My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

Some people are lucky to live in paradise. It is hard to resist envy, looking at the green alpine picture with cows and goats on as if combed slopes.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

– Espresso, Cappuccino, Caramelle, Melange! & nbsp; – comes from somewhere above, from the veranda of the three-hundred-year-old alpine hut “Peters Kaser” in the mountain pasture Nockeralm above the Falsertal valley.

I am lying on the slope of a green meadow in a shallow flower, throwing back his face and squinting from the bright alpine sun. And I listen to the iridescent ringing of bells. Helga Maria Hager makes excellent coffee, but this is not about him. Espresso, Cappuccino, Caramelle and Melange are the names of four of her fifteen favorite goats.

It's time for them to go for a walk to their favorite mountain pasture Ocherloch. And yes, I was not mistaken. The word “favorite” is not a random repetition, but the key concept here. Without love, this whole alpine pastoral would not exist long ago. No clover-smelling milk, no cheese melting in your mouth, no flowered green meadow combed like on a postcard…

Slightly waddling and playfully bullying each other, but still surprisingly orderly, as if well rehearsed, the goats emerge from their comfortable barn and take up positions on the slope of the yard, next to the people. Each chooses a pair of someone from our international group of intellectuals who have decided on a small course of an alpine farmer. Approaches and looks into the eyes. Well, like a dog or a cat. And the goat chooses me too. And I feel ashamed that I don't know her name.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

All goats of the same Austrian breed – Tauernshek: white-brown, with a strip of black wool along the ridge. I can't even recognize the Espresso that I milked in the morning under the strict supervision of Helga…

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Milky morning

— Squeeze the udder at the bottom, moving towards the base of the nipple, don’t be afraid, a little stronger and more confident, so that the milk is pushed down … Here … Espresso, could you stand still, bitte.

There is no limit to the patience and strength of Espresso. I managed to milk half a cup. I'm proud of myself. But Helga got up today at four, before the roosters, milked the first six liters of milk, leaving Espresso for the “students”, at five she already fermented cheese, then baked grain bread for us in a wood-burning oven.

Helga  is a multi-instrumentalist. Here she is, in rubber boots and overalls, working in the stalls, after five minutes she is already out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, and after another five, in a snow-white robe, cap and gloves, she is operating in the holy of holies – a small cheese factory. It is allowed to observe the process only through the glass and the window mesh. Inside, the way is ordered for us.

Austria has very strict hygiene standards for cheese making. Everything should shine from cleanliness, which means that you constantly need to wash and clean something: buckets, pots, cheese molds, and also stalls, hands and yourself five times a day … And again to the goats. They are the main bells in Helgin's orchestra. On the alma, where the music of her heart constantly sounds.

Alm  is a purely alpine concept. This is the name of a mountain pasture with a hut, where in the summer, from about April to September-October, a farmer goes with his animals. There, all day long, his wards walk in high-mountain meadows and forests, stocking up on proteins for the winter.

Helga spent every summer at the alma with her grandparents from infancy. And at the age of 16, when it became difficult for the elderly to manage the farm, she began to manage the farm on her own. And so six summer seasons, with goats and cows. And in the winter I worked as a waitress.

— I was young and a little crazy. I remember our neighbors who came from Innsbruck and France. Every weekend they cooked something very tasty and drank good wine. And wine became my passion in the best sense of the word.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

At the age of 22, Helga left Fals and went to conquer “big world”, at first to Italy. In 1991, she became one of the first female sommeliers in Austria, and then received a gastronomic education. She worked in hotels in Kitzbühel, got married, had two daughters, and in 2010 was nominated for the prestigious Austrian wine culture award VINEAS. Then I thought…

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A goat in a hotel

— I I wondered what I would do after 50. And I decided to change my life by returning in 2011 here, to the family home, to my brother's farm. I didn't know if I could. But when I saw Nokeralm, overgrown with weeds to the waist, my heart broke.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

Alpine meadows don't bloom on their own. They require human labor. It is necessary to graze cattle, mow the grass – only then biodiversity will be preserved. Otherwise, fast-growing shrubs and trees will take away space and light from mountain flowers and herbs and, as a result, from many bugs and birds. In addition, orphan pastures are much more likely to erode than managed grasslands.

