The craziest events in the Alps

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Whether pig racing, playing golf with cowpats or boulder throwing, the folk of the Swiss Alps certainly know how to enjoy themselves as Mother Nature intended. These are just some of the weird and wonderful events I've come across on my travels.

Alpine Beard Festival, Chur, August

The hairiest men of the Alps gather in Chur to celebrate their fabulous facial hair - often the result of years of careful grooming. Flamboyant Dali moustaches, full Garibaldi beards, freestyle goatees - you'll 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.

Cowpat Festival, Riederalp, August

The prospect of another long winter shovelling cow dung might drive some farmers to despair, but not in Riederalp, Swiss Valais. In late August, this tiny village of 500 residents and 17,000 cowpats holds the Cowpat Festival (Chüfladefäscht). The aim is to fertilise the high pastures and have mucky fun in the process. All are welcome to join villagers for a jolly day of dung-pulverising contests - bring your walking boots, garden spade or golf club.

Image: Riederalp-Mörel Tourismus

Cow wrestling, Valais, March-October

I'll have 10 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 completely seriously - literally holding their breath as the cows lock horns for some pushing and shoving in the ring. The grand finale takes place in Martigny's Roman amphitheatre.

cowfight resized

Alpine 'Olympics', Interlaken, September

If you can't wait until 2017 for the Unspunnenfest, an Alpine Olympics of sorts, get yourself to Interlaken for the next best thing. Swiss wrestling (Schwingen), Alphorn playing, yodelling and heavy rock in the form of stone-putting (Steinstossen) are all part of Unspunnen-Schwinget.

Image by Andy Christiani

World Santa Claus Championships, Samnaun, November

Here in Samnaun, on the Swiss-Austrian border, some 100 pseudo-Santas descend on the sleepy mountain village to do battle for the title of World's Best Santa at the ClauWau. 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.

Image: Samnaun Tourismus/Andy Mettler

Pig racing, Klosters, New Year's Day

Throughout the German-speaking world lucky pig (Glücksschwein) trinkets are given to bring good fortune in the New Year. The posh Swiss ski resort of Klosters goes one better with the pig race (Hotschrennen). Thousands turn out to cheer on 10 squealing competitors - and the lucky winning pig is spared from the chop to become the town's mascot for the year.

Image: Destination Davos Klosters

Lonely Planet author Kerry Christiani is currently researching the Lonely Planet Austria guidebook, and is the co-author of the Switzerland and Germany guides.