years, and help the event grow.

Further Information

There wasn’t a lot of information out there about the festival, and basically the Zermatt site had the most: www.zermatt.ch

If you can’t wait until next September to get your fill of sheep, between June and October you can see them grazing in their natural environment in the pastures around Zermatt.  In fact, you might see them – as we did – from the gondola on the way to the Matterhorn.

In winter, the sheep are brought nearer town, and you can visit a farm on Wednesdays, when the owners explain the whole process of looking after these sheep and give you a chance to taste them too: www.julen.ch.  We didn’t do this, but I think next time we’re in Zermatt we’ll definitely pop along.

How To Get There

In 2019, the festival was held in a patch of land that’s just up from the beginning of the gondola ride to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.  You can easily walk there from anywhere in town or pop on a electric taxi.

 

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