For Helga, working on the alma has become more than just a family affair and even more than a matter of restoring traditional alpine farming. She set herself the goal not to let these beautiful meadows die, to maintain the fragile ecological balance of the protected areas of Tyrol. So at 50 years Helga took up her studies again to become a good farmer, and also a mountain guide.

“I started here with five goats. Gradually, there were more of them, respectively, more milk, and in 2012 my brother and I built another house on Alma – a cheese factory. Worries have increased. But I am happy to live such a life, change it with the seasons. Wine in Kitzbühel in winter, goats in the alma in summer. This year I plan to launch them into the valley by September 27th. But my goats can declare earlier: we don’t want to be here anymore, it’s time to go home. They decide everything. I just have to say to my goat leader: ok, Melange, if you want, let's go, & nbsp; – Helga nods at the favorite walking next to her along the forest road. The rest of the goats went ahead, followed by an international escort of “students”.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

— Until mid-October, I still have things to do on the farm, then a short break, and in December I go to Kitzbühel, to wine and gastronomy. I have been there for three months, but already from the beginning of March I have to go to Vals, because goats appear, and I have to be there. It's hard to match. I'm in Kitzbühel on the weekend, here from Monday to Friday. March and April are the busiest months. But it's time to tie with the hotel. If earlier the guests of the restaurant, when they saw me, asked me to pick up wine for dinner, now the first thing they ask is: “Helga, how are your goats?” I'm no longer a sommelier, I'm a goat in a hotel. Recently, a magazine wrote that the only difference between me and a goat is mascara!

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< h2>DIY

Helga laughs. Her face is a solid smile, firmly imprinted in mimic wrinkles, and her eyes are blue-blue, like alpine springs. It is not clear how much she sleeps, she herself does not know. Maybe four or five hours a day, if you're lucky. It is necessary to milk the goats, make cheese, clean the goat's rue, prepare compost and hay, grow cereals (for lunch we have soup from Helga barley), monitor the irrigation of the land – on the steep slopes of the meadows, vaale, thin irrigation canals, were laid by her own hands, through which water runs from high-mountain streams …

A woman alone simply cannot hold all this in her hands. From time to time friends helped, and then they came up with an almost crazy idea for a volunteer project: “What if we organize an alpine farmer's school in Falsertal – Schule der Alm – based on Helga's alm? They came up with a three-day course in which teachers from the valley give beginners lessons in grass cutting, haymaking, milking, herbalism, building a traditional alpine fence and dry masonry stone walls.

Those who successfully complete the course get the right to come to work as a volunteer on the farm. It was hard for Helga's friends to believe that some people in our time are willing to pay their own money to literally clean the stalls instead of taking a vacation. In 2015, we conducted a trial course and realized: people will!

The Wipptal tourist office, not particularly busy with work, since these places are not trampled by tourists, undertook to help with the placement of students in small family guesthouses in the valley – in St. Jodok, Padaun, and other villages. Courses for 10-12 people began to be arranged four times a season, and – what is important – volunteers began to come to Helga, already for two or three weeks.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

– Basically, these are people of mental labor: doctors, teachers, managers. From Austria, Germany, Italy… – says Helga. – These are wonderful crazy people who are ready to work with their hands, like our ancestors 500 years ago. They are happy to live in simple conditions: eat simple food, sleep on a simple bed.

Returning from a walk with goats (who themselves went further into the mountains), we eat “field barley” soup in a cramped but cozy dining room “Peters Kaser” and we are waiting for the arrival of the first teacher Schule der Alm — former school teacher and now retired Alois Gatt, an old friend of Helga's who has long been helping her with haymaking.

