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Switzerland: Walking with yaks to the rhythm of Alpine bells

February 14, 2024 - Whereas an activity is something you do, an experience is what you feel and remember, sometimes through all the senses. Nuzzling the soft woolly neck of Mani the yak as you sit together in harmony on a snowy Swiss mountainside is an experience.

Patricia and Christian Wyssenbach, who run a small animal rescue and rehabilitation center near Crans-Montana, advise the best way to smell a yak is through the heart, which incidentally, is already beating with less stress and more awareness of Mani’s calming, grunty breathing.

“Do you know how the people of Mongolia would introduce their yaks? Their contours reflect the mythical landscapes where they come from,” says Patricia, stroking her hand down the mottled back of Orissa. “Mongolia’s hills, valleys, and great plains. Their colors blend the white snow, the black rocks, and the brown earth. And you could say their smell comes from the mountains, from pride, a quiet force.”

Attuning to nature

Before 1995, yaks in Europe were mainly found in zoos until Daniel Wismer worked with the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture to establish a small herd in the Zermatt region. Patricia’s lucky seven live peacefully within the family menagerie, among the vines in summer and the pines in winter. They even have a masseuse and acupuncturist on call!

Known as the “rebel poet” (and Calamity Pat) for her solo horseback adventures and her poetry inspired by her spiritual connection to her Brazilian Pataxó family, Patricia embodies the message that we should all take a moment to attune to nature. Indeed, on the way in, she pointed to a stone and challenged that to disturb it is to disturb the natural order of things and foundations of the earth (so tread carefully), “Each of us and everything has an equal place. Every day, Christian and I are trying to share this fundamental value.”

The Experience Team, led by Marina Poncioni at Six Senses Crans-Montana, can organize an immersive half-day with the Wyssenbach family. The yaks will accompany you as you walk without counting the kilometers through the spruce forests of the Haut-Plateau. The walk is meditative – a kind of yak yoga – which invites you to disconnect from the devices and distractions of your usual life and reconnect with the rhythms of nature, whether the babble of a stream or the melodic chime of the bell around the neck of your companion.

To boldly go …

Humans may have preconceptions about yaks (that they are stubborn, wild, or dangerous), but Patricia has discovered that these gentle giants have no preconceptions about humans. “We call ourselves Yak’à’Oser because we dared to raise them with our horses and mules. It was a leap of faith and a challenge for our livers as we drank our evening aperitif with them. What we learned was that yaks can read humans, like we read English or French. They are like pure souls with no filters, which is why this is such a positive and inclusive experience for everyone, adapting to neurodiversity, and reduced mobility. It’s ok if you’re a little anxious. We just ask people to be themselves. Sometimes it takes the greatest courage to say you’re feeling afraid. Christian and I are there to take your hand until you connect with our yaks from heart to heart.”

This life-sized and life-affirming experience is open to everyone from 10 years and over. Talk to our Experience Team for more information.

Discover your inner child

Closer to the ski-in, ski-out doors of Six Senses Crans-Montana, Marina Poncioni can also organize a Return to the Roots adventure, which she crafted from her own childhood memories.

“I wanted people to feel what it’s like to be a child growing up in the snowy Swiss winter,” explains Marina. “Following the animal tracks through the forest at dusk, the sounds around you muffled by the snow. As the stars begin to appear in the clear night sky, coming home to hot chocolate and my grandmother’s gingerbread.”

At the end of the day, when the skiers are away, nature comes out to play, and this relatively easy 2-hour hike is a perfect way to discover the simple joys of the mountains with a guide and refreshments included!

Another way to discover Crans-Montana’s winter wonderland is during The Swiss Winter Adventure. “This is a particular favorite of mine,” says Marina. “We guide you up the slopes on a variety of forest trails until you arrive in a little hamlet, the Hameau de Colombire, where a local association saved an old Mayen, a postcard-pretty Swiss chalet. We can set up a picnic fondu dinner under the stars, and you can even toboggan back down to the hotel afterwards.”

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, Marina and her team are full of ideas to ensure happy mountainside memories.

Take to the skies

A keen paraglider herself, Marina also recommends a tandem paragliding flight with an instructor as the best way to see the magic of the Swiss Alps from above. Hold your nerve as you ski directly off the mountain, and you’re rewarded with views that stretch across the Valais from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc.

For something truly special, Marina can also organize a sunset flight, which includes an energy snack and hot drink, photos, and videos to capture the moment forever. 

With the winter conditions looking good, why not take advantage of our Early Booking offer? Book at least 30 days in advance and save up to 15 percent off our Best Flexible Rate, plus we’ll include a complimentary buffet breakfast.

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