“It’s easier to deal with goats than men,” Nicole Buess announced. A goat yoga instructor in St. Moritz, she was the first of her kind. Though she wasn’t lacking in local support.
“Goats before guys,” echoed the immaculately dressed man to my right, his fingers poised above a lemon scone, his Swiss-German accent giving his words a regal, decisive tone.
I nodded in agreement. Paul Dutschmann was, after all, the definitive (not to mention professional) expert on all things St. Moritz— a category which had expanded as of late, to include not only Alpine sports and floor-length furs, but rescued farm animals and spiritual self-discovery.
The three of us were at afternoon tea at The Grand Hotel Kronenhof Pontresina, a neo-baroque estate in the Swiss Alps aptly nicknamed The Grand Dame. We were enjoying our mini croissants and herbal tea with the Grand Dame of Alpine animals: Nicole Buess, the founder of goat yoga in the Engadin valley.
The certified yoga instructor started her own goat-centric company, Mini Geiss – Dini Geiss (translation: My Goat, Your Goat), in the wake of some personal upheaval.
She’d recently gone through a divorce right before her 50th birthday, and in place of presents, she asked for goats. She was reinventing her life. It was just like ‘Under the Tuscan Sun.’ Except instead of restoring a villa in the Italian countryside, she was nurturing a small herd of farm animals in the Swiss Alps.
Buess fell in love with these particular goats while passing by their farm on her way to work each morning and felt compelled to save their lives when she realized they were scheduled for slaughter.
A city girl by birth (and Basel-native like that other iconic Swiss hero, Roger Federer), at that point, Buess was still working in an office—though her daydreams increasingly turned towards owning her own goat farm, and adopting some furry kids of her own.
A discussion with a close friend one fateful evening proved life-changing—for Buess, and her goats. The friend was also going through a divorce, and, though she had no active interest in caring for animals, she recognized the wisdom in Buess’s plan and offered her support.
Buess was the proud parent of her beloved goats by the time she reached her 50th year. And, since then, life has been all the better:
“I find when you’re divorced, it’s helpful,” she told me. “I don’t need a husband anymore.”
Naturally, I had been curious to learn more—about the goats, and about their savior. Which is how I found myself that afternoon in one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe, in one of the most decadent resort towns in the entire world, discussing the spiritual powers of goats.
It was wonderfully jarring to be in the grandest of settings enjoying the simplest of pleasures—farm animals. Yet, they’re the symbol of the area, the Ibitz, after all.
I’d spent hours earlier that morning exploring the shops downtown. I perused the offerings on display at the Glattfelder, though there wasn’t much variety, of course. The storefront sign is, like the Swiss themselves, quite straightforward:
“Kaffee, Tee, Caviar.”
I lingered upon the endless tins of Beluga, the curated selection of Edelweiss, marveling at the sophistication of it all. The chic lady behind the counter laughed with me about the town’s exquisite decadence, on display at every turn—not least within her shop.
“If you want an elephant in St. Moritz, we’ll find a way to get you one,” she called out to me as I headed for the door.
Keep the elephant, I thought. I’ll take the goats.
After one session of goat yoga, I realized why she loved them so much.
In the words of Buess: “Goats make you happy.”
They gravitated to her like a mother. They’re wonderfully curious and uncomplicated. I could see why in her moment of vulnerability, Nicole wished to protect them.
“I was really lost when my husband left,” reflects Buess. She’d slowly lost parts of her independence over the years. “Before I got married, I never needed help. Then, you get married…”
“That’s why you have goats, not guys,” echoed Paul. “They’re the new social connectors, too. Who needs a dog?”
Who needs much of anything?
I realized my trip to the Swiss Alps had become more self-reflective than any of the travel I’d done in recent years. The goats were meditative.
Learning about the goat yoga mission was inspiring. I’d traveled for the goats, but I’d found enlightenment—or some semblance of it.
Though, of course, St. Moritz has a storied history with such voyagers.
While the town still attracts quasi-religious pilgrimages from its luxury-loving clientele, its beginnings were decidedly more devout: St. Moritz got its start in the 16th century as a town offering absolution from sins—rather than encouragement to indulge in them.
The Holy Water may not be holy anymore, but perhaps the goats will offer travelers enlightenment.
“Who knows?” Buess teased with a smile. “Maybe St. Moritz will be the next Bali.”