Planning to visit South Tyrol in autumn? Discover why Törggelen should be a part of your adventure.
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 typically entails a hearty hike in the afternoon followed by an even more hearty feast with roasted chestnuts and wine sampling in the evening.
Rural taverns or farmhouse inns called “Buschenschank” or “Törggelekeller” host the gatherings throughout Valle Isarco (Eisacktal Valley), as well as in many other chestnut-friendly corners of South Tyrol. The Törggelen feast traditionally involves sharing a table in a special room known as a Stuben. Clad in wood from floor to ceiling with a crucifix hung in the corner, these rustic parlors radiate coziness – warmly taking you back centuries to a time when life was simpler – the hours passed slower – and moments of leisure were spent honoring customs and nourishing relationships.
We fell in love with Törggelen after our first experience. If you’re a fan of fall comfort food, delicious wine and good cheer, you will too. But before we show you what the tradition is like, it pays to know a bit about Törggelen’s origins.
The Beginnings of Törggelen
Törggelen occurs through much of autumn from late 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 Valle Isarco 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 a 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 accompanied the new wine with autumn specialties such as fire-roasted chestnuts (called “Keschtn”), as well as pumpkin or barley soup, knödel dumplings, and an assortment of cured sausages known as “Schlachtplatte”, which translates to slaughter plate. 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.
An Evening of Törggelen at Rielingerhof
Our most recent Törggelen adventure took place at Rielingerhof, an organic wine farm located at 2,400+ feet on the Renon (Ritten) high mountain plateau. Renon lies just northeast of Bolzano providing a convenient escape to the highlands for residents and visitors alike. Thanks to a cable car, one can quickly go from standing on the cobblestones of South Tyrol’s capital to soaking in the Dolomites roaring over Renon’s pastureland.
The Rielingerhof farm is a historic treasure of Renon and one of only 15 Buschenschanks selected by the Red Rooster farm association to participate in South Tyrol’s “Authentic Törggelen” initiative. Farmhouse inns brandishing the Red Rooster brand adhere to strict quality standards that “put people in touch with the rural world of South Tyrol” in the most authentic way possible.
As Törggelen-themed celebrations and events have grown in popularity, Red Rooster launched the Authentic Törggelen initiative to ensure autumn revelers can experience Törggelen as it was traditionally celebrated. Participating farmhouse inns are located near the Chestnut Trail (Keschtnweg) in Valle Isarco, as well as near the ancient chestnut groves found along the South Tyrolean Wine Road on up through the Merano valley basin.
According to Matthias Messner, who operates Rielingerhof with his wife, Evi, and their children, the farm was first mentioned in a document at the beginning of the 13th century. The farm’s mountainside perch sits above the ruins of Castel Pietra (Stein Castle), which was also built in the 13th century, but ultimately abandoned in the 17th century. Through the centuries, the Rielingerhof farm provided food and wine for the nobles of the castle.
As we discovered, Rielingerhof remains true to its hospitable roots. Within minutes of our arrival on the farm, Matthias introduced himself and offered us a glass of wine. While we waited for the rest of the evening’s guests to arrive, we walked through the vineyards rolling down the mountainside. The sweet fragrance of grapes and the mighty backdrop of Schlern infused the farm with an air of romance.
Upon returning to Rielingerhof’s outdoor tavern area, we gathered with the other guests next to an old stone barn where Matthias began the Authentic Törggelen celebration by lighting the “Keschtn” fire in an outdoor stove. As his children took turns roasting the chestnuts, he made sure we all had fresh pours in our glasses before sharing the history of the farm and the Törggelen tradition.
We made quick friends with a group of festive Germans who were staying overnight at Rielingerhof. They spoke excellent English so we were able to share stories back and forth of our travels in South Tyrol. After devouring the last handful of roasted chestnuts, two of our new friends broke into a cheerful folk song filling the farm with melody.
As the daylight faded away, Matthias led us to the farm’s old Stuben for the feast portion of our Törggelen celebration. With walls adorned in rich-toned wood, vintage family portraits hung throughout and tables aglow under candlelight, Rielingerhof’s farmhouse parlor is a portal to the past.
We were seated with another fun couple from Germany who also happen to speak English. More wine was brought to the table allowing us to refill our glasses before diving into a bevy of homemade South Tyrolean delicacies.
First came a savory barley soup dazzled with fresh mountain-born herbs followed by a lush plate of Schlutzkrapfen (ravioli pasta stuffed with spinach and Parmesan). Next, Rielingerhof brought us a plate of knödel (dumplings) paired with potatoes butter-roasted until surely as gold as the crown of Castel Pietra. The final dish was a glorious platter of sausage and ham resting on a heap of sauerkraut.
Every bite of our Törggelen meal meandered between delicious and downright heavenly. The freshness served at our table was a clear testament to Rielingerhof farming or foraging each ingredient.
We wrapped up the evening sipping more Rielingerhof wine while sharing more stories in between even more folk songs. It was the kind of memory etching night only a feast like Törggelen can make happen.
An Evening of Törggelen at Winkler hof
Our very first Törggelen experience began with a hike across South Tyrol’s Villanderer Berg mountain to a famous trio of chapels in Barbian (Barbiano) known as the Dreikirchen. After the hiking outing, we ventured to the Winkler Hof farm in the hamlet of Sauderer (St. Moritz), just below Villanders (Villandro).
Owned by Luise and Anton Fink, the farmstead was first mentioned in 1314. It beams with Alpine character from a sun-steeped slope next to the church of St. Moritz, 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 farm.
We were seated in a gorgeous farmhouse Stuben 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 an old-world ambiance that transports you to another time.
Our feast began with a bowl of sweet roasted chestnuts, a spread of speck and a glass of new wine from the farm’s Vernatsch grapes. This was followed by hearty 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 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.
Then came the main act. An immense platter (the “Schlachtplatte”) of smoked sausages (“Kaminwurzen”), 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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TIPS for Törggelen
There may be no better time to hike and feast than in autumn. The mountains and valleys are ablaze with gold and burgundy hues and the season’s briskness inspires a hunger only hearty cuisine can satisfy.
While you do not have to endure a lengthy hike to partake in a Törggelen celebration, we cannot recommend enjoying a fall trek enough. If you would like help embarking on a Törggelen adventure, we can put together an amazing itinerary that will forever change how you view autumn.
Those planning their own fall visit to South Tyrol should keep in mind that 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 trip.
We’d like to give special thanks to IDM Südtirol for introducing us to the Törggelen tradition!