This story starts out with a mid-yoga surprise. One minute, I’m looking up at the bluebird sky and breathing in the fresh mountain air while the Swiss Alps kiss the backdrop. The next, a goat named Pogo is pooping on my yoga mat (surprise!). I signed up for this — goat yoga — and only in Switzerland would this situation somehow feel charming.
Known for its utterly picturesque vistas, Graubünden is Switzerland’s largest region, making up more than 17% of the country’s total land area. It’s also the most sparsely populated, with just 200,000 residents, leaving plenty of space to explore the area’s 1,000+ lakes, 1,000 miles of ski slopes and nearly 6,000 miles of hiking trails. And this, my friends, is why Graubünden is the world’s most underrated wellness destination.
When most of us think of Switzerland, a few things come to mind: watches, chocolate, cheese, perhaps a multipurpose knife. But may I propose three entirely different notions? Here, the headliners are a nice steam, nourishment and nature immersion. What does all that have to do with wellness, you ask? Allow me to explain.
First things first, Graubünden has no shortage of spas, often tricked out with multiple saunas, steam rooms, cold plunges, foot baths, hammams and more. So upon arriving at your destination — in my case, the Hotel Schweizerhof Lenzerheide — after an overnight flight and feeling about as haggard as a Nick Nolte mug shot, I suggest booking a massage. (I swear it’s a near-instant cure for jet lag.) If you’re feeling bold, a nude steam will also do the trick.
While we Americans are known for our modesty, many spas in Switzerland have a no-clothing policy in their saunas and steam rooms. So as I was relaxing post-massage in my fluffy oversize robe, an older woman popped out of the no-towels-allowed steam room and slipped into nothing but a pair of high heels. She then strutted across the spa like it was her own personal catwalk, with more confidence in her pinky finger than I have in my entire being. To me, she embodied the very idea of confidence and body positivity.
Later that evening, I went mushroom foraging (fully clothed, thank you) in the Lenzerheide forest, where moments later, I cooked fungi with herbs and butter over an open fire. Buzzwords like “clean eating” and “farm to table” get thrown around a lot these days, but this was the real deal. The following night at the Michelin-starred Scalottas Terroir, I bit into a potato that tasted as if it had just been plucked from the earth (it had!) and Swiss chard (just called chard here) that was just so green and flavorful. I kept exclaiming, “It tastes just like a potato!” This epiphany may sound silly, but my standard American diet has become so desensitized that real food can in itself feel like self-care.
My forest bathing didn’t end there. While hiking in a squirrel forest (yes, there’s such a thing) along the edge of Lake Heidsee, I fed the namesake critters hazelnuts straight from my hand and watched birds flock to a fellow hiker’s fingers à la Cinderella. This immersion in nature is not at my disposal in New York City, nor is this kind of fresh air.
On that, locals would often exclaim “Smell the fresh air!” as if they just know theirs is superior. Being outside is a thing here no matter what time of year, with the Alps acting as both a playground and a gym (there are 250+ countrywide outdoor calisthenic parks). And that air — seriously the freshest I’ve ever taken in — does indeed offer a sense of well-being. Sure, a spa treatment is undeniably soothing, but so too is a tranquil walk on an outdoor path amidst crisscrossing streams and deep green pine trees.
During a run near the stunning Cresta Palace Celerina one morning, I passed a herd of cows grazing peacefully in a meadow, donning bells so as to be easily found when roaming the mountainside. These creatures are near celebrities here, with locals touting the world’s best milk, cheese and yogurt (and they’re not wrong) due to the excellent care given to these four-legged friends. It seems that even the animals here get to indulge in wellness. Which brings me back to goat yoga.
I was in a peaceful warrior pose and instructed to close my eyes. But I couldn’t; the view was just too beautiful (plus I was on goat watch after Pogo’s unexpected deposit). As I looked up at the snowcapped Alps and breathed in that famous fresh air, a furry mammal brushed up against my fingers, politely asking for a pet. Pogo was back, but this time to lay beside me, and so I found myself doing downward dog next to a sleeping goat.
Goat yoga is just one reason why Graubünden is the world’s most underrated wellness destination. There’s also the lovingly made meals with thoughtful ingredients. And the mindful walks through the forest with incredible nature views. And of course, the spas and steam rooms — where next time I’ll channel my inner Swiss and lose the towel.