As our global digital village continues to get smaller and tighter, it is nice to get out and visit the real world.
We did just that the other weekend when we traveled to Seewis in Prättigau. For the past twelve years, the canton of Graubünden has capitalized on celebrating its farming tradition by hosting the Alp Spektakel - a rural farmers festival with a twist.
Alp Spektakel is an event as Swiss as they get
With winter coming in much earlier in the mountains than in the flat lands, farmers take their cows and other animals down from the alp in September. Each town has their own alpine descents when different farms bring their carefully decorated cattle, goats, sheep and other animals back to town.
At these parades, it is a custom to wear traditional costumes, listen to Swiss folk music and judge the animals, many of which might eventually be sold at auction. The so called Alpabfahrt shows off some of the most beautiful beasts from all over Prättigau. They have arrived just for the festival, and not directly from their alpine pastures.
It would not be a real market if you could not also buy other local products.
Here in Prättigau, the cheesemakers have set up a large market where they are selling the cheeses they have been perfecting up on the mountain. During the summer, the cheese has been slowly washed and aged to perfection.
Also, there is the traditional Bündner Nusstorte, herbal teas and Röteli, a herbal liqueur made with cherries. We tasted our way through 16 different Alpkäse (alpine cheeses). In the end, we could not agree on the best one, though each one of our favorites placed in the top three of the people's choice.
Then: Beards, beard and more beards.
What you will also see at the Alp Spektakel are many beards. A few years ago, there was an article in the Guardian asking if we had reached a peak when it comes to beards. Come to the Alp Spektakel, and the answer is a clear and definitive: No.
The reason being that the Prättigauer Alpine Festival also hosts the International Natural Full-Beard Competition, which attracts barbate men from near and far. Unlike other beard competitions, these beards are not to be treated with any products. Like the title says, they are 100% natural. And judging is done by a panel who will solely have a long and good look at the contestants' facial hair.
This year, the winners came from three different countries:
- Kurt Rohner from Switzerland (left)
- Willi Preuss from Bavaria (middle)
- Marc Bereiter from Austria (right)
When farmers do Olympics...
On Sunday morning, visitors can enjoy a choir concert during the church service in Seewis. The spire of the church is a little crooked. (This odd fact was confirmed by our host.) I guess you could call it the Leaning Tower of Seewis.
If you are not into churches or concerts, you might want to partake in the Älpler Olympiade (alpine farmer Olympics). I decided to take on the challenge and compete with some of Prättigau’s most excellent young farmers. The triathlon included running a slalom course with milk buckets, setting fence posts and putting up an electric fence.
My city slicker ways were no competition for this youthful yet seasoned group of competitors. Even my marathon running experience failed to provide me with any edge on them. That said, I would encourage anyone and everyone to register and take part. Congrats to this year’s winners:
- Älplerkönigin: Sereina Aliesch, Grüscher Älpli
- Älplerkönig: Jakub Bednàr, Alp Lengweid
And finally, the crowning of the queen!
The Alp Spektakel is capped off with the crowning of the Alpkönigin (Alp Queen). No, it is not the most beautiful maiden from the Alps. We are talking about the most beautiful and most milk-producing cow at the event! This past year, it was none other than Pinia from Hans Valär-Pollett of Jenaz's farm.
My advice: Plan your trip to next year's Prättigauer Alp Spektakel now. Start your fence setting training today and stop shaving. With a little practice and patience, you could be next year’s Älplerkönigin or -könig or win the title of best natural beard!
If nothing else, you will get to enjoy some excellent cheese, witness a piece of living Alpine tradition, eat some Capuns and shoot a few Röteli as you dance the night away in the festival tent...