In a land with as many deep-rooted traditions as soaring mountain peaks, it’s no wonder the festive souls of South Tyrol sought to make a beloved autumn custom its very own season.
Touted as South Tyrol’s fifth season, Törggelen is a centuries-old tradition celebrating the harvest’s new wine called “Nuier”, “Suser” or “Sauser”. The tradition involves a hearty hike in the afternoon followed by an even more hearty feast and wine sampling in the evening. Rural taverns or farmhouse inns called “Buschenschank” host the gatherings throughout Eisacktal Valley (Valle Isarco), as well as in other chestnut-friendly corners of South Tyrol.
In this post, we show you why adding this treasured tradition to your fall South Tyrol trip plans is a must. You’ll join us on a Törggelen-themed hike through ancient chestnut groves to a mysterious trio of medieval churches and then dine with us at a farmhouse perched on a mountainside eyeing the Dolomites.
⇒ Ready to embark on your own Törggelen adventure? Jump forward to a list of Törggelen establishments and events.
The Beginnings of Törggelen
Törggelen occurs through much of autumn from mid-September to the start of the Christmas season in mid-November. According to local lore, this is the time when the Wein-Nörggelen, a mischievous band of dwarves descend from the mountains to steal the wine of the harvest.
The Törggelen tradition is thought to have begun centuries ago in Eisacktal Valley as a private gathering among neighbors. After a successful grape harvest, the local winemaker would invite nearby friends to a jovial evening sampling the new wine.
Now, this is not the kind of wine found on the shelf of your local wine shop. It is wine from freshly-crushed grapes in the early stages of fermentation — cloudy in color and potently sweet in flavor. In fact, the name Törggelen originates from the Latin word for wooden wine press. The Törggelen term “Buschenschank” dates back to the late Middle Ages when a bushy tree branch was placed above farmhouse doorways signaling to guests their kitchen was open.
Törggelen hosts complemented the new wine with autumn delicacies such as fire-roasted chestnuts, as well as speck, knödel dumplings and an assortment of cured sausages. After ample amounts of drinking and eating, the evening typically concluded with dancing and belting out traditional folk songs.
Today, the tradition remains much the same, however, many farmhouse inns no longer only cater to a handful of well-known guests, but instead welcome strangers throughout the two-month-long celebration. These humble farmers thrive on the company and regale guests after the feast with tales of life in rural South Tyrol.
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A Törggelen-Themed Hike to Dreikirchen
Our first Törggelen adventure began in the old world heart of Villanders (Villandro), a thousand-year-old village tucked high into a mountainside of Eiscack Valley. Age-old cobblestones wound through a narrow alley leading us past one of the most inviting entrances to a restaurant we had ever seen.
The Steinbock Manor & Restaurant (Zum Steinbock) resides in a castle wearing centuries of utter romantic ruin. Its stone walls whispered of tales long ago enrapturing us with mystery and intrigue. We made a note to return another time. Dining within would undoubtedly be a noble experience.
On the other end of the alley, two church towers greeted us with spires piercing deep into the blue October sky. The masterful medieval stonework of each appeared gilded in gold beneath the warm gleam of the autumn sun.
We circled the Church of St. Stephan and Church of St. Michael encountering a cemetery unlike any other in South Tyrol. The tombs and wrought-iron crosses lie in such a way that the dead always face the rising sun. We noticed lanterns dotting the graves and made plans to visit when we could admire its beauty under candle glow.
Behind the Church of St. Stephan we ascended stone steps up a slope to the Three Churches Trail (Dreikirchenweg). Following the path, marked as no. 4 on signage, we floated above Villanders past quaint farmhouses into a stretch of undulating meadows dappled with giant chestnut and apple trees.
We found their swooping canopies and massive trunks weathered by centuries of Alpine wind and sun especially enchanting. Sitting beneath their leafy cover with the sun’s rays sprinkling through was next to divine. The idyllic setting to read a book or simply study the peaks of Dolomites far across the valley before nodding off into a gentle slumber.
Moving on we encountered a pasture hidden by a halo of woodland. Within cows and South Tyrol’s celebrated Haflinger horses grazed together. Upon spotting us the horses galloped abruptly to our feet.
Whether they were anticipating a handout of apples or chestnuts, we did not know. But we were not about to share such delectable treats as they were not ours to give. Disappointed by such stingy hikers they quickly moved on.
After an hour or so of hiking, the path descended into a hardwood forest. When we emerged from the shady cover we came to a paved road. A sign pointed us to continue along the pavement as it curved through the side valley until reaching another road snaking up through a stand of larches.
On the other side, we found the Dreikirchen (Three Churches) enthroned in Gothic form atop a grassy hill just above the valley bottom. The churches reside in the hamlet of Dreikirchen, which sits almost due north of the village of Barbian (Barbiano).
Visiting the Dreikirchen
Mystery still shrouds the Three Churches. No one knows why the builders huddled them together. Nor who the builders were or why they chose such an isolated location.
The oldest, St. Gertrude, was built in 1237. Well-preserved Gothic frescoes and Baroque shrines adorn its interior guiding you to an altar where a statue of St. Gertrude stands between candles below a scene of the Crucifixion.
