Autumn in Europe, A time for Festivals

Fall Festivals In Europe

Autumn is a time of celebrations in many European countries. The air is cool, the landscape turns golden and traditional harvest festivals take place throughout countries such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In Alpine regions, there are also festivals when cattle are herded from mountain pastures down to the valleys.

fall in austria
Fall Is A Wonderful Time To Visit Austria, Germany And Switzerland

During September and October in the alpine regions of Europe, such as the Tyrol, Bavaria, and the Engadine region of Switzerland, there is a major event called Almabtrieb. A flower adorned cow parade, if you will. Whole villages and hundreds of visitors gather to take part in this unusual celebration. They watch as families lead their cattle from the high alpine pastures where they’ve grazed all summer back down to the valleys before the first snow.

almabtrieb parade
Crown Cows Lead The Almabtrieb Parade

The cows are decorated with garlands and big cow bells and one or more are designated as the leads. Called crown cows, they wear an elaborate crown that is handmade from local flowers, fir and spruce branches, wood shavings, feathers and brightly colored ribbons. Sometimes the farmer’s wives all gather together to work on the ornate headdresses as they can take many days of meticulous work to create. The only time farmers don’t decorate their herd is when a fatal accident has occurred during the summer on the mountain or if there has been a tragic loss in the farmer’s family. Even though the cows are still being brought down, most of the festivals this year have been cancelled because of Covid-19. The traditional cattle drive festival is an unforgettable spectacle and hopefully they all will return next year.

Locals wear their traditional dirndl’s and lederhosen and line the road leading through town waiting for the colorful Almabtrieb procession to arrive. You hear the cow bells grow louder and louder as they approach. Once in the village, everyone joins in the celebration with live music and folk dancing. Most villages have beer tents and food stalls where you can taste cheese and meats from the farmers directly.

Typically, the fall harvest festivals mark the end of the harvest season. Local farmers have brought in their last crop of hay, harvested their vineyards and orchards, their farm’s grain, vegetables have been picked and wood has been cut and stored for the long winter ahead.

Fruits have been made into jams and schnapps, vegetables have been canned, cheese has been aged and sausages and bacon have been cured. It is now time to take their produce and handmade crafts to be sold at the farmers market stalls.

The SalzburgLand region of Austria is one of our favorites when it comes to the harvest celebrations. Villages in this region have the most artistically designed displays of hay figures and decorations unlike any we have seen. The villages celebrate with large processions of classic tractors and horse drawn wagons carrying large creations all made of hay. The festivals include performances from marching bands and local clubs, horse mounted whip cracking clubs.

The festivals are a time for the villagers to socialize. Everyone wears their typical regional costume and enjoy parades that often end at the town church where the altar is decorated with bundles of wheat, vegetables and fruit to give thanks for a good year. Later everyone gathers together and there is country fair atmosphere with traditional music and folk dancing. There are booths featuring homemade specialties, cheese and schnapps tastings as well as traditional handicraft exhibits.

Austrian lunch of alpine cheese and smoked meats
Austrian Lunch Of Alpine Cheese And Smoked Meats

There are no shortage of fall festivals and celebrations to attend in Europe, from the world famous Octoberfest to wine and cider festivals, pumpkin and apple festivals, music and opera, even hiking festivals. Should you happen to be in the rural areas of Austria, Germany or Switzerland next year during the fall, keep an eye out for information about upcoming festivals as there are hundreds of them held in the small towns and villages. Just think about how fun it would be to sit at a large outdoor table filled with locals enjoying a wonderful mountain panorama. Order a cold beer and a lunch of alpine cheese, homemade farmer’s bread and butter and a varieties of pork and game from the region. Watch as old and young enjoy traditional folk music and dancing, it is a fun way to experience local customs at their best. At the end of the day you will realize why autumn harvest time is still celebrated in Europe.  

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I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

46 thoughts on “Autumn in Europe, A time for Festivals

  1. Since we are not traveling, I have to be content with local color! All festivals, fairs, etc. canceled here this year which has made opportunity to get out and about so different.

  2. Your pictures are always so much fun! You have some really great ones. And some great memories, too. Delightful post — thanks.

  3. I would love to see an Almabtrieb Parade one day. I enjoy watching the Schuhplattler dance, where they slap the soles of their shoes, and included it in my Amanda on the Danube book. Great colourful photos!

  4. This time of year is always fun with the many festivals locally and abroad. I love seeing the history and culture of the places you’ve visited. From the food to the costumes and music, it’s a wonderful way to spend a day!

  5. Your pictures are always so phenomenal! I used to go to Munich every other year for Octoberfest, and I love that time of year in that area of the world. And each year, I’d make a side-trip to someplace near-ish … Salzburg, Vienna, or the like. But I haven’t seen half of the charming things you have.

  6. Karen,
    What another timely post while my husband and I continue on our ‘armchair travel’ journey. Because it is October and because my husband has a lot of German blood flowing through his veins, I splurged and bought Nuremberg sausages, German mustard, German farmers’ bread, German soft cheese, spaetzle, and more. They arrived yesterday and now I’m planning our ‘mini’ in-home Octoberfest. Time cannot fly fast enough for us so that we can return to Bavaria and Austria again. I’d love to experience this particular festival that you featured. I remember seeing the neatly stacked firewood bins on the sides of houses when we visited Oberammergau. It’s such a picturesque place on the planet!
    Thank you for such a delightful post!

