Once upon a time somewhere in the Bernina massif, in eastern Switzerland, there was a little goat called, predictably, Billy. Now Billy had bigger aspirations than just roaming around the beautiful Alps all day long eating the impossibly lush green grass. He wanted to inspire, to teach, to study the ‘practical’ aspects of philosophy…he wanted to be a yoga teacher! He spent years learning the asanas and studying, hoping one day his dream would come true. Now, luckily for Billy, further down the Engadin Valley and the beautiful Alpine village of Pontresina his goal was to become a reality. Courtesy of the plush Grand Hotel Kronenhof he would finally achieve his destiny.
One man's journey
Once upon a time at City Airport in London I was waiting to board my Swiss Air Lines flight to Zurich to partake in the ever-growing trend of goat yoga, all courtesy of the full Yoga Summit programme at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof. After a very pleasant hour and a half in the skies I touched down and then boarded several trains that casually snaked their way through the stunning Swiss countryside.
The last of these trains was the Rhätische Bahn (rhb.ch/en). A breath-taking stretch of Alpine railway that takes you down to either Davos or St Moritz. The trains travel through the picturesque landscape of the Graubünden Alps and over numerous engineering structures that make you question how in the world they (a) were built and (b) are still standing! Since 2008, two of the lines have formed the UNESCO World Heritage route known as the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina (the part from Thusis to Tirano, including St Moritz) landscapes.
Alas, the spectacular train journey had to end and I disembarked at Ponteserina Station at an altitude of 1,800m above sea level where I encountered my next breath-taking sight: Grand Hotel Kronenhof (kronenhof.com/en). The hotel is a neo-baroque building from the 19th century thought to be the first Grand Hotel of the Alps. After a brief tour of the huge complex I was shown to my room and then explored the swimming pool and spa facilities (more on those later).
Up the glacier
The next morning I woke at 7.30 and headed back to the spa complex for an hour of yoga and meditation. The purpose-built yoga studio is a beautifully-bright room with an outside platform that looks out through the valley. Unfortunately, it was too cold for us to be in the open but the view was still very impressive through the large windows.
After breakfast I was issued with an e-cycle, some €3,000 of state-of-the-art machinery that certainly assisted this middle-aged man into thinking that next year he’d be a shoo-in for the Tour De France! These bikes really do take the effort out of riding a bike and, while for some that might not be the point, when you are halfway up the Morteratsch Glacier in thin atmosphere, I found them a blessed relief.
The Morteratsch Glacier, within the Bernina Pass, is both a beautiful area of Switzerland and an alarming wake-up call for the world. As you approach it, there are markers indicating where the glacier used to be. So about four miles away from its current position there is a marker that explains back in 1890 the glacier used to reach to this point. Then a mile or so, another marker tells you that in 1910 it had receded to this point. However, the closer you get, the quicker the markers appear and the time gaps decrease. It is a stark warning about how much hotter the earth is getting and that global warming is a sad fact we have to address now.
After a very traditional lunch at a local Alpine dairy (where you can actually watch them making the cheese) I headed back to the hotel to realise that maybe the e-bike hadn’t done all the work after all and headed to the sauna to recover.
The next day I was meant to experience yoga with goats but an overnight storm had crept in and the session was pushed back to the following morning. So, instead, my spa treatment was brought forward. The Kronenhof Spa is mightily impressive. The swimming pool has a huge window looking out into the valley and every form of relaxation has been thought of. There are body and facial treatments of every kind, plus classic and signature massage treatments.
The next morning there was beautiful, bright sunshine so I made my way to the little Alpine village of Champfer. Here I met Nicole Buess, the founder of goat yoga in the Engadin valley and Diana Oser, my goat yoga teacher. Along with five others I made my way into the goat’s field and removed my shoes and socks. At this point I was very wary of where I placed my feet. I was in their world now and goats are yet to master toilet etiquette. Mat chosen, I selected a clean spot of green grass and sat down. Initially the six goats were very excited to see us and much bouncing and over-enthusiastic greetings were exchanged.
To begin with it was quite tricky following Diana’s instructions with a goat’s tongue in your ear or, as happened to one of my fellow yogis, a goat trying to sit on her back. But as the session progressed, the more relaxed we got, the goats followed suit. Somehow, having a goat’s asana in your face didn’t seem an issue anymore and they soon settled at the foot of each of our mats and tuned into the same vibe that Diana was creating with her lesson.
Before I left the goats, I thanked Nicole and Diana for such a wonderful experience and then went back to the furry yogis one last time. I felt a connection to one of them in particular. He was a cuddly black and white one. In fact, he was the one who had nestled himself at the bottom of my mat. He looked up at me with his badger-like markings and I could have sworn he smiled at me. “Thanks Billy.” I said.
The meditative combination of the Alpine air, the mountains and the yoga and the symbiotic union of human and goat was exquisite and incredibly powerful. I felt ridiculously at ease with the world and deeply connected. That feeling was strong enough to last me throughout my blissful return journey on the UNESCO train and first-class Swiss Air Lines flight and even the London underground! Yes, it really was that effective!
A 90-minute goat yoga session in the Engadine costs CHF36 per person (a minimum of six participants is required). The full Yoga Summit programme at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof can be found at: kronenhof.com/en/wellness/yoga-summit/
For more information and to book, email email@example.com or call +41 81 830 30 30
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.