The second church, St. Nicholas, came shortly after the first was built while the third church, St. Magdalene was erected in 1470. Some believe the churches were established as shrines as they lie near pre-Roman healing springs. Perhaps medieval Christian worshipers sought to replace an ancient pagan sanctuary dedicated to the three goddesses of springs.
The Three Churches are not left open, but you are welcome to retrieve the keys kept by the owners of a nearby rustic guesthouse called Gasthof Messnerhof. The establishment also offers traditional fare from their organic farm allowing you to grab a bite to eat before trekking back.
As we were keeping an eye on the clock to make sure we arrived on time for our night of Törggelen, we decided to skip snacking at Gasthof Messnerhof after touring the churches.
We followed the same route on our return to Villanders to save time. Despite our hurry, we still took occasional breaks to consume sips of water and long gulps of the Dolomites across the valley.
An Evening of Törggelen
Our Törggelen feast was reserved at a Buschenschank on the Winkler Hof farm in the hamlet of Sauderer (St. Moritz), just below Villanders. The estate was first mentioned in 1314.
Owned by Luise and Anton Fink, the farm is typical of South Tyrol. It beams with Alpine character from a sun-steeped slope next to the church of St. Mortiz, a mountainside chapel built in 1406.
The Fink family raises everything from dairy cows to pigs to hens and goats, as well as produces wine along with an assortment of berries and vegetables. They also supplement their income by offering guests a “farm stay” in one of three apartments located on the farmstead.
We were seated in a gorgeous farmhouse dining room wrapped with wood decor as warm as the smiles on our hosts. From the table settings to the touches of Tyrolean folk art gracing the walls, every nook imparted old-world ambiance that transports you to another time.
Our feast began with a bowl of tasty roasted chestnuts, a spread of speck and a glass of new wine from the farm’s Vernatsch grapes. This was followed by savory bowls of pumpkin soup and barley soup.
Then came a delicious dish of tris knödel, which is a speck, cheese and spinach dumpling served together atop Schlutzkrapfen — a pasta stuffed with spinach and Parmesan. A drizzle of melted butter crowned the heavenly fare. Ending the feast here would have typically been the wise thing to do, but not very South Tyrolean.
An immense platter of smoked sausages, pork and ham atop a bed of sauerkraut soon arrived tipping us from full to stuffed. But when the tray of sweets bounded on our table we somehow mustered the strength to devour every last bite of Krapfen (pastries filled with jam) and chestnut cake.
The rural revelry continued when Mr. Fink joined us at the table in his traditional attire to share a bit of history about Winkler Hof and Törggelen. To our surprise, we discovered the chestnuts we consumed were ‘erotic’ as he put it. Teeming with pheromones that made them the best aphrodisiac this side of the Alps.
Whether he was joking with us or not, we could not tell. The bottomless pitcher of wine throughout the night had done its job.
Our evening of Törggelen concluded with a parting gift from Mr. Fink: a shot of mountain pine schnapps. This mystery arrived in a small glass and wore an amber so deep it was almost hypnotic.
We toasted our friends across the table, Antonia and Diego, before splashing the potion down. It was invigorating. Like a bolt of pure Alpine air jolting through you from mouth to feet. Undoubtedly, a proper way to end a grand feast on a mountainside in South Tyrol.
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How to Find Törggelen Farmhouses & Taverns
There may be no better time to hike and feast than in autumn. The mountains and valleys are ablaze with dazzling gold and burgundy hues and the briskness in the breeze inspires a hunger only heartiness can satisfy.
Törggelen farmhouses and taverns can be found throughout the chestnut and wine-friendly growing regions of South Tyrol. These include Eisacktal Valley where Törggelen is thought to have originated, as well as along the South Tyrolean Wine Road, Merano and its bouquet of communities and San Genesio (Jenesien), which lies several thousand feet above Bolzano.
Törggelen typically requires booking in advance. Partaking in the custom is quite popular so we suggest contacting establishments more than a month out from your fall visit to South Tyrol.
Consider the following “Buschenschanks” located in Eisacktal Valley:
You can find additional Törggelen Buschenschank recommendations for towns such as Brixen and Lajen by visiting the official Eisacktal website.
Additional Törggelen Hikes
While you do not have to endure a hearty hike to partake in a Törggelen feast, we cannot recommend embarking on a fall trek enough. South Tyrol offers several Törggelen-themed hikes that expose you to the natural charms of the season imbuing a merry spirit well before your first sip of wine.
One of the most popular hikes is the “Keschtnweg” (Chestnut Trail), which begins at the Abbey of Novacella in Brixen and runs 30+ miles to Runkelstein Castle in Bolzano. This is a multi-day hike obviously, but you can access it from several villages along to enjoy the trail as much as you see fit.
To discover more Törggelen-themed hikes, visit the official website for South Tyrol. Their Törggelen section list two dozen hikes ripe for South Tyrol’s fifth season!
We’d like to give special thanks to IDM Südtirol for introducing us to the Törggelen tradition!