The désalpes across the region are country-side spectacles that are difficult to grow tired of. Over the years some have changed, not only because things are apt to change but also because the towns and villages that have traditionally hosted them have realized that they offer opportunities to turn a few pennies by selling local produce and sometimes not such local produce. Nothing wrong with that, of course, the désalpes are a living tradition and need to be kept alive for future generations. Lately, though, some of them have become just a tad too commercial.
Crans-Montana’s désalpe is not one of these. The delight on the faces of farmers and townsfolk alike as the farmers and their livestock made their way through the town was genuine and palpable. These were friends and families getting together and anticipating time together in the winter after a tough summer working up in the alpine pastures.
There were horses, black Herens cows – the cow-fighting breed, which certainly had to be kept vigorously in line by farmhands – brown Simmenthals with their calves, and a huge herd of glossy goats, who were more interested in munching the foliage in the blooming flower boxes along the route.
Each of the six participating alpages chose a different theme for its decorated tractor, whether winnowing the wheat from the chaff or grilling raclette, which was handed out to spectators, alongside wine from another farm and whey, which was, well … different. All cows had a number chalked on their side, making it possible to identify them by name, according to the event programme. This year, the most popular name is Mandoline. The “queens” were also named: Ceres was the milk queen 2013-2014 and Tulipe the queen of queens 2014!
The route ended in a big car park, with grass nearby for the cattle to graze on as the party began. Local folk musicians and traditional dancers on a makeshift stage entertained the assembled crowd. Each farm had a stall selling the raclette cheese it had made during the summer, either to eat then and there with a spud and pickles or “to go” as the whole wheel. One farmer told Le News that over the summer she makes 1,200 cheeses, each weighing about six kilos. Washed down with local wine (or a particularly acceptable local beer), the cheese has an unbeatable flavour – a view shared by a couple of hundred locals, who crowded the stands five deep. The surprisingly few visitors were made most welcome, but the most striking thing about the whole day was that this was a local affair, celebrating much more than the annual descent from the alpages. This was very much authentic Valaisian life.
There are still a few désalpes to come. Do check the times, though, as they are not always reliable: 27 September: Charbonnières, Charmey, Schwarzsee and St Cergue, all from 9h00; 4 October: Semsales, from 7h00.