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Organic life

Alois Gatt, a handsome, thin old man in a shepherd's hat with a daisy under a drawstring, assesses a group of amateur mowers with a professional teacher's blue eyes from under glasses. Alois has energetic movements and the smooth quiet speech of the storyteller: “First we must sharpen the braids. Everyone will have such a case on their belt, similar to a scabbard, you need to pour a little water into it and put a grindstone. Take a stone like this, and a scythe like this. Not this side… And carefully, from the bottom to the end: one-two, Eins-zwei…”

Alois arranges us on the slope so that we don’t cross each other’s legs, and one by one shows how and where to wave the deadly object.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

The slope is steep, about 45 degrees. You won't stand up straight. The tip of the scythe now plows the ground, then flies past the grass. But after three meters you start to get a taste. Rraz-z-z – and another bunch of flower heads falls “as if cut down.” Behind me, a strip of shaved lawn is gradually forming. But after 50 strokes -I think on purpose -my scythe becomes blunt, and the pleasure is replaced by the need to sharpen the blade.

— Alois, why do you mow the old fashioned way, with scythes?

— A otherwise impossible. What technique will climb such a steep slope? She does not go beyond the valley. In addition, the mowers buzz very loudly … This is harmful to insects. Most things on Alpine farms can still only be done by hand.

In the meantime, Helga prepared for us two huge sizzling pans with kasnoken, traditional Tyrolean dumplings in melted cow's milk cheese. We eat them with spoons straight from the pans, as it should be, the cheese stretches, the butter flows down the chins.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

— Where do you get groceries? — I ask Helga. – Go shopping?

– I have my own cereals: oats, millet, barley. Fruits and vegetables are brought by my sister Margit from her garden and from friends. All farmers produce something: bread, cheese, sausage. I hate big stores. I panic there because of the need to choose from a thousand things. I have another luxury here: I know what I eat and drink. How many can boast of the same?

– Do you eat your goats?.. – someone asks a question that torments everyone.

– Yes, it’s impossible here otherwise. When the goat gets old, can't conceive anymore and doesn't produce milk, that's the only way. But I can't do it right away. I need to forget. After all, it was my friend. It should be a couple of months before I touch this sausage …

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

When I ask Helga about what qualities must have a person who decides to become a farmer, it all comes down to goats one way or another.

“You must understand that this is work that cannot be stopped or postponed. It requires your participation every minute, day and night. This must be understood before you decide to become a farmer. Your time belongs to the animals. If you don't like goats, you will hate this life. But just loving them is not enough. You must have respect for them. As for people. Because animals are individuals too. You need to talk to them, make sure that they are not only healthy, but also happy. Here you have children? You cannot be happy if they are unhappy. Sometimes you have to forbid something, but it is important to be able to give them freedom. In the same way, one must be able to let the goat live its own life, respect its choice. Here, for example, Melange… Once she fell in love…

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

In August 2011, Melange did not return home from a walk. Helga was scared. But closer to the night, the bell rang – a familiar farmer brought Melange from the mountains, where Erich lives, the artist, to whom we are going tomorrow, and where many goats graze …

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Love pastoral

The next morning, together with the goats and Helga, we set off up the mountain paths, through the alder forest, to the high meadows. By Melange. There, where another mysterious character lives on the mountain – the artist and lord of the water Erich Gatt. Helga continues the story of love:

“Three years ago, Melange twice went up to the pasture to Erich, to Zeischalm, and returned. And the third time, she didn't come back. I went up the mountain myself. And she saw Melange with her lover, – Helga finds a photo on her phone: a handsome black goat with spreading horns… – I tell her, let's go home. And she: no-o-o-o. So it stayed for three weeks. She returned accompanied by a goat. Then she gave birth to a baby. This year, in the second week of summer, her high-altitude lover was waiting for her already below, on the bridge. Of course, I'm not happy to have a black child again, because Melange is a tauernshek, and that goat is a completely different breed. But for the sake of Melange, I am ready for such melange …

