Story: The goatherd and his native Ticino goats

Contentment among the black free spirits

Above Gordevio in Vallemaggia, at 1,718 metres, Alpe Nimi is a summer resort for the Nera Verzasca goats and others.

The Alpe Nimi invites hikers to feast and then sleep under the stars. But it is hut warden and former banker Pietro Zanoli who has made his dream come true in this mountain wilderness. A herd of Nera Verzasca goats keep him company and provide an endless source of dairy products.

THE CHARACTER

Pietro Zanoli, hut warden of Alpe Nimi

Pietro Zanoli, hut warden of Alpe Nimi
Only very few mountain huts are also farming businesses.

The season doesn’t begin on the Alpe Nimi until the goats say so, and Pietro wouldn’t have it any other way. “I know it’s time to go as soon as my herd disappear up onto the pasture area above Gordevio towards the end of May. That’s when it’s time to set off on the five-hour hike up to the capanna (mountain hut).” Once there, he’ll stay until November, surrounded by beautiful nature and with a very special view of Lake Maggiore. His only company: mountain peaks, hikers... and a herd of black free-spirited creatures.

Pietro Zanoli describes the Nera Verzasca as a ‘four-wheel drive’ goat. “I know there are Maseratis and Lamborghinis – but what use are they to me up here in the mountains?” However, that doesn’t mean the black goats aren’t stunning animals – with their glistening coats that have a brown sheen in the sunlight, their powerful horns and their muscular but slim build, they appear to be a particularly noble breed. Not so virtuous is their somewhat boisterous greeting as they pester newcomers for food, nuzzling their pockets and backpacks before settling down in the shade of the rocks.

The gentle ringing of their bells sounds like music across the mountain, accompanied by the scent of warm hay, meadow grass and animal fur. A true mountain idyll.  

THE FULL STORY


Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

But the calm breaks as the animals set off on their daily excursion to remote mountain pastures. Fiercely independent and freedom-loving, or at least until their milking appointment the next morning. “There aren’t many huts that also operate as farms,” says Pietro, who has been in charge of the Alpe Nimi since 2000. “Many of them have specialised in good food and accommodation.” The former banker, however, has gone into fresh goat’s cheese production instead.

I used to milk my uncle’s goats as a little boy. As an adult, I did an apprenticeship in a bank.
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

A tradition which he took over from his uncle, just like the running of the hut. Even as a child, Zanoli would spend hours in the mountains, helping out with milking and herding the goats. “It was my passion!” His professional life would take him down a different path, however, starting a career as a broker. But the job just didn’t satisfy him. As his uncle went into retirement, he finally fulfilled his dream and moved to the remote Ticino Alps. He is now a proud hut warden, providing hikers seeking rest and recuperation with nourishment and accommodation after a long day. 

The approximately seventy black Nera Verzasca are the hut’s main attraction. This old breed, native to Ticino, originally came from the Verzasca Valley and is now found almost exclusively in this area and northern Italy. Sturdiness, flexibility and contentment are the breed’s main features, and they are some of the largest goats in the world. They are fully at home in the Alpine domain and are happy despite the changing weather.

Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

This is what makes them so ideal for farmers – plus, their milk and meat is excellent quality.

Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

Nowadays, the species is protected by the ProSpecieRara foundation. They have a reputation for being particularly smart, so can the expert confirm that for us? Pietro Zanoli, who also keeps other breeds of goat, cannot help but laugh: “I’d describe them as crafty. If there’s bread or a hole in a fence somewhere, they’ll find it.” 

The Nera Verzasca herd which spend the summer up on Alpe Nimi with Zanoli actually belong to a farming company in the Maggia Valley. During the winter, the animals live in Dunzio on the sunny plains of Aurigeno. As soon as Zanoli accompanies his own small herd up to the Alpe Nimi at the end of May, the black goats are led to the starting point of the climb over in Gordevio.

Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

From there, the leaders find their own way and help the rest of the herd safely uphill. 

Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Pro tip
At the Alpe Nimi guests can sleep out under the stars. The view from the double bed on an old chestnut trunk stretches all the way over Lake Maggiore.
All Pietro Zanoli's goats have a name, such as Pinky Winky whose milk is excellent for the production of fresh cheese, which in one season can reach up to 10 tons.
The temperature of the panoramic pool with view over Lake Maggiore is 10°C. The highest and lowest point of Switzerland can be observed from the "beach" on the Alpe Nimi.
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

The Alpe Nimi offers up to twenty-two visitors a place to sleep, with some beds outside under the open skies. Those making it up to the hut are greeted with breathtaking nature and an ice-cold bath with a view over Lake Maggiore, and are treated to a range of Alpine delicacies. But the ascent is a challenge.

At around 17.00, the warden prepares an aperò to stave off hunger until dinner, which is served at 20.00 “There’s always one single dish made of local ingredients, but with a version for vegetarians, vegans and those with allergies.” 

One particularly special product which can only be found here is his home-made goat’s cheese, made daily by the warden. The Alpe Nimi produces two different sorts of cheese: on the one hand büscion, which is a fresh creamy spreading cheese found nowhere else.

Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

Apart from that there’s the semi-pasteurised formaggella, matured for three to five weeks.

Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia
Alpe Nimi, Vallemaggia

Pietro Zanoli keeps busy looking after his guests, milking the goats and preparing the cheese from 5.00 until late at night – but is thankful for all the help he gets from employees and volunteers.

“I don’t take my holidays until autumn. Here up on Nimi. Together with the goats expecting the next round of little kids.” 

“The Nera Verzasca is the real ‘four-wheel drive’ of the goat world. There are Maseratis and Lamborghinis – but what use are they in the mountains?”

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