The Descending of the Cattle: An Ancient Event in the Alps
Why Do Cows Descend the Mountains?
As summer is nearing to an end, and as it slowly shifts to the autumn months – alpine villages experience an extraordinary event that happens every year; transhumance or also known as “crossing ground”. It is a form of ‘nomadism’ in which refers to the seasonal movement of livestock, whereby farmers move their animals from higher pastures to lower pastures when summer shifts to the colder months. The reason for this is to move to better, more fertile fields for the livestock to enjoy. Currently, Italy is awaiting UNESCO’s response to list it as ‘intangible cultural heritage’ (predicted to be next month), this will give the practice an established cultural status. Here at our Alpine Hotel, we know of this tradition and understand that this practice is still being done nearby our hotel, and since the season for transhumance is coming, we thought that it would be an interesting article to write about!
“An ancient tradition”
Early summer, the farmers take the animals up into the mountains to take advantage of the freshly grown grass up in the Alps. The quality of the plantation and pasture is excellent and highly beneficial for the animal. As you know, depending on what the cow consumes, it can affect the quality of meat and dairy product. During this time, the cows are milked and produce famous Alpine Cheese like Valtellina Casera, Teleggio, Bagoss and more. These cheeses will be then used for delicious dishes such as Pizzoccheri and Sciatt - iconic Valtellina dishes. But once the supply of good grass has depleted, the farmers decide it’s time to take the livestock back to the lower ground and allow them to eat the autumn growth.
The transhumance tradition is ancient – it has been done for centuries by many alpine farmers. In the past, paths have been created called the ‘tratturi’. Amazingly, these paths are dated to be from pre-roman ages and have been further developed by the Romans due to its importance to the economy. Today, these paths are still used by many herders to bring their animals down. The custom of transhumance is particularly prevalent in Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Campania and Basilicata regions of Italy, with hundreds of people looking forward to watching the cattle and sheep descend from the mountains. In the Lombardy region, where our hotel Albergo Miramonti is located, it is also a widespread tradition that happens yearly. Though the culture is slowly disappearing, there are a handful of herders that are dedicated to keeping the practice alive. Not only that, but thanks to agricultural tourism, transhumance has become quite a popular event to watch from people all over Italy and outside Italy.
What to Expect?
If you haven’t seen transhumance happen, you would be pleasantly surprised about how organised the livestock walk down the organised paths – it is a truly magnificent sight. Sometimes, the cows are adorned with the most colourful neckpieces and headdresses attached with bright-coloured flowers and greens. It looks like a welcome party, celebrating the fact the cows and herds of sheep are returning home from the Alps. Just yesterday (1st September), there was a transhumance event celebrated in the nearby the Aprica Resort in the village. The herds would go down the mountain and parade through the town.
For more interesting trivia about the Alps and Northern Italy, read the blog: