Almabtrieb 2019

There is an annual event here in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (basically in the alps) that came from humble origins and has turned into a large festival. There are several throughout a couple week time period, in different locations, all involving cows.

The Almabtrieb is the cattle drive from the alpine pastures to the valley barns. During the summer months the cattle herd will feed on pastures in the alpine regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. When Autumn starts to come around there is one drive for each area of towns to bring the cattle down to the valleys and back to the barns of their farms. Over time, these cattle drives have turned into large festivals, with the cows being “dressed” in wreaths and crowns, and the towns and villages coming out for a grand party. During the festival (which involves a lot of craft booths, drinking, food, and music), the cows are herded right through the center streets for all to see. They typically have large bells to signal their entrance and at the one we went to, they used the fire department bell to signal movement, so there is no chance of missing the cows.

I’m going to breakdown our experience and then I’m going to give a couple of tips that I found helpful when we went in case you get a chance to go…

This year we got to experience an Almabtrieb in a little town called Reith Im Alpbachtal in Austria. It’s about a 3-hour drive for us that is really pretty. Austria itself is a gorgeous country, it’s on my favorite spots we’ve been. In terms of the festival itself, there was a lot! It was much bigger than I was expecting with a lot more people. The streets are blocked off (obviously) and lined on each side with booths full of small businesses, food, and drinks.

The cows themselves are adorned with crowns and bells at the start of the drive and then paraded through the street.

I don’t think that this happens at every Almabtrieb ( I know of one person who has attended one where they didn’t “dress the cow” as they call it), but I think it is at most of them. There isn’t any rope or barrier, so you will actually be right next to the cow as it walks down. The herders walk alongside the cows to make sure nothing happens and to keep the cows moving along.

Once the cattle have been through the streets you may be able to go see them in the pasture. I would encourage you to do this as they are able to rest and the bells no longer sound obnoxious in the close confines of the streets, but rather like beautiful wind chimes in the mountains.

This particular festival had several forms of entertainment between these street performers, a whip performance, and different bands that alternated throughout the festival and throughout the day.

We stopped and bought cowbells, food, and did a little wood project sawing off our own souvenir.

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My tips/things I learned:

  • Staying the night isn’t essential. Obviously this tip really only applies to those who are in our area of Bavaria/Germany or if you are going to be traveling through the area. We are early risers as it is, and I didn’t find getting up a little bit earlier to be that bad. I also didn’t see that it was so bad of a drive for a trip. If you want to stay in the area for longer you certainly can, but I didn’t find it necessary just for the festival.
  • Be prepared for crowds at just about any Almabtrieb you go to. This has turned into quite a tourist spot and a full-on festival, so there will be a crowd. I found it to be fairly manageable, although I felt a little bit better that we went as a group rather than just me with both boys by myself.
  • Bring Euro. Most festivals here in Europe do not take cards, so Euro is essential. How much will depend on what all you want to get, but I would definitely bring more than you would think you would need. The booths are full of local hand-crafted items (my favorite way of shopping) and all of the food and drinks are delicious.
  • Arrive a little early to scope everything out and get into the festival mood. The festival that we went to opened at 10AM, but the cows were not to come through until about 12PM. WE used the couple hours to do a little shopping, let the kids run that pent up car ride energy off, and find the best place to sit once the first alarm sounded. There are actually several groups of cattle that come through, so if you miss the first round it doesn’t mean you won’t see any. We actually ended up seeing two or three herds come through by the time we headed to the pasture ourselves. They come through in bursts throughout the afternoon so you can eat, or shop in between as well or just enjoy the ambiance of the festival.

Overall, we had so much fun and I would honestly recommend that anyone and everyone attend. It is such a cool cultural thing to experience and the kids still haven’t stopped talking about it. So, if you’re visiting around this time of year (any time mid-September to early October) make sure to look up the Almabtrieb schedule.

Austria – A Long Weekend

We had a little break over the Memorial Day Weekend and took a long weekend away to the Austrian Alps (I just love to say Austrian Alps because let’s be honest- they are beautiful and I have yet to visit the Swiss Alps). We had a plan of going to The Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, which was our main goal of this trip, and then spending a little time in Salzburg and just relaxing. A couple days before we left we found out that The Eagle’s Nest was still actually closed due to weather, so that went out the window, BUT I was determined to find other things to do and still have a fun, relaxing time.

I’ll be breaking down our full weekend in this blog post for you and then I’ll be doing a much abridged tips/tricks post later on. I don’t have too many tips, but I’ll share what I do have in that post.

After a relatively short, easy drive (about 3.5 hours) on Friday we reached our AirBnB in the mountains of Austria. We’ve (aka my husband) have been really nailing booking solid AirBnB’s for these trips. It’s definitely been the way to go as we got to stay in the mountains in a full apartment with a stunning view.

The owners are great as well, getting us registered in the system (a requirement), giving us some train tips, and recommending a lot of things for us to do near the different spots we were already planning on going. We had a lovely dinner off of the main street in one of the small towns, stopped at a grocery to pick up a couple things and settled in for the night.

