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High on the Alpine Pasture

For a short while in summer, the Alpine pastures transport animals and people alike into an intoxicating mood.

With a heart in the heavens and with both feet firmly on the floor - that's the feeling of being in the Alpine pastures. Following where the animals have led (sheep, goats, cows, and in earlier times pigs too), people migrate from the valleys to the high mountains every year once the snow has melted sufficiently. 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 a process of familiarisation 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 grey of morning, 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 this good milk, turning it into butter and cheese. Buttermilk, another speciality of the Alpine pastures, comes about all by itself - as a by-product, just as whey is a by-product of cheese-making. The beauty of some dairymaids is reputedly attributable to bathing in whey - as well as a healthy diet and the refreshing purity of the landscape. Whether that is true or just a romantic fantasy 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 girl became her own mistress, the lodge was her house, the pasture her 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, since - unusually - the imagination matched up to the reality, and indeed 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 the Alps is welcome to share in this elated feeling. In SalzburgerLand, the pastures lie so closely together that when walking the Salzburger Almenweg in Pongau the visitor 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 fauna and flora 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 is out of this world. Rounding things off, the Haitzingeralm reveals how milk is made into cheese. Happy experiences all, and celebrated across SalzburgerLand with the music and festivals of the Almsommer-Festen. One particular highlight is the Sunday after St Jacob's Day (25th 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.

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