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

The goat's path – four kilometers with a climb of 600 meters from Helga's farm to Zeischalm, to Erich – seems to me insurmountable. The goat path winds through the alder forest, over stones, fallen trunks. The goats had long ago turned aside, to their usual pastures. Sometimes you have to go through waterfalls that flow right between the stones under your feet. In some places there are tablets in memory of those who did not reach …

On the last third of the way, amazing signs begin to come across: either figurines of animals, or water chalks with hammers and wheels, rotated by some kind of freaks, lovingly carved from wood. The last ascent along the stepped path between small pine trees is especially steep, but, having overcome it, I see the incredible: on a green hillock around the alpine hut Zeischalm, an installation is spread. , folded by the method of dry laying. This is the work of Erich Gatt, a grey-haired mustache with big hands, who greets guests with whips on the ground, carving a resounding echo from the surrounding mountains.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

Erich, a plumber by trade (that's where all those water mills come from!), has been collecting stones for over 40 years, turning them into works of art. And he doesn't consider himself an artist. He has a wife and children in St. Jodok, but every summer he escapes to his hill and lives here in free alliance with nature. Sometimes students from the Alma School come to him, bring some food, and Erich treats them to pear schnapps from a large bottle and teaches them to lay walls out of stones … “Stones store energy, I'm sure of it,” says Erich.< /p>

New Height

I feel as if Erich has collected all the energy of stones, sun and water and shared it with me. It should be enough for the return trip, but here's the only surprise: Helga takes our company not down, but to the side and up again. Through forest snags and waist-deep grass, where even goats would not have passed (well, except perhaps Melange in love). And then I hear the approaching ringing of bells.

We meet on a lawn dotted with tussocks with lingonberries, for some time goats and people go up and down together, but now the animals turn into the woods again, and people continue on their way further along the edge. I am lagging behind and no longer understand the purpose of our circular route. And now, barely moving my legs, I go out onto a wide slope, down which a meadow spreads like a carpet unfolded on a grand scale, and in the depths lies the Falsertal valley: a view of it opens up almost to St. Jodok, to its confluence with the Wipptal.

The wooded slopes are flooded with the sun, the Falserbach stream gleams below, cows graze in flat meadows, among rare farm houses. A magical perspective created by nature and people… For the sake of which it was worth going higher and higher.


In the evening, at dinner, we drink wine from the hands of an experienced sommelier. Helga brings out another bottle and fantasizes about the elegant female character of 2005 Pinot Noir. Bells are heard from above. The goats hop back home. Espresso, Cappuccino, Caramelle, Melange… Someone is joking: probably the next generation of goats will be named Merlot, Sauvignon, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir…

I'm taking a bundle of fragrant hay from Helga's barn to Moscow which she lovingly handed to me. She offered to take a goat. But I decided to wait.

My heart is in the mountains: how they live and work on an alpine farm in Austria

Fals, Tyrol , Austria

Communal area Vals 48.71 km²
Population~ 530 people
Population density ~ 11 people/km²

Area of ​​Tyrol 12,640.17 km²
Population ~ 751,200 people
Population density ~ 60 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSFalsertal nature reserve, alpine the village of Sankt Jodok with a 15th-century Gothic church, installations by Erich Gatt on the Zeischalm.
TRADITIONAL DISHES kasnoken – dumplings with onions in melted cheese; spekknödelzuppe – soup with bread dumplings with bacon; kaiserschmarrn – sweet omelette – with lingonberry jam.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS rowan schnapps, herbal infusions.
SOUVENIRSfarm cheese and smoked meats, different types of schnapps.

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to St. Jodok ~ 2035 km (from 3 hours 45 minutes in flight to Innsbruck excluding transfers, then 30 km by road).
TIME behind Moscow by an hour in summer, two hours in winter< br>VISASchengen


For more information about the Schule der Alm (Schule der Alm):
About Tyrol:

Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 5, May 2019, partially updated in October 2022

Stella Morotskaya

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