Earlier this year, in April, I made my annual visit the Mayr health retreat in Austria. When I tell people that I’ve being doing annual Mayr ‘cures’ for years, their first response is often to gasp in horror. They’ve likely heard shocking reports of no food, colonics and long, boring days (interjected with regular trips to the bathroom), but my experience is the complete opposite. Yes, the Mayr is very much a medical clinic as opposed to a luxury spa, and it isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s far from torturous. If anything, what the Mayr teaches is basic common sense - eat slowly, chew properly, drink plenty of water and go to bed early.
There are many reasons for visiting the Mayr (contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about weight loss - though this is an often welcome side effect). I’ve met lots of different people throughout my visits, some underweight, some overweight, some recovering from cancer or bereavement, some who are just totally overworked and stressed out. Lots of the diagnostic testing available simply isn’t possible in the UK or elsewhere, for example, I met a young banker last year who had been under par and exhausted for months but had not been able to get a firm diagnosis at home. After five days at the Mayr, he had a name for what was wrong with him and a concrete treatment plan.
For me, it’s about having a proper rest and rebooting my health - like a yearly MOT. There is a scale when it comes to health ranging from reasonably healthy (or OK) to optimum heath (firing on all cylinders) – the Mayr is all about optimum. The first time I visited a Mayr centre, I went to keep my husband company in the belief that I was super-healthy and handling my hectic work/life schedule perfectly. But after initial testing the Mayr doctors detected a nasty parasite picked up on my travels, and I had to be treated. I left feeling so good that I didn’t know how I’d managed to cope with everything before. This year my main complaint was migraines. I had a feeling that they were stress (trying to finish my book to deadline!) and possibly diet related, so my visit was an opportunity to investigate.
This time, I visited the brand new Viva Mayr Altaussee, sister to Viva Mayr Maria Wörth (opened in 2004 by Dr Harald Stossier and his wife Christine, also a doctor). Viva Mayr Altaussee is nestled in a pretty, picturesque village by Lake Altaussee in the Austrian Alps. The mountainous setting is absolutely breathtaking, and you feel almost drunk on fresh air as soon as you step off the bus! From my room, I had a beautiful view of the Altaussee Salt Mine, the biggest salt deposit in Austria (during the Second World War, the mine tunnels were used to store valuable art works, including pieces by Michelangelo, Albrecht Dürer and Vermeer). Key to 'the cure' is the daily morning drink of salts mixed with alkalining powders dissolved in warm water – yes it tastes absolutely hideous! - but at Viva Mayr Altausse the local salt is used which I found less bitter and gentler than the Epsom or Magnesium salts you usually get at the Mayr clinics (it’s also incorporated into many of Altaussee’s spa treatments).
Mayr healthcare is completely tailor-made, so each visit starts with a lengthy consultation with your appointed doctor - your initial consultation is the perfect opportunity to discuss any health issues or general niggles that have been bothering you. I strongly believe that seeing a doctor you click with is essential to getting the most out of your time at the Mayr. I always request Dr Tanja Korak for her great intuition and no-nonsense advice. It’s worth noting that all the doctors, though trained in Mayr medicine and practices, are also conventional doctors so offer an integrated approach to healthcare that combines modern medicine with, amongst other things, acupuncture, nutrition, kinesiology, massage and intravenous vitamin/mineral infusions.
After your first appointment a daily schedule is printed, which is totally different for everyone (some people spend the majority of their time resting and feel great afterwards, others go on long hikes every day), though liver compresses, kneipping and gentle stretching are encouraged daily across the board. Blood and urine tests are also integral for fine-tuning health and detecting any vitamin or mineral deficiencies you might have and if, for any reason, more testing like CAT or MRI scans are necessary these can be arranged off site.
For the first three days I’m usually pretty wiped out. The speed to which you adapt to the cure will depend on your usual lifestyle - if you are a caffeine or sugar addict you will find the first three to four days really tough as you go cold turkey. I often feel very depressed on day three as my sugar withdrawal reaches its peak (although their serotonin drip works wonders for this!) and I’ve found myself talking ‘first timers’ out of quitting on day three on several occasions. But once you’re over the initial slump you’ll find your energy will start to return. Altaussee is the most active of all the Mayr clinics thanks to its incredible mountainous setting and I loved walking around the lake and signed up for every organised Nordic walk and hike. I also had some one to one yoga sessions with their amazing resident teacher, Esther Eder.
When it comes to food, your diet is dictated by your medical tests and is again completely tailored to suit the reason you’re there - some patients eat a lot (centered around fresh fruit and vegetables and high-quality fat, meat and proteins), others hardly anything apart from soups and teas. The first few days of reduced calories can be tough so the fact that the food is really good and beautifully presented helps. While I was at Altaussee I had a cookery lesson with their award-winning chef, who had recently relocated from one of Vienna’s top restaurants.
We live in an era were meals are taken on the hoof and little thought is given to how we eat so the key advice is to be mindful of your food and chew as much as possible (30-40 times per mouthful) and reduce your portion sizes as the day goes on (breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper) with ‘no raw after 4’ (as salads and other raw foods can be difficult for your stomach to digest at this time). There is also a no talking policy during meals as animated chats could make you forget to chew – however, in my experience this rule is often ignored, much to the doctors annoyance, although most speak very quietly. They also encourage you to get offline and away from screens.
After five days at Altaussee I visited Maria Wörth (continuing treatment with my doctor, who splits her time between the two centres at the moment), set on the southern shores of Lake Wörthersee with a very different, tranquil vibe. Dr Stossier and his wife Christine hold in-depth, medical school-like lectures at Maria Wörth most nights (teaching about everything from IBS and parasites to chronic fatigue and diabetes). I attended one of Christine Stossier’s lectures about the effect of protein on your digestive system and also had some amazing osteopathy sessions with Michael Kreis.
It’s no secret that Viva Mayr is expensive, and the extra treatments that you can add on to your ‘basic package’ (facials, yoga sessions, personal training, scans and extra tests) do push the cost up, but you can mix and match and do as much, or as little, as you want. A good rest and general check up are, for me, the main benefits - when I returned to London I had lots of comments about how well I looked. I’d got my health back on track and got to spend time with some really interesting people, from the doctors and specialist trainers to the other patients who I bonded with over conversations about our toilet habits (something that bizarrely feels quite normal on Planet Mayr!). And, three months later, I’ve experienced far less headaches and I’m still enjoying the post Mayr results. Every time I go I learn a lot, make new friends and the feeling I have on the day I leave (flat stomach, sparkling eyes, energy in spades and raring to go), makes the whole experience rather addictive.
Let me know if you've ever visited a Mayr clinic in the comments below. Where do you like to go to completely rest and reboot?
Images from top
1. Out for a walk at Viva Mayr Altaussee.
2. The beautiful Lake Altaussee - and breathtaking Austrian Alps.
3. A delicious lunch of potato, sweet potato, fennel, pesto and artichoke foam.
4. Walking around the lake.
5. A yoga session with Esther.
6. Another gorgeous lunch, homemade gnocchi and super-fresh vegetables.
7. Breakfast of soya bread, sheep’s yogurt and a cold, avocado mousse which I’ve since become obsessed with, and have tried to make myself at home - if you have any tips, let me know!
8. The view from my balcony at Viva Mayr Maria Wörth - much more tranquil (and less mountainous) than Altaussee.
All images copyright Lisa Eldridge.
An edited version of this piece first appeared on harpersbazaar.co.uk.