Saturday 21 September 2013

What goes up must come down - the désalpe

Leading the cows down with a bag of bread
Today was the désalpe - the day when the cows officially come down from the high summer meadows where they've been grazing since June (see the inalpe). It perhaps marks the end of summer but more often the start of an Indian summer. Today was no exception with wonderful blue skies and warm sunshine.
Tying on the flower headdresses - not that easy
It's a great day of celebration with an early start on the mountain and a mass herding of the beasts down to the villages. Help is needed to try and keep them from stampeding - best left to the experts and to stay at the back with the slow ones...

A variety of flower headdresses
Once down headdresses of flowers are tied between the horns in true Valaisanne tradition. Then the parade can begin. Each cow led by it's proud owner through the village - there's clapping for best milker, cheese maker and then the bossiest one (the Queen) whose kept the herd in check. At the end of the village it's time to crack open a few bottles and sample some of the summer cheeses.
Parading through Ayer

Sunday 1 September 2013

Bountiful balconies

'Geraniums' in Grimentz
Window boxes cascading with flowers is an expected summer site in alpine villages. Over in Austria they even give you a tax rebate to encourage you to plant-up your balconies. Here in the Val d'Anniviers the local commune plants tens of thousands of flowers every year - they hang in baskets along the side of the road, in niches and fill hollowed out logs next to fountains. Neighbours vie with each other as to who has the best display - some get creative with their planting - mixing blue and white lobelia, with yellow sunflowers, marigolds and nasturtiums.
Flowers fill every available vessel - including an old boot
Top choice of flower are the red varieties of pelargonium - easy to grow and lovers of sun they also tolerate dry conditions (ideal for those who forget to water their window boxes). However, it's quite tender and come the first frost the whole lot will be reduced to a brown sludge. Native to South Africa - this plant was first discovered and brought to Europe by English gardener and plant collector, John Tradescant, in 1633. Originally the pelargonium was classed as part of the geranium family, but as the numbers and varieties grew the two got reclassified into separate groups. Today there are over 200 species of pelargoniums and over 420 species of the hardy geraniums. Pelargoniums are not just pretty they are also valued for their oil and are used in perfume, medicine and aromatherapy.
Pelargoniums - top choice around here for window boxes