Swapping margaritas for microbiomes and all-you-can-eat buffets for a teapot of broth might not sound like much of a holiday to some, but for many it’s the ultimate escape.
Welcome to VIVAMAYR, the luxury health holiday where colonics, crispy corn bread and chewing everything 30-40 times is par for the course.
VIVAMAYR isn’t a luxe spa but a medical clinic that, for many of its guests, is life-changing. Reasons for visiting range from exhaustion to acne to stress to more serious conditions like problems post-surgery and multiple sclerosis. Famous guests include Kate Moss, Karlie Kloss, Michael Gove and Samantha Cameron.
Gut health might be a buzzing topic right now, but for VIVAMAYR, it’s been a way of life for years. Here, they follow the rules of the Mayr cure, where the health of your tummy is put above everything else – improve it, they say, and you’ll improve your overall health and wellness.
Having heard of the strict regime there - we’re talking no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol and 600 calories a day - and with gut health cited as the reason and cure for pretty much all of your ills, it seemed like the perfect place for me to reset, regroup and get my health back on track (and try to kick my sugar addiction). Eschewing the London day clinic for the branch in Altaussee, Austria, I visited for a 5-day intense hit of what the Mayr cure is all about. Here’s what happened:
Arriving at the hotel, I’m full of anticipation and Kit-Kat (I snuck my last one in on the plane). My ride to the hotel is with Victoria, a fellow guest who’s been to the clinic before and fills me on the do’s and don’t’s – including chatting at dinner (as you should concentrate on listening to your body), which we break on the first night by sitting together.
Dinner is a teapot of veggie broth and 4 corn crackers (they call these 'training' breads, as they train you to chew). I try to chew them as many times as possible – the clinic encourages you to chew every mouthful 30-40 times – but the most I get to is 25. There’s always tomorrow. You’re encouraged to sit alone at dinner, without your phone, a book or tablet too. Luckily the views are stunning.
First things first, I down the Glaubersalt water, literally salt water and intended to help your bowels get moving. And yes, it’s as hard to swallow as you can imagine. You’re supposed to drink this 30-60minutes before your breakfast, followed by a 15-minute stint of oil pulling (swilling oil around your mouth, to rid your mouth of bacteria), so most guests rise early to fit this all in.
After a breakfast of chicken, soft cheese and 4 crackers I head on down to a massage, something that’s encouraged every day. I’ve a clear schedule until early afternoon, when I meet with my doctor for my MAYR assessment. I’m weighed, have a blood test and we discuss my lifestyle and diet and my goals for the trip. I’m constantly tired lately so he prescribes me a few days’ worth of massages, detoxing treatments like algae wraps and electrolysis foot baths and of course, a colonic. Every guest is also given a different diet; dinnertime for me was a teapot of broth again – this time no crackers – and I was also prescribed an early bedtime.
I wake up feeling starving but alarmingly sprightly. After the usual salt, oil and breakfast routine, it’s all go for me. The day kicks off with an underwater spin session, oxygen therapy (strangely relaxing) and a massage. Lunch is bresola and 4 boiled new potatoes (apparently they boil them twice to get rid of the sugar), followed by a salt wrap and nasal reflex therapy – a therapist sticks a cotton bud up your nose, great for headaches. It certainly tickles.
The day ends with an abdominal massage with my doctor, something everyone has every single day plus a chat about my bowel movements of the day – if you’re not au fait chatting about your toilet habits, it’s not the place for you. We also run through my blood results in detail, something I’ve not done with a doctor for years (I’m low in magnesium and antioxidants – a ripe recipe for stress) and he prescribes me a dose of supplements. I meet up with my taxi buddy Victoria for a walk around the stunning lake. Dinner is broth again but I’m finished by 6.30pm so I take to the hotel’s spa for a post-dinner infrared cabin session and visit to the salt sauna, and cram in some more water, as I haven’t hit the clinic’s ideal of 3 litres a day.
I wake up at 3am with a pounding headache and tight feeling legs. So this is the headache the doctor warned me about. Come breakfast I’m feeling worse and so groggy that I only manage to throw on my dressing gown to head down to the dining room. I miss my dog, I want a Twix, I want a flat white, I’m miserable. I pass a few fellow guests who nod sympthatically when I whine about my headache - they’ve been suffering for the past two days, so feel my pain. Luckily I have reflexology scheduled in, which magically rids me of the throbbing pounding.
Next up, the dreaded colonic. I won’t go into detail, but it was uncomfortable, embarrassing but the therapist was so lovely that it was about as good as it could be. Did I feel great afterwards? It took a few hours but yes, I did. I felt lighter, more-free, my mind was clear and I felt like I’d had my own reset button pushed. You’ll soon notice the theme here is to encourage you to go to the loo as much as possible, to detox you and rid your body of all the bits and bobs you’ve been carrying around for years.
After lunch, I went to see my favourite doc, Dr Max, for applied Kinesiology, a practice that tests for food intolerances. It’s a strange but fascinating way to work out if your best leaving the cheese or chocolate alone; the doctor pops a tiny amount of food on your tongue, he touches an acupuncture point in your elbow and your intolerance to that food is based on how hard you can push your knee against his hand. Despite no intolerances showing up for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the teeniest tastes of fructose sugar, ginger and my beloved chocolate.
Before dinner, I met up with Victoria again to fill her in on my day, colonic included, as we walked the 7km around Lake Altaussee.
My final day – and I downed that salt water like a pro. I decided to cancel all but a few of my medical appointments and indulged in a facial instead; the hotel has a full beauty area too, where you can have the latest treatments including an LED and Oxygen facial like me.
Then it was off to my final doctor’s appointment, with Dr Max giving me lots of diet advice for post-Austria to keep my gut good and healthy. As the Mayr cure is a lifestyle, not a fad diet, they’re keen for you to remember the basic rules: no raw food after 4 (too difficult for your gut to digest at that time of night), to chew your food properly, drink lots of water and to try to minimise the acids you eat and up the alkaline. The other thing the cure teaches you is to listen to your body, and as simple as it sounds, I’ve since realised how important that is; to stop eating when I’m full, to not eat something if it doesn’t sit right in my tum and to eat only when hungry, not when I think I am or fancy a snack.
I stick rigidly to the Mayr guidelines when home for a good 3 days – you’re meant to religiously for 2 weeks - until I crack and eat a biscuit. And then 10 more. Not being in the confines of the hotel where the food is prepared deliciously for you, and the temptation of coffee, alcohol and sugar is removed, it’s hard. I’m definitely hungrier than I ever felt at VIVAMAYR, but then I’m not spending my days having massages and laying in my room watching movies. But my flat stomach, 1.2kg of weight loss, ridiculous energy and clear skin are reminders to me to keep trying my hardest to carry on. I’m on day 5 now and so far, so good (biscuits aside). I have just one coffee on Monday morning, allowed according to Dr Max, and eat a Mayr-approved breakfast and lunch. I’ve even drunk 2L of water by hometime, done a fitness class and found my concentration levels are better than ever.
A visit to VIVAMAYR is hard and brilliant in equal measures. You definitely need a dose of humour to cope with the constant (and I mean constant) toilet breaks and one thing I’d definitely recommend is to chat to the other guests – it really helps get you through, especially those days when you’re feeling particularly rough and ready to run to the nearest supermarket and bulk-buy Nutella (don’t – I’ve heard rumours they’ll call the hotel and snitch). Is my life changed? It’s too early to tell. But if I could bottle the way I felt post-holiday, I’d sure as hell down it so I’d be a fool not to try make my life more Mayr.
For more information, visit the VIVAMAYR website.