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Alpine Descent in Brigels/Breil
Getting Up Close with Living Traditions in Graubünden

Aline descent in Brigels - cows on the catwalk

A major celebration marks the end of the pasture period in Breil/ Brigels each year in mid-September with an "Alpabzug" - the Alpine descent from the mountain pasture. It is an important day for the local farmers, and has evolved over the years into a well-known event.

The villagers are preparing to greet the cows in the village. The women have already prepared the flower decorations on the day before. Around 9am the 700 cows from 5 pastures (Alp Tsch├ęgn-Dadens, Alp Nova, Alp Rubi, Alp Quader, Alp Tschégn-Dado) begin their descent from the Alps.

Aline descent in Brigels - the women preparing the flower decorations for the cows
Aline descent in Brigels - beautifully floral arrangements
Aline descent in Brigels - a beautifully crafted wreath for the cows

The descent is very, very fast and sometimes dangerous because the cows feel that they are coming home, so they are very excited and are running fast. Once they arrive in the lowlands, they stop at the edge of the village, where they get ready for the parade.

Aline descent in Brigels - The cows descending from the alpine pastures
Aline descent in Brigels - The coming home of the cows
Aline descent in Brigels - the herdsmen with its flock
Aline descent in Brigels - A proud young farmer in the making

The same women who made the floral decorations the day before now bind them on the cows' heads and around their bellies.

Aline descent in Brigels - putting on the head dress
Aline descent in Brigels - ready for the show
Aline descent in Brigels - The cow that gave the most milk gets the most elaborate head dress
Aline descent in Brigels - an elaborate head dress for the best cow

The cow that has given the most milk during the summer - Miseriera - and the cow which became the matriarch over the summer - la Pugnera - lead the Alpine descent, accompanied by the cowherd. They also get the most beautiful flower decorations.

Aline descent in Brigels - ready for the parade
Aline descent in Brigels - The parade through the Brigels
Aline descent in Brigels - spectators enjoy the cattle drive

The beautifully decorated animals walk in front of the many spectators to the sound of their neck bells and traditional Alphorn music. They arrive in a fixed order at the meadow "Plaun Rueun".

Aline descent in Brigels - Alphorn blowers
Aline descent in Brigels - having fun is essential
Aline descent in Brigels - An herdsman in his finery
Aline descent in Brigels - the fair ground

There the party is in full swing: people enjoy the local home-made specialties and grilled sausages, children entertain themselves in the straw castle and in the petting zoo.

Aline descent in Brigels - The party is in full swing
Aline descent in Brigels - sweet stuff - yum
Aline descent in Brigels - children having fun in the straw castle
Aline descent in Brigels - even the smalles ones enjoy themselves

The hard work of humans and animals during the Alpine season is celebrated by inviting the cowherds of the 5 pastures onto the stage to congratulating them.

Aline descent in Brigels - giving thanks to the herdsmen
Aline descent in Brigels - the herdsmen on stage
Aline descent in Brigels - A herdsmen family happy after all went well on the Alp

Those who love authentic customs and traditions and are staying in Graubünden during mid-September should not miss the Alpine descent in Brigels - the "Scargada a Breil" in Rumantsch.

Aline descent in Brigels - An pensive old farmer
Aline descent in Brigels - happy and content farmers
Aline descent in Brigels - Grandpa with his grandchild

Brigels is a place that impressed me from the first moment. Farmers work from dawn to dusk, preserve traditions, are cheerful, hospitable and never complain about anything. They are very proud that their community is so united when it comes to the organization of such events.

Aline descent in Brigels - Love is in the air
Aline descent in Brigels - Love is in the air

They are very proud that the farmers can cooperate with each other to put on such a spectacular event. I am honoured and grateful to have been part of the event.

If you go

  • Brigels/Breil lies in the Surselva, the Rumantsch speaking part of the Canton Graubünden;
  • Reachable by train and bus from Chur via Tavanasa in just over one hour; from Zürich and St. Gallen in 2 hours and 50 minutes; from Lucerne and Bern in approximately 3 hours and 50 minutes;
  • Hotels in Brigels.
Ruxi Balea

Pictures and text: Ruxi Balea

Ruxi is a professional photographer based in Zürich but works pretty much everywhere she's needed. She uses an eclectic mix of genres to achieve her goal: to reveal everyday life in an interesting way and tell a story through photography.

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