5 Swiss Autumn traditions you must experience

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Autumn is here and how can we not talk about it on MSS? Well, you must know the drill by now! 😉 One of the main reasons why we talk about Autumn every year is because Switzerland does autumn like no other, and I’m sure you agree! Lakeside promenades, valleys, mountains and neighborhoods are covered in various hues of brown and yellows, making our Alpine landscape look straight outta a painting! With the change of scenery, Autumn also brings with it the crispness in the air, the exciting feeling of impending holidays, fall hikes and of course, strolls to the Autumn fairs! 

The Swiss take their seasonal traditions and fairs seriously, and Autumn is no exception. Most of Switzerland’s autumn festivals and fairs are related to harvesting activities and grape harvests. There are a plethora of parades, markets, dancing events and show booths all over Switzerland that can get anyone into a party mood. So, in this article, let’s have a look at some Autumn traditional fairs you must visit in Switzerland.

1. Herbstmesse, A Basel Fall Tradition

Herbstmesse is the oldest Swiss Autumn fair which is hosted by Basel every year around the last week of October. Ever since 1471, this has been one of the largest European fairs and it runs for two weeks with activities at 8 locations across the city. Basel is literally  taken over by the festive Autumn spirit with its mix of carnival rides, artisanal offerings, and culinary specialties. From city views from the top of the giant Ferris wheel in Munsterplatz to devouring one’s first Chäsbängel (fondue in a baguette), you just can’t miss Herbstmesse.  Fair hours vary a bit based on the location; but if you can – try to go during the weekdays, and even better during the day if you want to avoid the bigger crowds. 

2. Fêtes des Vendanges, Wine Festivals

Yes, Switzerland does produce Wine. I got to know about it when I moved here. The Grape harvests here are celebrated with a bang via these wine festivals in all of Switzerland’s wine-making regions (western and southern cantons of Switzerland)

As grapes are harvested for the season, the Swiss throw huge celebrations that all wine lovers absolutely love! The booths display the various wine specialties of each region for visitors to taste & select according to their palettes. The most popular spots for wine festivals in Switzerland are the cantons of Neuchâtel, Ticino, Valais and Vaud. So, gear up for some wine tasting and festivities! 

3. Oktoberfest

Yes, you read that right! Switzerland also does its own Oktoberfest. With enormous beers, delicious pretzels, locals and tourists dressed up in traditional Bavarian costumes, we know that the Munich one is class-apart but this one is no less. Afterall, it’s the enthusiasm and festive vibes that count! In Switzerland, you can enjoy the Oktoberfest celebrations in Bern, Lucerne, Zurich and Winterthur. 

4. Ticino Chestnut Festival

If you’re a chestnut lover, the Ticino Chestnut Festival is the place to be! In Switzerland, Chestnut roasting is the jam, and everyone loves to do it in the Autumn. While many cantons produce chestnuts, the most popular is the southern canton of Ticino.

The festival takes place in early October in Ascona wherein extravagant markets are set up accompanied by live music, and, of course, chestnuts. You’d also find skilled chefs preparing chestnuts in a variety of ways, including roasted, in cakes, with honey, in ice cream, and with marmalade. While this festival may sound like a “niche” one to you since it is all about chestnuts, it still attracts international audiences, chestnut lovers and people who want to experience Swiss traditions.

5. Alpabzug: Homecoming of the Cows (Alpine Festivals) 

Well, this one is very unique and I believe everyone should witness it at least once in their lifetime. And yes, you read that right! It involves cows!

Basically, every year in Autumn, farmers welcome home their herds of cows from the Swiss Alps where they’d been sent off to graze all summer long. The German speaking Swiss call it the “Alpabzug” and this Swiss tradition traces all the way back to 3000 BCE so you’re actually witnessing a piece of cultural history unfold when you visit this festival.

The shepherds adorn the traditional Swiss dress. The cows and goats are dressed up with pretty flowers and bells while they all parade through the streets and villages. It is also often the occasion for cheese and alpine specialities market and musical fun. The Désalpe of Charmey, in the Gruyère region is one of the most important in the Swiss Alps, but the tradition is celebrated in numerous places in Switzerland. Depending on where you go to see the Alpabzug, too, you may be able to witness more than just beautifully dressed cows. 

Well, with so much to experience, our Autumn won’t be dull and you can push back the somber of creeping winter months by relishing these festivities in Switzerland.  So, let’s get goin’ and I hope we bump into each other in any of these festivals this year! 😉 

Stay tuned to more such expat living articles in our Travel section where we talk about all things Swiss Travel and local updates! Also make sure to checkout our e-book Hidden Gems in Switzerland for some Autumn getaway ideas!

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