When the cattle come home after a summer away, it's always reason to celebrate.
The tradition of sending livestock up to mountain pastures for the summer goes back ages. After months of fine grazing and crisp mountain air, the cows literally come home in a traditional parade through town in a show of colour. There's a 'timeless' feeling, as if we could be standing 200 years back on the same streets - the malgari are all dressed in authentic attire with cattle and horses decorated in bright wreaths and flowers. Children sit atop of hay bales piled onto wooden carts while grandad plays the accordion and mums with babies in traditional Tyrolean bonnets and youths steer their cattle through paved town streets, lined 3 people deep. In the north-Italian, mountainous province of Trentino, the Desmontegada starts at the beginning of October in a succession of Autumnal events organised throughout the province, each town featuring its own. Hikes, shows, talks and tasting tours are planned and then of course, it's always time to sit down and eat. What else but a beautiful, buzzing sagra with local, autumnal foods presented in a feast of tastes and culinary traditions.
Desmontegada means 'descend the mountain' in dialect. What goes up must come down, in this case it's loved ones and livestock sent up in spring to live in the malghe. Malghe are simple stone dwellings built at higher altitudes where 'malgari' spend their summers milking cows and making cheese. Mountain trails lead up and down from the villages, now we find secure roads but once the malgari would live a semi-isolated mountain life for months before returning home thus this yearly autumnal procession through town would always have been cause for merry celebration. Some Trentino towns, like Predazzo in Val di Fiemme, have kept it going to this day, this is one of our favourite annual Italian occasions.
Firstly, visually, it's a feast for the eyes - whole families with their livestock parade through town in pride. Cows swerve towards the people gathered, their huge bells clinking loudly, festooned in wreaths of flowers while herds of goats or cart horses decorated in their finest troop past so close you can reach out and touch them. Notice the clear skin and healthy, relaxed air of these people - this is their moment and their pride beams through. After marching through town to accordion music and the stomping of hooves, everyone follows the flow towards an enormous white marquee tent where animals are put into designated fields to graze and their masters, along with the rest of us, congregate in the tents with the anticipation of glorious food, about to be enjoyed for lunch.
Music, food and merriment are on the menu while we find seats at busy, long tables to the loud buzz of excited chatter.
Expect proper mountain food! Foraged mushrooms, sausage or pastin (spiced sausage meat), polenta, mountain cheeses and local beer. Beautiful cakes and rich desserts are typical in these regions - Linzer cake with hazelnuts and berries, Sacher, Black Forest and ricotta crostata, apple strudel with lashings of thick cream... always leave some space for pudding or simply extend your meal over an entire afternoon, like most people do.
Children run amongst the busy tables and outside to feed the horses tethered nearby, simple sagra food flies out at a rate of nots, served by all ages who volunteer to help with the swift organisation. The Alpini, Italy's oldest, active mountain infantry are often the principle organisers with the whole community stepping in to help. It's a beautiful thing, from beginning to end, especially in charming Predazzo.
Find Predazzo's desmotegada information here. Rather than a day, we suggest you stay a while exploring lush Val di Fiemme and perhaps spend the weekend (or more) in a characteristic B&B? There are many to choose from, all dotted on the rolling green valley slopes with second-to-none hospitality, homemade foods and activities under the warming sun - hire a bike and cycle the long valley paths or head up ski lifts to access mountain peaks with log-cabin restaurants and jaw-dropping views - much more than simply the cows coming home, this will be a trip you'll remember forever, as a breath of fresh mountain air.