Staying at Au Club Alpin in Champex-Lac, Switzerland turned out to be one of my all time travel experiences to date. Champex-Lac is a sleepy, ski town that during the summertime receives little summer visitors. While we had anticipated just using the time to hike, we were unprepared for what happened next.
Our host at Au Club Alpin spoke fluent english, which was surprising given that almost no-one else in the town spoke anything but French. When we asked him if there is anything local we could experience he thought for a moment and then his eyes lit up and he belted out “Yes!! You must experience Combats de Reines, the Fighting Cows!!!”
“What?!” We asked. “The Fighting Cows, very Swiss, very local” is all he replied. The then hurried to the kitchen and gave us some of this stinkiest, most pungent cheese I have ever tasted. All we could do was muster a half-hearted “Mmmm” as we tried to stomach the cheese while he explained just exactly what Combats de Reines was.
“The fighting cows,” as he went on, “are the female cows from farmers in the area. “The cows naturally stake out the best piece of grass in the pasture for their calves and fight off any other female cow that would try and take it.”
During the summer months they would gather their burliest females and throw them in a pasture to watch them fight. The cows would travel around to various towns and compete until one became the La Reine des Reines or the Queen of the Queens.
Our host graciously began calling his friends and soon found out the cows were only a few towns away. Pointing out where it was on a map we were soon off to find the Fighting Queens.
Not knowing what quite to expect, I was imagining something grandeur – an arena with throngs of cheering fans yelling and throwing roses. I was more surprised to find just few dozen people lazily standing around a pasture drinking beers and watching cows eat grass. Every once in a while a gentlemen would come, poke a cow with a stick to get them to fight. The loser would be escorted out. The pasture was framed by a glacier delicately hanging just a few thousand feet above. Switzerland really is beautiful!
“Combats de Reines?” I asked someone.
They turned to me and seemed to be amazed two Americans were even at this. To the Swiss Combats de Reines is a tradition dating back centuries that’s more of a way to pass time then something one should go out of the way to see ( Although now I will note serious prize money can be won and thus its also a source of income for the farmers).
They quickly questioned how we had stumbled upon such a spectacle, wondering if we had come specifically to Switzerland to watch the cow fights. Satisfied that we were here merely by chance, they turned back to their conversation leaving us to take in one of the most random, fun, and unexpected journeys I’ve had while traveling.