The Alm Summer in Salzburg

What a feeling

Marianne and Georg Schmuck from St. Martin have spent their alm summers high up on the Loferer Alm with 45 cows and calves for over a quarter of a century. This year they will set off at the beginning of June once again to look after their cattle on the mountain pastures.


Cosy end to a working day

Once all of the work is complete the farmers can enjoy absolute peace and quiet. They explain, “If we are finished before 7 pm then we are happy. We like to cook a typical alm supper ‘Moosbeer-Muas’. And if the reception allows, we watch the news to find out what is going on in Salzburg and the world. This doesn’t always work up on the mountain however. We enjoy the alm evening together. Sometimes our children or grandchildren visit us. Georg’s brother Hans, who spends the summer in a neighbouring alm hut and has a wonderful voice, just like Georg, sometimes calls round. Then we sing traditional alm songs in the parlour. Bed calls at 9 pm at the latest as we have to get up early again the next day.”


Wild weather and traditions on the mountain

The sun doesn’t always shine on the mountain and the exposed position means that a summer storm can become unpleasant quickly. Marianne admits, “The wind can blow terribly here on the alm. And especially in the night, when the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls, I am really afraid. After a storm we have to check on the cows straightaway although most of them sense threatening bad weather and come to the stall of their own accord to shelter.” Every Saturday in good weather all of the dairymen and women on the alm meet up at the alm cross to pray the rosary and afterwards they all sit together on one of the 18 farmed pastures. “That is tradition for us.  Another tradition is the binding of bouquets of herbs on the day before the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Arnica, wormwood, yarrow, peppermint and phlomis are all included – the centre is adorned with alpine roses or red elder.  On the 15th August we take the bouquets to church for a blessing and the blessed herbs are then dried out well and divided into two parts. One part is used as incense on the smoke nights between Christmas and Epiphany and the other is mixed into the food for the cattle. The Feast of the Assumption used to be the holyday for the herdsmen. These days the alm feast day is celebrated around the time of the feast of St. James. This festival is celebrated with music on the Loferer Alm on the last Sunday in July. On that day we take a rest from all our obligations apart from the work in the stall.” 


Autumn departure from the alm

When thick wisps of fog hang in the valley and the alpine pasture begins to change colour from a lush green to brown, the cattle give the green light for the decampment. “Usually the time comes at the beginning of September. The cows on the pasture find less to eat and have to go further afield. Their loud mooing let us know that it is time for the departure from the alm. We also want to go home since we know that the valley pastures are still green and the cows won’t want for anything there. We always used to crown our animals with the traditional headdresses when the alm summer was successful and free of accidents. The magnificent crowns were fixed to a halter on the head of the animal. Colourful paper strips, sprigs of fir and stars of all colours made up the finery. The head cow would receive the most splendid headdress with chrysanthemums and red alpine roses. Two days before the homecoming the decorations would be tried on so that the cows could get used to them. The headdress would often end up quite tattered on the long way home“, they laugh and add, “We don’t crown our cows anymore because we transport the cattle back to the valley by road. Of course, we still enjoy the big homecoming parade and harvest festival in St. Martin as visitors.”


The alm summer keeps you young

Despite their high ages, Marianne and Georg still aren’t tired of spending their alm summer high above the Salzburger Saalachtal. “So long as our health allows, we will continue to go up to the alm in the coming years. The work is good for the mind – it keeps us fit and young. We take our duties seriously because we are responsible for valuable milk, which is delivered to the farmhouse in top condition and for our cows, who should return to the valley in autumn fit and well. The alm summer isn’t just a season – it is a feeling! You sense when it is high time to pack your things for the unforgettable months up above and the arrival on the alm is also an inner arrival.” 


Postet from
Edith Danzer
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