An eye-opening experience at the Viva Mayr clinic in Austria armed with a changed approach to eating, a wealth of knowledge on diet and nutrition – and a bag full of dresses one size too big!
From a culinary point of view, Austria is known for the Sacher torte (a sinful chocolate cake), coffee laden with mountains of whipped cream, and the deep fried national dish, Wiener Schnitzel. Not quite the epicentre of healthy eating, right? Wrong!
Austria is also home to the Viva Mayr clinic, one of the world’s best known destinations for a detox spa break. Except, it’s nothing like a spa break, in the traditional sense of the word. Developed by Austrian physican F X Mayr in the early 1940s, Mayr therapy is founded on the principle that a healthy digestive system is at the root of good health, and consequently, also related to most common ailments. Modern Mayr medicine is an evolved version of this, combining various natural therapy systems, to focus on good health from within. And doctors Harold and Christine Stossier, founders of the Viva clinic, can be credited with flying the Mayr medicine flag high not just in Austria – where there are other clinics practicing it as well – but elsewhere around the world too. Thanks to them, going for a Viva Mayr detox by the picturesque Lake Worth is fashionable amongst many a celebrity and the well-heeled elite.
But once you get there, the clinic is very equalising – whether you’re a Bollywood star, wealthy businessman, or geriatric retiree, here, everyone pads around in bathrobes most of the time, travelling from appointment to appointment, and swapping stories in the lounge as they catch up on their emails over a cup of herbal tea.
Nestled in a picturesque setting in southern Austria near the town of Klagenfurt, by the popular Lake Wörthersee – also known as Lake Wörth or Lake Maria Wörth – the clinic (which is currently housed in a temporary location down the road from the original property which is being refurbished) offers all the five-star comforts you’d expect, but in a pared down way. The Alpine setting with the pretty lake – which is ideal for daytime distractions if visiting over the summer – offers an instantly relaxing environment to find yourself in, with plenty of fresh mountain air filling the lungs with wholesome goodness, only enhanced by the quiet and soothing ambience consciously created within the clinic.
Each person’s treatment is customised according to their individual issues – when I was visiting, I saw people tackling everything from obesity and breast cancer recovery, to a regular annual health reboot – after an initial medical consultation. Thereafter, your daily schedule is drawn up, including a variety of tests, treatments, consultations and medication, as well as the diet plan you are required to follow during your stay. The cure, as the insiders refer to it, is conducted in a truly holistic way, combining diet, therapy, rest and gentle exercise. Tests can range from applied kinesiology – which helps diagnose food intolerances – to more in-depth blood tests, while treatments are as varied as colonic irrigation, to nasal reflex therapy, electrolysis foot bath, and massages. But, massages with an ulterior motive – whether it’s shiatsu, abdominal or reflexology, it is all designed with one singular goal in mind, to rid the body of all the nasties it has accumulated over the years. Any relaxation benefits you might get from the massage is a pure bonus!
Contrary to what many might think, a stint at Viva Mayr isn’t about fasting and starvation. Yes, in some extreme cases, one might be put on a grueling schedule of well, gruel, and little else. But for most who are in average health, there is definitely food involved. Food that is balanced in every sense, artfully presented, and best enjoyed solitary while chewing mindfully in the pristine, stylish dining room.
In fact, with digestion being the very pivot of the entire therapeutic system – they believe that optimum health starts in the kitchen – food plays a very important role here. A lot of research and nutritional analysis has gone into developing the Viva Mayr diet, which focuses not only on what you eat, but also how and when you eat it. The food, while on the austere side, is surprisingly delicious – think basil and Rocca soup with parsley whiting and celeriac ragout and potatoes; and potato rosti with steamed veg and Swiss chard – and also filling.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the acid-alkaline balance in food, with the daily menus always including a base soup and most patients being given a base powder, alongside other relevant supplements, to consume through the day. Based on the premise that most modern diets are acid-centric (meat, pulses, and dairy products are all acidic, while potatoes, vegetables, milk and cream, cold pressed oils, among others count as alkaline foods), it is important to alkalise the body to promote optimum digestion. However, it isn’t a blanket approach to eating vegetables, as, they also profess that the body’s digestive system starts slowing down as the day progresses, so advise against eating raw food after 4pm. So, if you thought that you were doing yourself a favour by eating a big salad at dinnertime – salads are healthy, right? – maybe that’s exactly what is causing that undue bloating in your stomach. In fact, for some people, they recommend avoiding raw food altogether – again, busting myths about what we traditionally consider healthy – as the gut may not be able to digest it properly. So, it’s never a one-size-fits-all approach to good health, but rather, taking a long hard look at an individual’s lifestyle, body, and diet, then giving it all a good cleanse to start over afresh, so the body can start absorbing the nutrients it needs from food.
