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The feast of La Poya: the sacred cows of Switzerland

There is a pre-Alpine area, in the canton of Friborg (Switzerland), where only once every decade a huge party is celebrated with the equivocal name of La Poya. Decorated cows, Tyrolean costumes, 60,000 people climbing the mountains behind the animals, picnics in the heights, mass choirs and even a dj. Mix it all and you will have one of the most peculiar events in Europe, where the bucolismo and the rave share mattress (of flowers).

A cow is at the origin of everything in the prosperous Switzerland. A cow and the wild flowers that grow in the surroundings of the Alps, rarer and more colorful as you ascend. The fortune of the country, now diversified in finance, technology, tourism and many other things, started with a cow eating those unique flowers fed on snow and high sun. The natives had always known that these pastures gave a particular taste to their meat and, above all, to their milk. From there cheeses would be born with as much personality as the gruyères, from which it is difficult to find an impersonal one. And the chocolate, of course, to which in Switzerland milk was added to make it a solid product for the first time in the eighteenth century.

The strange thing would be that in the prealpine places they did not consider the cow a sacred animal, as much as in India. Especially to Simmental, the typical two-colored cow that, since the Middle Ages, the same is used to fill milk jugs to fill a Burgundian fondue, pull a car or star in a chocolate ad. In the canton of Freiburg they are not erected by temples, but yes they have been worshiping them outdoors at a naive spirit party for more than 50 years which consists of uploading them to the mountain so that these colorful prealpine flowers are pasted in a pilgrimage with jams. The ascension has the loud name of Poya and it is celebrated approximately once every decade. The last time was in the year 2000 and now finally returns from May 8 to 12.

The Great Feast of the Poya, "rise of the flocks" in the Tyrolean dialect, becomes a sporting, partying act and back to the origins in which thousands of people (60,000 in the year 2000) accompany the cows in their ascent of 10 kilometers from Estavannens station (it is reached by train from Zurich) to Grandvillard and Lessoc. Animals are dressed in flowers and bells and the shepherds wear the traditional costume of the canton of Friborg, where everything takes place. The tradition began in 1956 as a tribute to the 75th anniversary of the song of La Poya, based on a poem by Etienne Fragnière and exalting the ascent to the pastures and landscapes in its path. The promoters chose Estavannens because it was a small town similar to the one that was sung in the tune. The climb up a road between mountains, the views of the castle of Gruyères and the nearby black lake, the Schwarzsee, make it an idyllic promenade that would not disentangle in a chapter of Heidi.

This year's Poya, in addition to offering to cover anyone's bucolism doses (it even has an exhibition of goats), is an event that has been waiting for 13 years. So there is desire. The Mass, the traditional picnic in the heights, the exhibition of the Gruyère de Bulle Museum and The choir of 140 musicians is accompanied by the performance of DJ Ötzi, with his local success “Anton aus Tirol”. A cocktail that can only crystallize on a surprising weekend in which to check how nature and rave are assimilated in pre-alpine landscapes.

Swiss cows: making friends since the 1930s © Corbis

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