Weekly market in Chur

Stern Stern Stern Stern Stern
Oliver Kerstholt Nicola Pitaro

Chur old town – just a stone’s throw from the Passugger plant in Araschgen, in the Chur municipality – is an attractive place on any day. Well-maintained buildings, bustling car-free alleyways, a selection of lively cafés and restaurants, and a wide range of independent shops – even a fourth-generation-owned music shop does a brisk trade here – make it a good place to live and well worth visiting.

For many, the best time to visit is on Saturdays between May and October during which time, on every Saturday morning, two of the main streets, Obere and Untere Gasse are transformed into an exceptional farmers’ market.

A sensory delight at the start of May.

Is there any image which evokes Spring better than freshly-cut asparagus? Arranged beside juicy, bright orange carrots and in front of tightly bundled spring onions? Stefan Walter knows the impression he wants to convey as he asks me to take a walk through Chur weekly market – he has been president of the organising committee since 2011.

We stroll slowly past the stalls. Everyone says hello to Walter, and he takes the time to chat a while, and to answer questions – market season has only just started. It gives me plenty of opportunity to take a good look round. The rich variety of goods on sale here is quite striking. At first glance it seems a little surprising, though Walter explains that everything on sale comes exclusively from Graubünden. Quite simply, the entire wealth of Graubünden’s diverse agricultural output comes together here. And the range of goods is wide even on the first day of market season.

Starting with baked goods – bread of every possible shape and recipe, and heavenly pastries which are impossible to resist, even if you’ve just had breakfast an hour ago. Then vegetables – fresh of course; perhaps fresher than anywhere else because of the short supply lines, but also vegetable products from the pantry, such as sauerkraut – and salads. The time of year means that most of the fruit I see on sale today is dried, but that will soon change. The same applies to the much-loved (porcini) mushrooms.

Gradually, my shopping bag fills up. Asparagus, of course. A lettuce, radishes. The menu is still to be confirmed.

There are eggs, pasta and lots of dairy products. Fresh milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, butter, and cheeses from the cow, the goat and the sheep – fresh, mature, mild, strong, with a herb coating; in fact everything your heart desires! And it’s just the same when you get to the sausage products. Whether fresh or dried in the form of Salsiz (smoked sausage), Alpine pig salami or Andutgel (Graubünden salami), it’s not an easy choice. You may be lucky enough to find fresh mutton or goat sausages alongside the classic selection too. You will also come across Bündnerfleisch (air-dried meat from Graubünden) and other dried meat specialities, fresh meat – including at present, nanny goat – poultry, and of course speciality game that tells you you’re in Graubünden. Fish is also on offer, from a fish farm in Val Lumnezia. 

And it doesn’t end there. Various stalls offer seedlings for your garden or balcony, as well as abundant flowers which will look equally at home in a vase as they do in the fields and meadows where they bloom before being cut on Friday, to delight Chur market visitors on Saturday.

My shopping bag is getting heavier, and my evening meal is starting to take shape in my head. I just need to find the right red wine now, and maybe a schnapps?

My host, who has run his own shop on the Obere Gasse for the past twelve years and who “still loves this unique old town,” notes – with some amusement – that I am taking out a second shopping bag. He seems pleased that I have such an appetite for shopping, as do many other visitors to the market today – no wonder, with the quality on offer. Regional produce is the market’s hallmark. Organic products are sold at around half of the 30 or so market stalls.  “We have quite strict market rules,” emphasises Stefan Walter. The rules state that only local farmers selling their own produce are allowed to trade here. The vast majority of stalls are also personally manned by the farmers who produce the goods. “Freshness and quality are the central criteria,” says Walter, who originally comes from Biel.  “From the very start, the aim of this market was to offer visitors good local produce straight from the farm.”

The market dates back 30 years, with the original idea being very much ahead of its time; almost revolutionary in fact. Today, the “think global, buy local” idea sis right at the heart of society. But in 1987? A glance at the market rules, which have not changed since then, shows that the original vision was even broader. Alongside the local angle and fresh produce, the intention at the time was also to enhance the attractiveness of the old town, to promote seasonal buying, and also explicitly to “facilitate dialogue between producers and consumers.” Stefan Walter knows that this last point remains a key reason for visiting the market: “For many locals, our market is a fixture in their weekend routine. It is just as much a part of life in Chur as of the old town.” 

Today, stallholders come from all corners of the canton. We have just met three from the relatively distant Italian-speaking regions, which is why my menu tonight will include a Torta di Pane from Val Mesolcina.

Visiting Chur’s weekly market is like taking a kaleidoscopic tour through the agricultural, culinary and linguistic diversity of Graubünden. The experience also draws many domestic and foreign visitors, who we meet while walking around – you can identify tourists by the fact that they are shopping for supplies for the day, rather than buying in bulk for the week.

My shopping bags are now full, and I’m taking a real Graubünden evening meal home – not to mention a Sunday breakfast which will include various honeys, jams and two syrups to provide me with a sweet, lasting memory of this incomparable farmers’ market in the beautiful old town of Chur.