A typical day at Viva Mayr starts with a drink of Epsom salt and water (to enable elimination – expect to have to run to the bathroom quite frequently), and is packed with various treatments, doctors’ appointments and lab tests, punctuated with bouts of rest – frequent naps are encouraged and popular with most guests, as it is common to feel tired once the detox process starts – and three meals. For those who are on a relatively less intense programme, breakfast is usually bread – Viva Mayr is very food intolerance-friendly, and there are multiple gluten-free bread options (the buckwheat was my favourite!) as well as lactose-free options for those who need it – along with a protein source, which could be anything from a beautiful fresh white sheep’s cheese, to a delicious avocado mousse, or if you’re lucky, even a soft boiled egg or omelette. Lunch is the main meal, with gourmet fish or vegetable options, plus soup of the day, while dinner is the smallest meal, just soup with bread and some form of a protein supplement again such as a cheese spread. Meal times are spaced well apart, with dinner service being completed by 7pm, and there is no snacking – just an endless supply of herbal tea and a light vegetable broth that you can drink if you get hungry between mealtimes. Surprisingly, I didn’t, at any point during my stay.
Everything is made fresh, and from scratch in their kitchens every day, using seasonal, local, mostly organic ingredients, delicately flavoured with herbs and spices, and that comes through quite clearly in the taste – whether it’s the Styrian sheep curd cheese spread, or a simple sweet potato soup, it’s always delicious. And the kitchen staff are very happy to welcome you into their world, with cooking classes offered as an optional activity during your stay. I found them to be a great way to take home some real skills that can help sustain the Mayr way of eating, to whatever extent possible. And to learn exactly how easy it is to cook like this way. Steaming, poaching, light frying, braising, grilling and the usage of herbs and spices, along with good quality ingredients can go a long way in making healthy food taste good.
In fact, learning is very much a part of the Viva Mayr experience. There is an abundance of knowledge and information on wellness available to everyone, from all sorts of sources – whether it’s the doctors, or even the massage therapists and restaurant staff. Not only does everyone believe in the philosophy, they also practice it in their own lives. And I don’t think there can be a better advertisement for the clinic than the staff – everyone a picture of good health, all fit and trim, boasting glowing skin, and generally cheery. And why not? Basically rooted in common sense and science, once you start to understand what they are advocating – the penny literally drops, and it all makes sense. You think, “But of course, that’s exactly how I should be eating. Why did no one tell me that before?”
But, they allow that realisation to come naturally to you. The approach to health here isn’t military – while everyone has their tailored schedule to follow, there is no policing. What you choose to do in between your appointments – the charms of the pretty little two-street holiday town, Portschach, are at your doorstep after all! – and how strictly you follow the regime, and what you take away from it, is entirely up to you. You are gently nudged towards wellness every step of the way however – whether it’s in the carafes filled with mineralised stones for drinking water from, provided in each of the well-appointed rooms, or the supporting programmes that are offered, ranging from yoga and Nordic walking, to the afore-mentioned cooking classes.
I met people planning to continue on the Viva Mayr diet for several weeks after leaving, as well as returning guests who, in just a year, had slid back to suffering from the same problems as before, admittedly due to lapsing back to their old lifestyles. But what they all have in common is an unerring faith in what a stint here can do. As do I. I slept deeply and long, voluntarily waking up early in the morning, feeling refreshed – not having to drag myself out of bed as I usually do. My skin, at the risk of sounding clichéd, looked and felt clearer and brighter in just a couple of days – something no number of facials has been able to achieve in all these years. I didn’t lose much weight when I weighed myself before leaving, but I definitely felt lighter, less bloated and more energised – and my clothes were all sitting a little less snug. Just as I was leaving, an attendant said to me, a lot of people lose weight after they leave from here. I didn’t believe him. I haven’t weighed myself since (don’t really believe much in it). But I can honestly say, months later, I continue to feel lighter and slimmer – and the ultimate proof lay in a recent shopping trip when I ended up having to buy clothes one size smaller!
But, as the Viva Mayr team will be at pains to tell anyone, they are not about weight loss – that is just a by-product of the process. The real benefits lie in cleansing your body, gaining a deeper understanding how it works and how you can treat it better, and learning to make a few simple changes to your lifestyle so that you can continue to feel and look better, from the inside out.
The Stossier doctors’ 3 golden rules of eating right:
Getting there: The nearest airport is Klagenfurt, which is reachable with a connecting flight from Vienna; Emirates airline and Austrian airlines both offer direct flights. From Klagenfurt, the clinic is about a 40-minute drive away. Alternatively, you can also opt to drive or take the train from Vienna.
Staying there: Room rates start from about €210 (around Dhs1,040) per night, including all meals, but since this isn’t exactly an ordinary hotel, pricing is usually worked out on a package basis. The initial medical consultation charges start from €165, with treatment prices ranging from as little as €17 to over €400. The minimum stay recommended here is one week, and it is certainly expensive, but most consider it to be a worthwhile investment in their wellbeing. Find out more from www.viva-mayr.com.