Experience a traditional Almabtrieb in Austria. The coming home of the cows from the alpine meadows is celebrated with colors, music, dance and more.
I share our BEST Almabtriebe in Austria, useful info and what to expect in this guide.
📕 What is the Almabtrieb?
The Almabtrieb is an age-old end of the summer traditions from the Austrian alps, and nearby regions, where cattle move from the mountains back to the valleys.
The Almabtrieb seasonal migratory practice is also known as transhumant, cattle drive, cattle procession, fall, or autumn cow train or the cows’ coming home festival.
Its purpose is manifold and goes beyond beautifully decorated cows marching along mountain roads. I will explain this here better.
Essentially, cows are the main choice of cattle in the Austrian alps, but farmers in the west in Tyrol near Switzerland also hold sheep and goats.
Farmers are the driving force of every mountain village and most locals are farmers, if they are not at least related to one.
Our cows feast on the lush green fields in the valleys to give the best milk. This milk is also known as Heumilch (translated hay milk), and it means that the cows have been feasting on fresh grass and hay only.
During the hotter months of the year, the cows are taken up to the mountains to eat the better and more nutritious grass grown on higher altitude meadows. The cows are left to graze freely in set areas known as Almen in Austrian-German.
An Alm is a cow grazing ground and also a hut with a stable, where the cows are taken care off in the summer. An Alm can also be a hut in the mountains where cheese can be prepared, or it’s also the definition of a small restaurant, where hikers rest to enjoy a cold plate of cheese and cured meats.
So, from mid May or beginning/mid-June to the end of September, you will find all cows enjoying greener high alpine pastures at altitudes above 1000 meters if you go on a hike.
In older times, cows were taken to the Alms walking in May or June. This would be known as Almauftrieb (Alm drive upwards). Today, this is not common anymore and cows are taken up by tractor trailer.
By the end of the summer, end of September, cows are taken down from the mountains and this is known as Almabtrieb (Alm drive downwards).
Again, the Almabtrieb was more common in the older days, many farmers stopped doing this due to the elaborate practice, the large workload involved and attacks from animal rights activists.
The few farmers that still take part in this age-old, UNESCO World Heritage intangible heritage protected tradition, walk with their cows for miles from dawn to dusk back home.
The cows wear richly decorated flower headdresses, with each region, district, and farmer’s house owning a style of their own. Cows and farmers enter the village and receive a warm welcome from the onlookers, while the cow bells add to the atmosphere.
This is what people come to see, the traditional cattle drive, the Almabtrieb of the alps.
Here is a Video that we took most recently in Hopfgarten in 2022.
🐮 What to expect?
Today the cattle drives have been turned into parades with traditional festivals of some sort. Locals and guests from all over the world come to see the last remaining Almabtriebe in Austria.
Back in the 90s you could just watch a cattle drive from your balcony, and it was just the most normal thing ever with locals dressed in their day to – day work wear.
Tourism initiatives are trying to keep the tradition alive so that you can experience these unique celebrations for yourself.
The Almabtrieb is always held in the last 2 weeks of September on a Saturday in villages, usually around the change of the seasons and the 23rd of September.
There is no set time for the livestock parades to start because the cows come walking down with big bells on their necks and heavy headgear from the mountains. The first cows arrive at around noon at the center of the village and from there they move on to their farm.
Around the village center you can expect to see a farmer’s market, open air seating bench arrangements and various stalls selling local foods such as Germkiachal (unsweetened yeast “doughnuts”) Brodakrapfen (Cheese filled fried pockets).
Some stalls offer games just like you would see at fall harvest festivals (i.e., Oktoberfest) in Bavaria, and there is always live music in the form of a brass band too and plenty of beer.
You might spot two girls from the brass band offering Schnapps too, and occasionally, they are free or a shot of Schnapps can cost €1-2.
Many locals wear a Dirndl dress or Lederhosen (leather pants) but there are many locals that don’t wear Trachten (local traditional clothing), so you can join the fun by wearing regular clothes too.
The roads are blocked off for the cows, and the valleys usually only offer one main road to get around.
I recommend you get there walking or with a tourist bus shuttle. Visitors staying in local hotels and BNBs get a Guest card and with that, a way to access a free shuttle bus to get around.
You can also come around 10-11 am to the village, and you will still find a spot to park your car before the roads are closed down.
The last option is to come by train. Unfortunately, not all villages are accessible by train, but the ones that are, have a centrally located train station.
🧭 Where to see an Almabtrieb?
The most beautiful Almabtriebe are with richly decorated flower headgear and cows in the region of Tyrol and Vorarlberg in Austria.
The Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, and Upper Austria region also offer lovely Almabtriebe, but the customs are different and so is the appearance of the headgear.
The Almabtrieb Festivals in regions close to Tyrol in other countries, such as South Tyrol in Italy and Bavaria in Germany, resemble more those seen in Tyrol.
A few selected villages organize the most vivid and spectacular cattle drives in Tyrol, and they are all held on the same day. It’s always a Saturday, at the end of September, 1–2 weeks just before October.
The most accessible and all over best Almabtriebe are held in an area in the eastern parts of Tyrol, between Kitzbühel, Kufstein and Jenbach. The cows carry large bells, with traditional stitched leather bands.
Hopfgarten and Brixental
Both Hopfgarten and Brixental are located side by side in the Kitzbühel district. Brixental organizes an Almabtrieb 1–2 weeks before Hopfgarten.
In this area, the headgear is made of branches and tree parts, that are then decorated with colorful paper ribbons and field flowers.
