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Switzerland marks the advent of summer with a cow festival

The tiny Swiss village of Estavannens in the Gruyère valley has hosted what is billed as Europe's biggest cattle show. Thirty-four breeds were on show at Poya 2000. Around 40,000 people flocked to see the cattle being herded into Alpine pastures.

It is a tradition in Switzerland that cattle be taken into Alpine pasture as the weather turns warm and the days last longer. Poya is a festival which celebrates cattle and their new-found freedom to roam the open pastures in the long days of summer.

A special mass, spoken in the local dialect, blessed the event. There was also music, dancing, singing, and traditional folklore plays to celebrate the cows' release from the barns, which provided ample entertainment for the curious tourists.

Laurence Jacquet, who is one of the organisers, said the event at the weekend was an important part of Swiss culture.

"First of all it is a celebration of when the cows leave to go up the mountains and this is something we do not celebrate every year. The last time we celebrated it was 11 years ago so people were waiting for this celebration. It is something special in everyone's heart," said Jacquet.

Estavannens is a small village with barely 300 inhabitants, set halfway up the mountains in the Gruyère valley. Organisation to cope with the massive numbers of onlookers is therefore imperative.

"It's taken two and a half years to get it ready with lots of people getting involved, not only from the village, but the whole region. All the singing groups and marching bands who came here to work with us, they are also working in the kitchen, for example. Everybody helps out, it is the only way it is possible," explained Jacquet.

Thirty four breeds were on show at the event. They came from Switzerland, Britain, France, Austria and Italy. Breeders also came from near and far to try to sell prize cattle.

"It is the first time we have come here, and we are very impressed, myself and the breeder, by the show here," said Vincent Loiseau, a representative of a breeder from the Charente region of western France. For him Poya means business.

Cattle, music and farmers were not the only attraction at Poya 2000. The event also boasted an enormous amount of traditional food for the hungry tourists. Two giant marquees were built and seated around 5,000 people. The menu included saussicon or sausage, huge slabs of cooked ham and the ever-present Swiss Rösti. The famous Gruyère fondue was also on the menu.

The village is picture postcard pretty and most of the houses are over two hundred years old, built in the traditional Swiss alpine style. Many of them were garlanded in flowers and during Poya, women from the valley sat outside giving displays of Gruyère's handicrafts such as intricate lacework and crocheting.

by Jonathan Summerton


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