Best-known for its superb skiing and hiking, the French-speaking canton of Valais also is a popular golf destination in Switzerland as well as the longtime venue of the Omega European Masters. The annual DP World Tour event was held last week at Golf Club Crans-sur-Sierre, and there may not be a more scenic setting on that circuit, for the course is located on a high plateau surrounded by the shark-tooth-shaped Alps that are covered with snow for much of the year.
Valais (pronounced Val-A) also happens to be home to one of the most unique athletic endeavors on the continent. That would be the combat de reines, which translates into English roughly as “fight of the queens” and is so popular that it attracts tens of thousands of spectators each spring. Some watch the female bovines do battle in person in outdoor arenas, while others take in the action on local cable TV.
Over time, a sort of hierarchy develops within each herd, with one cow emerging as the leader. Farmers dub her the “queen.”
I first learned of this sport while playing Golf Club Crans-sur-Sierre some years ago. My host told me about a black and often feisty bovine breed known as Hérens that is prized for the raclette cheese made from their milk as well as for a delectable dried meat called viande séchée. These cows have grazed the slopes in this region for centuries, moving up and down the hills as the snow lines rise and fall. Over time, a sort of hierarchy develops within each herd, with one cow emerging as the leader. Farmers dub her the “queen.” And not surprisingly, she sometimes has to defend that position when other cows challenge her to what looks to be a head-butting contest, the beasts grunting and groaning as they lock horns as the big bells they wear around their necks clang.
The spectacle of those scraps is what led to the staging of public cow fights a century ago, and the competitions continue to this day in Valais, beginning each year with bouts in early April and concluding with the grand finale a month later, in May. There are several divisions, based on age and weight, with great care taken to ensure that none of the competitors is injured. After all, the cows are much more than just combatants to their farmers. They are their livelihoods.
Some beasts fight hard, while others turn tail. And once the winners of each division emerge, they then face off in their own sort of Race to Dubai, with the victor being crowned the “queen of queens.”
Vive la reine!