  7. Oh Karen! Your pictures were amazing! These European fall festivals look like so much fun. They must be heart sick that many are canceled. You are bringing back fond memories of when we were in Oberammergau, Germany and seeing those neatly stacked wood piles. I look forward to going to Bavaria again and would love to go in the Fall so I could go to these festivals.

    Once again… amazing photography my friend!
    Happy Sunday!

  8. What lovely photos you have Karen! So sad that so many traditions have been restricted this year and the tourists have been unable to visit. Hopefully next year will be back to normal!

  9. Thank you for a wonderful morning smile and a lot of memories. Your photo journey is so detailed and evocative – you really have managed to take us ‘there’ most enjoyably ! Except for the actual harvest festivals, which methinks are held in every European country, much shown on the photos can be seen by the lucky visitor throughput the year. For decades I had to be in Germany almost every year albeit often in less romantic areas like the Ruhr-gebiet and Hannover for the huge ‘Messe’. They were held in the spring months . . . so my journey always took place twixt April and June . . . with oft undependable weather. But I do remember my childhood refugee years .in the Black Forest and surrounds where one wondered whether a male ever wore anything but Lederhosen . . . 🙂 !

  10. Karen, I enjoyed your beautiful photos of the charming festivals! Aren’t we glad to have memories of our travels, with hopes we will return?! I have been to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland but not during festival season. Thanks for sharing, it was a treat!

  11. That looks amazing – it’s good to keep those traditions alive.
    I’m sure I’d thoroughly enjoy the cheese and schnapps tasting, after watching all those cows go by.

  12. Karen,
    Stunning colours and the captures as usual are so brilliant. Cow parade and walks have been an amusement in india since childhood I have seen them, but I’m equally amused the alps have similar customs and traditions and it goes to say how culture brings diverse people so close. I’m happy you have the fond memories of the fall festivals, true there is never shortage of festivals and food to celebrate life. Great post Karen.

  13. What a joy filled colourful post. Thanks for the beautiful virtual tour and for reminding me of all the festivities still to be enjoyed within the world.

  14. Love your vivid photos Karen. How special to travel there and take in the beauty. The fall festivals look amazing and that Austrian Lunch Of Alpine Cheese And Smoked Meats looks so delicious. A pleasure seeing this through your eyes.

  15. Oh, Karen – these photos tug at my heart! I have never been to this region in the fall, only in the summer and winter. Though magical in all seasons, autumn looks particularly beautiful. Thanks for sharing this – this is how we are traveling for the time being… through wonderful writers like you!

  16. A wonderful journey you’ve taken us on in this post. I also have never made it to the area in the fall but would love to. Perhaps one day I can watch the cows parade through the villages.

  17. What a beautiful post!!….this post makes me “remember”….but I will use the Spanish word “recordar” wich in its latin roots means re (repeat) cordis (heart)….recordar is to pass again through the heart….and all the memories of my trips to Europe have passed through my heart today after reading your post!….Thanks…..Abrazotes, Marcela

  18. Karen, I’m not one who enjoys attending festivals (and I hate parades!), but I enjoy seeing the photos and reading about traditions around the world. Love those photos of the cows coming down from the high mountain pastures. Beautiful!

  19. We feel like we are right there with you1 Love your photos. It’ s like traveling through your eyes, so much fun! Harvest time is my favorite time of the year. Love the changing colors and fall foods. Stay well and take care!

  20. What a lovely post. Although we have travelled through Europe many times, and during the Fall, we have never witnessed any festivals! Just bad timing, I guess. Sadly, we’re already speculating that we won’t likely travel anywhere until late 2021 but more than likely it’ll be 2022!

  21. Nice that they are still so close to nature, and can find simple pleasure in the life that they live. 🙂 🙂 I have no idea how Austria has been affected by the pandemic but I suspect that in the countryside little changes. Sadly our festivals are all cancelled. Who knows when wholehearted celebration will be back.

  22. Our two next overseas trips will be Greece, then Austria/Germany. We got a taste of Germany last summer, but with German heritage in both of our families, we’re dying to get there. Sigh. At least we have time to plan. I always love your travel posts 🙂

  23. Thank you for another beautiful post! The fall is a special time for those countries. We got a taste of those festivities when we traveled to Switzerland back in 2000 – 2004. My husband worked in Europe for many years and I was lucky to travel often with our children and stay for weeks at a time. Your posts are so sentimental to me, brings back wonderful memories. …thanks again for a delightful post!

  24. The cows in all their finery are just too great! I love seeing these joyous images, especially during this time. It makes me have something to look forward to when life gets back to normal.

  25. It’s always so much fun to see how different countries celebrate throughout the year, Karen, so this was such a special treat. I loved hearing how the festival brings the people in the village together and watching the cow in the streets was super cool too. It all looks like so much fun! Hope you’ve had the best week, CoCo

  26. We absolutely love European festivals, but we haven’t had the opportunity to experience the fall Harvest Festivals yet. I say yet as these are on my list for sure. It sounds like an awesome way to celebrate the season, and I know I would be all in – plus, seeing the crown cows march through the streets would be an experience of a lifetime! Now we just need life to return to normal…

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