Our first full day we spent down in Berchtesgaden. Since we weren’t able to go to The Eagle’s Nest, it opened up our day a little bit more to do a couple other things. We started off at the Salt Mines, or Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden.

This was one of those fun attractions that really allows you to immerse yourself and puts a topic that may be interesting, but not that interesting in a fun interactive way. We had to wear miner’s outfits (which was actually a good thing as it did get chilly in a comfortable way), rode a little mine “train” down to the entrance all before the tour even really began. The train drops you off at the “top” of the mine, then you ride several different “options” throughout the mine. Once off the train there is a brief introduction and then a short slide down to a deeper section. Each slide/train does have a walking option, but I would recommend doing the slides and such. They are easy and a lot of fun! There is also a little ferry ride during the tour over the water used in the mines, with a lightshow and music. The entire tour lasted about an hour to an hour and a half. We ate lunch at the little bistro attached to the salt mines and soaked up the start of afternoon sunshine.

The rest of the day we spent wandering the streets of Berchtesgaden. We wanted to head in to their castle, but it is closed on Saturday. Instead we hiked through the streets, thinking of what it all must have been like at the height of World War 2. We stopped into a couple of churches, which is kind of becoming a staple on all of these trips that we are taking, as well as the local cemetery. It is so absolutely beautiful there and we had fun just strolling along. The boys enjoyed walking through the streets as well. Our final stop was for dinner, which we had at Gasthof zum Neuhaus.

Our second day we rose early (thanks boys who woke with sunrise) and caught an “early” train in to Salzburg. Salzburg is known for so many things, The Sound of Music, Mozart, The Arts, The Alps, the list goes on. First off, I’ll say the beauty of Salzburg is incredible. It is just mother nature at her finest in every part. I particularly love that the town was built with the mountains and river in mind. They didn’t change any of the beauty of nature, but rather enhanced it with the churches, squares, and fortresses.

We decided to work from the farthest highest point that we wanted to go to back to the train station we needed at the end of the day. So that meant a hefty hike/climb up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg. This is an 11 century fortress that was actually built and maintained by Prince-Archbishops. This fortress maintains status as one of the largest medieval castle in Europe. I will say- this was a hefty trek. It is all uphill (obviously) and is a combination of pathway and stairs. There is a funicular that goes both all the way up and back down- we didn’t know this until after we had taken it down. BUT the trek was well worth it for not only the history of the fortress, but the stunning overlook at the end.

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It was breathtaking to look over Salzburg, the mountains, and the river from one of the highest points (not the highest I don’t think). We had some snacks after the tour and then rode the funicular (which was also a stunning view) back down the mountain.

From the fortress we worked our way through the main square, and over to the Salzburg Cathedral.

This Cathedral has to be one of the most stunning cathedrals I have yet to see. The detail, the painting, the woodwork, everything- just beautiful. We walked through the Cathedral and then down to the Crypt. Everywhere we looked was just something to be amazed by. Truly a masterpiece.

From this Cathedral we headed over to St. Peter’s so I could live out my Sound of Music Dreams. When we walked in there was a performance going on within one of the area’s so we got to listen to the main song of The Sound of Music as we walked through the square which just added to all of the ambience.

We walked through the square, the cemetery, and the Catacombs (which meant more stairs). The cemetery holds some of the oldest graves we’ve seen as well as graves for some very famous people.

706016795891509037_IMG_4542.jpgOne of the final spots we went to was Mozart’s Birth House. There are two Mozart houses in Salzburg, the first being is Birthplace and the second being his Residence. His birthplace is still the original structure, with a combination of original and replica’s within. The Residence has been fully reconstructed after being destroyed during World War 2. We decided to focus on his Birthplace during this trip as we were starting to run a little low on time (and kids energy). It is truly something incredible to stand in a place that other prodigies lived and just see the lasting impact. This was an incredible experience and one I wont forget anytime soon. I have always loved Mozart’s music and to see his family lineage, and then his children and wife was really neat.

Our final stop before dinner and then the train home was Mirabell Palace. We didn’t go in the palace itself, which is from the 17thcentury, but rather just took a little break in the gardens.

The gardens are absolutely beautiful (as with everything else) and also boast some of the Sound of Music filming spots. We took a quick break, walked along the covered arches, and then peaked into the Marble Hall where musical performances take place. We then had an early dinner at Sternbrau.

Overall this trip was just as incredible as our other May trip and was just what we needed. I definitely plan on going back to Salzburg at some point to do a little shopping (we went on a Sunday when all the stores are closed) and a little more sightseeing. We also do plan on going back to Berchtesgaden for the Eagle’s Nest, the Nature Park Hike and the Castle. When we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

I hope you enjoyed seeing this first trip to Austria through our eyes and our traveling. If you’ve been to Austria, let me know what your favorite part was! If you haven’t, let me know what you’d like to see!

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