A forward-looking country in many ways, Switzerland is nonetheless rooted in tradition. While not everyone can yodel, there’s a sense of pride around these customs and people flock to festivals that celebrate them. For visitors, they offer a fascinating glimpse into Switzerland’s rural heart.
t Musicians in traditional dress at the Alphorn Festival
A Swiss version of the didgeridoo, the alphorn was traditionally used by farmers to call their cows in for milking. In the 19th century alphorns became popular as musical instruments and there are now alphorn groups all over the country. Each year the Nendaz Alphorn Festival gathers many of these musicians together for a competitive three-day event where visitors can hear them play and join an alphorn-making workshop. The organizers also hold alphorn initiation courses.
A sport dating back centuries, Schwingen (Swiss wrestling) pits two opponents against each other in a circle filled with sawdust. It has been a key feature of many rural festivals but the biggest event is Schwingfest, held every three years in front of thousands of people.
Originally a way for farmers in remote regions to call to each other, yodelling developed into song in the 19th century and is still going strong in Switzerland today; it also frequently features in contemporary folk music. The Älpli bar in Zürich is a good spot to watch live yodelling year-round, while each summer the national yodelling festival, Jodlerfest, attracts thousands of spectators. You can take yodelling lessons, and even take a degree at the University of Lucerne.
Once the summer ends and the cheese is made, alpine farmers
bring their cows back down to the valley for the winter. To celebrate, many villages stage a festival – Désalpage – with traditional music, food and drink stands, and cheese-making demonstrations. The cows sport large ceremonial bells and floral headdresses, while the farmers wear the traditional dress of their region.
The estimated number of cows grazing the hills and meadows of Switzerland.
Switzerland for Traditions
Worn over trousers, these sackcloth shorts form a handle which a competitor may grab during a wrestling bout.
This pale blue shirt is embroidered with a pattern of Switzerland’s national flower.
Typical of the Fribourg region, this dark-blue short jacket with puffed sleeves is still worn by working dairy farmers.
This ornate overdress is worn by the women of the small Appenzell Innerrhoden canton.