The main celebration is held in Hopfgarten. The cows walk down from the high altitude Kelchsau (aka Kelchsa) with some cows moving on to the neighboring village Itter. This Almabtrieb is known as one of the largest in the region.
Because of the cattle size and movement area, it’s impossible to see them all. I recommend that you hang out in the Hopfgarten village to see the prettiest of the lot. OR chose to stand at the Kelchsau road side because they all come down from here and then split up to go to their farms.
My great-grandfather used to walk for a whole day from their high pastures Alm in Jochberg (near Kitzbühel) over Hopfgarten to the nearby ancestral home in Bad Häring with the cows, which was a whooping 28 miles (ca. 45 km) or 10-hour walk.
The Wildschönau is a valley known for its pristine beauty and secluded from other areas. More than 500 cows with local farmers come from the mountain pastures wandering down the mountains to the village of Auffach and Niederau.
Most cows are richly decorated and follow a color theme, and the entrance to the village comes with a loud fanfare and applause. An artisanal market is a lovely addition to the experience of this high altitude Almabtrieb.
This valley has only one main road, so plan to hang out a while at the village with your car parked because you would rather not get stuck in the traffic when the cows are taking over the valley.
Reith bei Alpbach
The Alpbach valley is also known for one of the most beautiful villages in Austria, the village of Alpbach.
Small pine trees serve as a headgear for the cows, which are then individually decorated with real and paper flowers such as sunflowers.
The cow parade ends at Reith im Alpbachtal, which is the gateway to the valley. Here you can take part in the parish festival with a craft market, traditional food and a lot of beer and schnapps.
More great Almabtriebe Locations:
Each place offers a different ambiance and traditional Almabtrieb experience. The dates are usually fixed at the beginning of summer, but changes are possible. I recommend checking in with the local tourism department for the exact dates.
- St.Martin bei Lofer (Salzburg) – Located in the peaceful pristine Saalachtal next to Tyrol and Bavaria, this Almabtrieb is still very traditional. The most milk giving cow is the lead cow and gets to have the largest bell and golden tips on her horns. Real flowers are used here with colored wood shavings to decorate the headgear.
- Söll (Tyrol) – The Almabtrieb is celebrated already a week before the actual parade. The farmers prepare for days the intricate head decorations and the village offers farmer’s markets and brass band celebrations before the actual parade of the cows.
- Kössen (Tyrol) – A classic Almabtrieb in a lovely village next to the Bavarian border.
- Kufstein (Tyrol) – The cattle drive comes with a separate Almabtrieb celebration for the local Haflinger horse breed at the beginning of September.
- Pertisau am Achensee lake (Tyrol) – The cows also show catholic pictures of saints on their headgear.
- Tarrenz bei Imst (Tyrol) – This is a sheep and lamb drive with over 1000 animals coming together in a sea of sheep.
- Tux im Zillertal (Tyrol) – Another sheep Almabtrieb but this one traditionally includes Haflinger (local horse breed) ponies. The cow Almabtrieb is held in Mayrhofen.
- Montafon (Vorarlberg) – In this region they call the cattle drives Alpabtrieb. Cows are decorated with medicinal mountain plants such as juniper and rosemary.
I haven’t seen an Almabtrieb yet in Carinthia (Kärnten), Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) and in Styria (Steiermark), so I can’t tell you yet how those are.
Can I follow or join an Almabtrieb parade?
Theoretically yes, but I don’t recommend it because it will piss off the farmers, and it’s not something any of the locals would ever do. It will also stress the cows, especially the smaller ones and the farmers already have a lot to deal with on that day.
What’s the farmer’s routine for the Almabtrieb?
The cows are milked the night before and the headgear with bells are prepared for the next day. The night before the downward cattle drive is known as the Gru-Nacht (Gru-night). The farmers get up at about 3-4 am to set up every single cow with the decoration. Each family has about 20 cows on average and about 4–5 people, with children included, that help the cows move on the way down. Sticks are used to direct the cows and the usual cow whisper talk. The cattle walk starts at dawn and most reach the next main village at noon time, from where they will continue to the nearby farms.
Why is Almabtrieb celebrated?
The Almabtrieb cattle drive was first mentioned over 400 years ago and is part of the intangible traditions of the regions. Yet, it is widely believed that its roots may have been a pre-christian tradition. The large bells are to create noise and the colorful large head decorations shall ward off evil and bring the cows safely back to their home. It is also a way for the farmers to celebrate a successful accident-free summer, and so as a symbol of thanks, the cows are given the highest honor on that day. Most cows enjoy the extra attention on that day and walk proudly down back home.
What does it mean when cows are not decorated or in black headgear?
Depending on the region, cows are either not decorated or they wear a black or purple flower headgear if a farmer’s family member or a cow has died that year.
How is the Almabtrieb called in other regions?
In Bavaria, they also say Almabtrieb except in the Allgäu close to the Austrian border, the locals call the cattle drive Viehscheid over there. In neighboring South Tyrol in Italy, they say Almabtrieb and Kiakema (literal translation cows are coming). Nearby Swiss districts call it Alpabzug (literal translation to get away from the alps). In places such as Lichtenstein, they are called Alpabfahrt (literal translation drive off the alps).
Where is Almabtrieb celebrated?
The Almabtrieb is celebrated mainly in the Austrian alpine regions (Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Salzburg, Carinthia, Styria, Upper Austria). It is also celebrated in South Tyrol (northern Italy), Bavaria (southern Germany), Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
What is the meaning of Almabtrieb?
Almabtrieb means downward cattle drive.
💡 Almabtrieb Austrian German to English Vocabulary
Here is a summary of all the foreign words that you may come across at a local Austrian Almabtrieb. I have a guide for Austrian food terms.