There's a Three-Nation Cow Duel in Europe Every Year – Here's Why

| © mbmbraille/ Pixabay
| © mbmbraille/ Pixabay | © mbmbraille/ Pixabay
Sean Mowbray

Earlier this month, cows from France, Italy and Switzerland battled it out at the foot of the Mont Blanc mountain. Mila, an Italian cow, triumphed over the competition and now boasts the lofty title of ‘Queen of the Mont Blanc.’ Next year she’ll be able to defend her title in Switzerland.

The tournament isn’t some sort of cow Lord of the Flies death match, it’s part of the annual International Game of Queens, organised by the three countries to honour a centuries-old tradition of cow battling.

Don’t come hoping to see a bloodbath. Few cows are seriously harmed, as their horns are blunted so it’s usually a well-behaved competition. But each duel can last up to 40 minutes and is full of plenty of bellowing, shoving and head-butting.

Herens cows gearing up to fight

All of the cows that compete are Herens, a small but brawny breed that’s named after the Val d’Hérens in Switzerland. The females are naturally aggressive and competitive. Locking horns decides who leads the herd for the year.

Each year, around the end of summer, herders from the three countries gather their best cows around the Mont-Blanc. The cows aren’t goaded into fighting, they are simply put into a ring and they pick their own opponent. At the end of the day she who remains undefeated is crowned the Queen.

Herens aren’t big money makers. Sure, winning cows can fetch a pretty penny at auction, but they aren’t known as big producers of beef or milk. ‘Anyone breeding Herens cattle does so out of passion,’ one breeder from Valais explains. ‘It’s about honour, pride and tradition, and above all it gives you joy.’ She takes her cows jogging before fights to make sure they are in prime condition.

Next year the competition will be hosted in Valais, Switzerland. Expectations are high as the Valaisans have yet to win in the prestigious competition. Tensions are high as the Valaisans are intensely proud of their cow-herding traditions, particularly as it is from their home region that the sport gained prominence. The region’s failure to triumph so far is kind of like Brazil’s footballing superstars never having won the World Cup.

Each year regional events are held in France, the Aosta valley in Italy, and the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Thousands flock to watch at these popular events. One of the first official fights took place in Valais in 1923; the tradition goes back much further, however, as herders had been arranging informal cow bouts amongst themselves long before.

Today, the cows battle it out depending on weight categories (usually lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight) to ensure a fair fight and at the final showdown in Valais the ‘Queen of Queens’ is named. In Switzerland, cow-fighting is known as combat de reine or ringkuhkampf, depending on which part of Switzerland you are from. It’s definitely one of the must-experience traditional customs. Just don’t try and understand it.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article