The craziest events in the Alps
Head up into the Alps to see some of the wackiest events on the calendar. (Gareth McCormack/LPI)
Whether pig racing, playing golf with cowpats or boulder throwing, the folks of the Alps certainly know how to enjoy themselves as Mother Nature intended. These are just some of the weird and wonderful events that are held throughout the year.
Cow Pat Festival, Riederalp
The prospect of another long winter shovelling cow dung might drive some farmers to despair, but not in Riederalp in Swiss Valais. In late August, this tiny village of 500 residents and 17,000 cowpats holds the Chüfladefäscht (Cow Pat Festival). The aim is to fertilise the high pastures and have mucky fun in the process. All are welcome to join the villagers for a jolly day of dung-pulverising contests - bring your walking boots, garden spade or golf club.
In snow-bound winters past, wooden Hornschlitten (horn sleds) were used to bring hay down to the valleys in Bavaria. Garmisch-Partenkirchen keeps this age-old traditional alive by hosting one of the wackiest races in the German Alps on 6 January. It is quite something to see when these horn-sled teams hurtle down sheer mountain slopes, sometimes losing the odd member or two on a perilous bend or patch of ice.
Combats de Reignes, Valais
I will have ten Swiss francs on Tarzan... no, no, make it twenty on Madonna - she looks like she can put up a good fight... Such is the wagering at cow fights in Swiss Valais, where Hérens cattle do bovine battle for dominance in the herd. The farmers take this bizarre sport seriously - literally holding their breath as the cows lock horns for some pushing and shoving in the ring. Several heats are held from March to October when the grand finale takes place in Martigny's Roman amphitheatre.
Alpine Beard Festival, Chur
The hairiest men of the Alps gather in Chur in August to celebrate their fabulous facial hair - often the result of years of careful grooming. Flamboyant Dali moustaches, full Garibaldi beards, freestyle goatees - you will see the lot here. Even if you are (dare we say it?) clean-shaven, this is an impressive sight and you can join the Alpine party at the concurrent Chur Festival (www.churerfest.org).
Krampuslaufen, Austrian Alps
Every year on 5 December, the eve of St Nicholas, Krampusse in shaggy sheepskins, goat horns and grotesque masks run riot in the Austrian Alps. Unlike ol' St Nick, these guys scare kids silly with rusty chains, birch rods and baskets to carry naughty little children off to the pits of hell. You can join the devilish shenanigans at villages like Igls near Innsbruck and Bad Hofgastein in Salzburgerland.
If you cannot wait until 2017 for the Unspunnenfest, an Alpine Olympics of sorts, get yourself to Interlaken for the next best thing. Schwingen (Swiss wrestling), Alphorn playing, yodelling and heavy rock in the form of Steinstossen (stone putting) are all part of Unspunnen-Schwinget (www.unspunnen-schwinget.ch). The next crazy Swiss shindig takes place in September 2011.
World Santa Claus Championships, Samnaun
Samnaun on the Swiss-Austrian border gives Lapland a run for its money in late November. Some 100 pseudo-Santas descend on the sleepy mountain village to do battle for the title of world's best Santa at the ClauWau (www.clauwau.com). Get into the festive spirit watching Father Christmases prove their worth in disciplines like chimney climbing, snowball throwing, gingerbread decorating and delivering presents by... donkey.
Throughout the German-speaking world, Glücksschwein (lucky pig) trinkets are given to bring good fortune in the New Year. The posh Swiss ski resort of Klosters goes one better on New Year's Day with the Hotschrennen (pig race). Thousands turn out to cheer on 10 squealing competitors - the lucky winning pig being spared from the chop to become the town's mascot for the year.