After the main course, bowls of Stefan’s freshly roasted chestnuts arrive to rowdy applause. The guests peel off the hot husks by hand. From somewhere an accordion appears and the room erupts with old folk tunes. Everyone joins in with gusto, although only a few people know the words. More chestnuts arrive, more wine is poured. Outside, dusk melts into darkness, and the party continues into the night.
It’s past the witching hour when Stefan waves goodbye to the last of his guests. ‘This is what Törggelen is about,’ he says. ‘It’s a time of sharing, when we enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the fruits of the harvest. It’s been a tradition here for so long, it’s hard to imagine autumn without it.’
The word ‘Törggelen’ is thought to derive from the wooden presses once used to extract wine, known in Latin as torcolum and törggl in local dialect. Although much has changed in the mountains, the tradition has endured. Südtirolers still attend Törggelen two or three times a season – once with friends, once with family, once with colleagues – and many inns, farmhouses and hostelries across South Tyrol still host these harvest banquets in the old-fashioned way.
At Agriturismo Lafoglerhof, about 20 miles outside Bolzano (Bozen), every table is full, and the waitresses are working overtime, topping up jugs of wine, pulling pints of pilsner, preparing platters laden with meat, cheese and sauerkraut.
Children chase each other around the farmyard, dodging old barrels and strutting chickens, and their parents chink glasses with a gutsy ‘Grüß Gott’, the customary greeting of South Tyrol. ‘Autumn is a special time,’ says hostess Claudia Rier. ‘For me, it sums up the best things in life: food, laughter, spending time with people you love. I don’t think you can ask for more than that.’ But of course there is more: the magnificent backdrop to the celebrations, the Dolomites, slicing through South Tyrol like a dragon’s jawbone.