Try sleeping next to a cow. South Tyrol exchanges lederhosen for rural tourism
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
When I told my family and friends that I would be going to South Tyrol for a few days, I was very quickly on the receiving end of a number of bemused looks, combined with some sniggering, then people lifted the proverbial glass, tugged at their imaginary girl-from-the-alps plaits and asked whether I had packed my lederhosen? Excuse me?
South Tyrol has absolutely nothing in common with the Tyrol that we are familiar with from second-rate radio hit songs involving beer swilling, yodelling and the notorious après-ski. This region is, in fact, well-known for its outstanding, captivating landscapes and panoramic views, fantastic outdoor activities and the honouring of traditions with a healthy look to the future. Or how modern farm life is also made accessible to the inquisitive tourist. More compelling still, anyone seeking out the Red Rooster quality mark in South Tyrol is really keeping the farms alive.
Farm life up close
Live and experience the farm, that is Red Rooster's slogan. In a casual and personable atmosphere, they invite guests to enjoy nature to the full, to get involved in farm life at close quarters and to discover Tyrolean hospitality.
South Tyrolean farming is small-scale, and for this reason, farmers are decreasingly able to make a decent living from this profession. Because life on a farm is interwoven with century-old traditions and in many cases has also become a genuine family affair, it is therefore of great importance not to lose this heritage of craft and tradition. Thanks to the Red Rooster brand, farmers are now able to tap into additional revenue streams. These include farm holidays, farm cafés, high-quality farm products and farm craft trades.
In 1998, the South Tyrolean Farmers’ Association established the ‘Roter Hahn’ brand - German for Red Rooster. Initially, accommodation was offered under this brand on South Tyrolean farms, but since 2003, the ‘Roter Hahn’ brand is more about ‘farm cafés’ and ‘high-quality farm products’ in South Tyrol.
This, of course, does not mean that any old farm can join this quality label. That’s not how it works; I stick two cows in a meadow and I’m allowed to open a bed and breakfast? No, Red Rooster has strict quality criteria against which stringent requirements are stipulated. Anyone who has five ‘flowers’ must for example have outstanding facilities, a wooden floor in the bedroom and there needs to be lots to get excited about. The farm breakfast consists of a wide selection of farm-grown produce and home-grown farm produce is also sold.
As a guest, you can choose from more than 1,600 farms with apartments or rooms. The farms are usually divided into animal husbandry, fruit farming or viticulture. Most offer breakfast and, at some, full board is even possible.
Depending on the offer, in addition to tours around the farm, additional activities are also organised, such as apple picking, culinary workshops, guided rambles, making camp fires or - as we did - going on a day out to a mountain meadow with the host family.
We stayed in Peterwieshof, a shining example of what I would call modern farm life. A modern farm in a quiet location where you expect quite a lot of sunshine and have a picture-perfect view to the Geislerspitzen mountain peaks. All facilities are, of course, included, and what struck me the most was the electricity from solar power, the wonderful lawn, the underfloor heating in the bathroom and the solid wooden furniture.
The Kofler family lives off cattle breeding and also makes homemade bread, pastries, jam and fruit juices. Anyone who sits down at the breakfast buffet will know that he or she will be served up super-fresh, local produce. On a sunny spring day, we even had the opportunity to taste fresh spinach and cheese dumplings under the all-seeing eye of the Dolomites, preceded by wonderful schnapps and followed by kaischerschmarren made on the premises, a sweet, local speciality, which makes you think of ‘poffertje’ pancakes, but ten times better. You could roll me right back down the mountain, but after a wonderful hike to the alpine meadow, this was very well-deserved.
From organic farm to charming castle
In the range of apartments or rooms, you also come across a diverse range of architectural gems; from a renovated castle to an ultramodern wine grower. This is how one rainy day we arrived at St Quirinus, an ultramodern organic farm right in the heart of the wine region where, as a guest, you may plan a tour of the vineyard and then taste the homemade wine from the wine cellar. We were pleased to take our place at the table, and so we got to know the charming Sinn family. After tasting the best organic wines, we were immediately able to debunk the cliché image of beer-swilling Tyrolean men. Here, they like wine, damn good wine!
The day after, we left the modern architecture as it was and, with some surprise, stepped back in time - more specifically to the twelfth century - to the Pupp family in the residence of the Gravetsche Castle. It is a bit of a mouthful, but this is a castle with very impressive walls in a rustic setting. In addition to the fantastically beautiful courtyard, you will find a picturesque chapel, an original farmhouse including ‘stube’ or hide, hidden rooms and even a ‘Selch’ room in which they dry traditional bacon. The focus here is on milk production for local distribution and, of course, on guests consuming produce. Furthermore, you can still buy fresh apple juice, or you may even be tempted into buying a pot of homemade jam... They had in any case already conquered our hearts with the homemade apple strudel.
As well as the holiday-on-the-farm concept, Red Rooster also stands for farm cafés. Wassererhof in Völs am Schlern is a good example of this. Officially a café, but with the appearance of a restaurant. A refurbishment project incorporating lots of durable materials, in which even external features find a place indoors, such as the large boulder in the ladies toilet. They do not offer accommodation, but focus on selling wine and on traditional, Tyrolean cuisine - albeit with a bit of a modern twist.
The brothers Mock poured out their own Sauvignon for us, which was still enormously appealing to us as amateurs. We were also able to try typical farm dishes such as schlutzer (ravioli with spinach filling), cheese and bacon dumplings, beef cheeks with spätzle made of wholemeal spelt, asparagus with ham, not to mention the crème brulée made of dandelion or the tart sweet taste of rhubarb pie. Only yesterday running around the courtyard or in the vegetable garden, today on your plate...
I never imagined that the South Tyrolean community could be so close to nature. It's so lovely that so many families opt for farm life. It almost evokes a bit of nostalgia. I also had that feeling on my visit to Pflegerhof. After an unpredictable journey through the mountains, far away from all the hustle and bustle, the Pflegerhof herb garden looked like a picture from a fairy tale.
A hectare full of herbs and spices, it’s ready to seduce you with dozens of aromas, scents and a blaze of colour. Mountaintops full of character paint a picture-perfect backdrop to this herb paradise, which Marta Mulser established in 1982. Started then as a pioneer, it is now an example for many. For those that engage in healthy eating, for those that look to sometimes experiment in the kitchen (I spotted chocolate mint and cinnamon basil) and for those that believe in the healing powers of plants and herbs.
Bacon to everyone's mouth!
It is great to spend hours on the farm, but South Tyrol has so much more to offer; from more than 800 castles, the most breath-taking hiking routes, through to the most Instagrammable lakes where you can go for a swim or even sit on a terrace with an Aperol Spritz in your hand. Even ice man Ötzi found his last resting place here. Bacon to the mouth of both the seasoned traveller and those in search of new cultural heights.
Is South Tyrol completely cliché-free? Of course not, but that's a good thing. You don't always have to be serious on holiday. Thus, there's the Bacon Festival in Funes, where outlandish festivities and activities are scheduled to honour this culinary delicacy. At these kinds of festivals, the bagpipes and lederhosen do tend to feature again. Folkish, playful, convivial but never banal. Oh, and anyone thinking of drinking the night away, don't forget the early morning call of the crowing roosters. Cock-a-doodle-doo!!
You can read the Dutch version of this article here.