UNESCO World Heritage

Hiking paradise with a llama

Hiking paradise with a llama - UNESCO World Heritage

In their homeland, the Southern American Andes, llamas live at a height of up to 4,000 metres. Filisur in the Albula Valley at just over 1,000 metres above sea level is thus no problem for Pepino and his colleagues. The five llamas live on Sabina and Marcel Heinrich’s organic farm Las Sorts and have an exciting job: they go on hiking tours with tourists through the unique, splendid landscape at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage

Klaus is still a little shy. He blinks eagerly with his long eyelashes and gently sniffs the guests’ hands. The twelveyear- old stallion is a very slow and staid beast that brings calm and placidness to the herd. After a few minutes, he lets the guests stroke him; his fur is soft and dense, his breath warm. From the moment Klaus wears his frame on which he transports the tourists’ luggage, he quietly accepts that a stranger is leading him across the terrain. As long as he has his colleagues with him, Klaus feels everything is right with the world.

A camel in an Engadin house
"Llamas are very reserved, but also very inquisitive," Anouk Federspiel instantly explains. "They are gregarious animals. You can never leave one animal behind – and a single llama would never go on a tour on its own." Together with Ariane Berger and Ariane’s husband Tobias, Anouk Federspiel looks after the animals on the Heinrich’s farm, and organises and accompanies the hiking tours for tourists. Years ago, Marcel Heinrich discovered a sgraffito featuring a camel in an old Engadin house in Filisur. Because he cultivated potatoes, originally from South America, on his farm, he started to think about raising llamas – the camels of the New World. Ariane Berger, a friend of the family, got involved and became responsible for the new direction the farm was taking into the wonderful world of tourism.
"We bought llamas and trained with them – for example, how to put on the halter," says Anouk Federspiel. Marcel Heinrich had a lot of experience of raising horses, donkeys and cows. This came in useful for shearing and deworming, as well as when it came to choosing the right pedicure for the animals. Llamas are pretty easy to please when it comes to food: "They’ll even eat grass that is not very juicy." At Las Sorts, the five llamas live in various meadows in the summer. They spend the winter in a stable from which they can go outside. Here they have access to a dry shelter where they are protected from the wind. Llamas need protection from the wind and weather, although their dense coat protects them from the cold. Their coat is also useful for people: the Heinrichs regularly shear their animals and make wool and felt from the fur.

Full view of the RhB landmark
The halter feels good. Not too light, not too heavy. It swings back and forth in time to Klaus’ breathing and the clattering of his hooves. Coming out of the village, you go over rough and smooth terrain as you head for the wood. The llamas and their self-appointed leader walk in a long line. The talking gradually dies down, but nature in turn becomes ever more present. "There’s something meditative about walking with llamas," whispers Anouk Federspiel. "The animals walk more slowly and gently than we people do; we have to adjust our speed to theirs." Suddenly the wood starts to thin out. The llamas and hikers walk towards a platform which, without any warning, reveals an unforgettable, breath-taking view of the famous Landwasser Viaduct. On the dot at the top of the hour, the train from St. Moritz whooshes along, the red coaches completing the picture of the RhB landmark.

The group is excited, particularly the children keep talking about all the details they noticed about the train. A six-year-old little girl skilfully holds the halter of llama Emilio, occasionally passing it on to her two-year-old brother sitting in a carry rucksack on their dad’s back. Things quieten down again after a few metres. It does seem to be true: the llamas have an extremely calming and balancing effect. "The llamas like being on the road," says Anouk Federspiel as we continue walking. "It’s no surprise they were used primarily as beasts of burden in the Andes, especially as they can cover great differences in altitude." The closer the group gets to the farm, the faster the animals walk. Anouk Federspiel grins: "But the llamas are also happy when they can go back to grazing in the meadow."
While taking the saddles off and brushing the animals, our llama whisperer tells us about the other tours that start off at the Las Sorts farm. If you are wanting to try it out, the round trip to the viewpoint is a good idea; it also goes through the magic wood and to the Landwasser Viaduct but only takes two hours. "The wood trail is just two and a half hours, but you learn a lot about wood and can even take a pushchair with you." A highlight is the two-day trip: "It is more of an adventure and more challenging in terms of walking, but you are rewarded with an unforgettable evening. You sleep on hay – in the 'Maiensäss' (Alpine pasture) of the Heinrich family in Falein, above Filisur." The llamas from Filisur are on the road all year round, but the peak season is the summer and autumn holidays. Because the tourists tend to prefer to ski during the day in winter, the llamas go on hikes with their guests in the evening. Anouk Federspiel: "On the 'winter magic' tour, we walk with torches at dusk to the Landwasser Viaduct. Later, you can warm up with fondue over an open fire in the tepee on the farm."

Casual elegance
Now, the llamas have all had their saddles removed and have been brushed. They get carrots and are stroked as a reward for accompanying the tourists to the UNESCO World Heritage. Does Klaus actually purr like a cat? I probably imagined that. But he is certainly more sure about snuffling the hands and cheeks of his guide now. The group leads the animals back to the meadow and takes off the halters. What an experience – and there was no spitting from any of the llamas! These new-world camels usually do that amongst themselves, when they are demonstrating their power or when they have to defend themselves. On the way back to the farm, Anouk Federspiel once more waxes lyrical about the animals: "Llamas have such a gentle nature. They are reserved, but are not frightened and look for contact. Donkeys are too obstinate, goats too nervous. I just love their elegance – and that’s what helps me relax."