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 its own alpine descent 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 wouldn't be a real market if you couldn't 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 on the mountain. The cheese has been slowly washed during the summer and aged to perfection.
Also, there is the traditional Bündner Nusstorte, herbal teas, and Röteli, a herbal liquor made with cherries. We tasted our way through 16 different Alpkäse (alpine cheeses). Ultimately, we could not agree on the best one, though each of our favorites placed in the top three of the people's choices.
Then: Beards, beards, 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 regarding beards. Come to the Alp Spektakel, and the answer is a clear and definitive: No.
The reason is 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.
In 2017, 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. (Our host confirmed this odd fact.)
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 the 2017 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 is to plan your trip to the Prättigauer Alp Spektakel. 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 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...
Hi there! My name is Mia, and I’m from the US. I am learning about Switzerland right now, and came across your blog. It’s so fascinating to see all the little bits of culture that can happen in one festival, and it is all so different from everything in the United States. I liked hearing about the farmer Olympics, and it’s cool that some of the common farming techniques like carrying milk buckets and putting up fence posts can be turned into a fun activity for the whole community! Which activity was the hardest for you to do? I’ve heard that the local cheese stands/farms are the only places you can sample Swiss cheese because of the health code differences between Switzerland and other places, so what was the best type of cheese that you tried, and why was it better than other cheeses that you’ve tasted, if it was?
I have a few more questions that I’ve been thinking about since reading this post:
If farmers within the US were to have farming Olympics, what kind of activities do you think would be part of that?
Is farming in the US the same or different as farming in Switzerland? How?
Do festivals like this one happen all over Switzerland, or just in the area you were in?
How do the “ancient” traditions of the Swiss people show through in this festival?
Thank you so much, I loved reading about your experience!
Thank you for the comment on the article. I’m glad you liked it and will do my best to answer your queries.
1. Swiss Cheese in USA – Some states, but not all, have a policy on forbidding the sale of unpasteurized milk products. There’s a great series on Netflix called “Rotten” where they discuss this. Short answer is in some states you can get unpasteurized Swiss cheese, in other places it is pasteurized. In Switzerland both are on the market. Regarding the best cheese I tasted at the event – it placed 3rd in the general public voting, was a hard Alp cheese that had nice spicy nuances and light salt crystallization in the cheese.
2. Hardest Farmer Olympic Event – by far it was doing the electrical fencing, because it looks so easy and you want to go very quickly.
3. US Farmer Olympics would probably have events like round bale rolling and hay bale tossing. I imagine ranchers would also have lassoing.
4. I think one of the biggest differences between farming in Switzerland and the US is scale. Swiss farms are smaller and usually independent family ventures. This has died to a great extent in the US, though there are still many hardworking independent farmers. The other is that Swiss farming is often done on hillsides and in the mountains. We don’t have the prairies like the US.
5. Many areas in Switzerland do have similar events. In a way you can think of them as the county fair with a longer history and more pageantry for the animals and how well they’re taken care of.