The heart in heaven and both feet firmly on the ground – that's the feeling of being in the Alpine pastures. Every year after the snow has sufficiently melted, people follow their animals (sheep, goats, cows, and in earlier times even pigs) and move temporarily from the valleys to the high mountains. A very special and unique celebration begins. First the Alpine lodge is tidied and cosily furnished, while bells are hung around the animals' necks and the familiarisation process with this new environment begins. Cows are the gourmet eaters amongst the animals. They seek out only the best grass and herbs. No matter how rough the terrain underfoot, they wander widely over these upland meadows. The dairymen and dairywomen follow them in the crack of dawn to drive them back to the lodge for milking. If mist is covering the pasture, then the bells are the only indication as to where the herd might be.
After milking, the dairy workers take expert care of the fresh milk, turning it into butter and cheese. Buttermilk as well as whey, other specialities of the Alpine pastures, are simply by-products of the cheese production. The beauty of some dairymaids is reputedly attributable to bathing in whey – in additoin to a healthy diet and the refreshing purity of the landscape. Whether this is true or just a romantic fairly tale is an unanswered question.
What is, however, a known fact is that – for centuries – the Alpine life meant a temporary lifting of strict rules: young girls were suddenly released from the customary order of the rural hierarchy and church control: the lodges were their houses, the pasture their immeasurable kingdom. This freedom fired the imagination of many artists, poets and writers in the years after 1800, as they discovered an Alpine Arcadia in these pastures.
And rightly so, the imagination matched the reality, and at times even lagged behind it: the experience of the Alpine pasture is more beautiful than can be put into words. In the treasury of native fairy tales, poems and songs, this elated feeling has been sung about and narrated many times; in the Alpine yodel, the voice floats wordlessly, as only vowels and syllables are intoned powerfully and expressively, in a celebration raised up to the open skies, and sounding out far and wide over mountain and valley: in this song, this practically otherworldly happiness finds its ultimate expression.
Anyone ascending to the heights of these Alpine meadows is welcome to share in this elated feeling. In Salzburg, the pastures lie so closely together that, when walking the Almenweg im Pongau, once can see 120 unique pastures over a 350-kilometre route. On the Ameisenweg (literally the “ants’ path”) in Filzmoos, by contrast, it is through focussing on a detail that the beauty of the whole is appreciated, while the Naturerlebnisweg Bachlalm leads the walker through the diversity of the flora and fauna of the high mountains.
Culinary delights such as ‘Buchteln’ (sweet bread with a jam filling), ‘Muas’ (a kind of pancake) or herb tea can be sampled on the Amoseralm. The taste of Alpine pasture butter on the fresh, home-baked bread served with it will transport you with pleasure. Rounding things off, the Haitzingeralm reveals how milk is made into cheese. Happy experiences, and celebrated in Salzburg with much music and the festivals of the Almsommer-Feste. One particular highlight is the Sunday after St Jacob's Day (25 July – Jacob being the patron saint of shepherds), when the “Hundstoa-Ranggeln” are staged: in a natural arena of green meadows high above the valley and beneath the Hundstein mountain, young lads engage in a wrestling contest – a tradition handed down from the Middle Ages. The best wrestlers carry off the title of “Hagmoar” for the year.
Full information on the Salzburger Almenweg, 350 km of pleasurable walking.
A calendar with all the ‘Almabtrieb’ festivals (festive driving down cattle from the pastures) right across Austria.
On vacation in Filzmoos
Accommodation in Filzmoos, events and tourist-related information.
Bachlalm nature experience walk
On vacation in Werfen
Accommodation in Werfen, events and tourist-related information.
Rent an Alpine lodge
Alpine pasture summer festivals