Stylist’s contributing travel editor Anna Hart visits the Viva Mayr Maria Wörth medi-spa to discover why it’s quickly become the beauty insider’s secret health habit
When I envisage a beauty editor, top make-up artist, fashion designer or model on a spa break, I used to mentally photoshop them into a steamy Balinese infinity pool, or onto a sleek sunlounger in Cabo, green juice in hand. But the reality these days is much more interesting: the international beauty and fashion crowd are now turning their collective gaze towards the grand European tradition of the down-to-earth medi-spa. Part spa, part clinic, the spartan regime and old-school sanitarium vibe of European medi-spas seem like an odd fit for those at the forefront of trends. But, intrigued, I booked myself a week at the Viva Mayr Maria Wörth clinic on the serene shores of Lake Wörthersee, Austria.
Based on the principles of the Austrian physician Franz Xaver Mayr (who died in 1965 at the grand old age of 90), the Mayr regime – or Mayr ‘cure’, as insiders know to call it – is based on the belief that digestive health is the key to overall wellness and beauty, and that our modern eating habit of wolfing down barely chewed food is responsible for a string of health ills.
FX Mayr clinics and medi-spas are dotted across Germany, Austria and Switzerland, peddling a no nonsense, results-driven regimen of therapeutic fasting, chewtraining and the purging of Epsom salts – alongside hardy pursuits such as Nordic walking, saunas, Kneipp baths and lake-swimming. It sounds about as unsexy as a holiday could possibly get, but devotees swear that by the third day, they have boundless energy,glowing skin, clear eyes and that, unlike an aromatherapy facial, the results last for months. And you can’t ignore the guest list: fashion designer Alber Elbaz is a fan and make-up artist Lisa Eldridge describes it as “hardcore” but comes whenever possible. As if to cement its allure, Mario Testino recently shot Karlie Kloss at Viva Mayr in Wörthersee for US Vogue.
On entering, any lingering resemblance to The Grand Budapest Hotel has been banished by a recent facelift, bringing in 46 Scandi-style suites and blonde wood floors, infra-red sauna chairs, light therapy pods and an outdoor sauna conveniently located next to a jetty from which I later jump, shrieking, into the lake.
My first few days are tough; weaning myself off coffee gives me headaches, and mealtimes are obviously underwhelming for a food-luster like myself. Breakfast is yoghurt and a spelt roll, to re-train me in chewing, a tedious 40 times per mouthful. Chewing that many times is mind-numbingly boring. And the restaurant has a strict no-gizmos rule; we all dine alone, bereft of our iPhones and iPads. Happily the restaurant is also just steps from the gorgeous lake, mountains looming beyond it, so I daydream about paddleboarding from the jetty as I chew.
Lunch is a high point, with steamed fish, quinoa and fennel souffle, or tranche of venison on a sweet potato roulade. A proper meal! I never feel as if I’m being starved, but I do feel bored, with no snack breaks, and mealtimes stripped of their sense of occasion. I realise how often, at home, I use food as an excuse just to take a break from work, or as a reward. And that’s really the whole idea behind the Mayr cure: we’re here to break bad habits, feel the benefits, and then return to the world on an upward health trajectory.
And by day three, as promised, I feel amazing. My stress levels have plummeted, my stomach is flatter and I have heaps of energy. I jump out of bed at 6am and go swimming, before writing a feature – all before breakfast. My skin looks brighter and clearer; patches of stress-related psoriasis disappear, where pricey potions failed me.
The only snag is that a long weekend at the Viva Mayr won’t really cut it; the in-house doctor informs me that guests usually need to stay a week or more to get the best results, which makes it a significant time and cash investment.
If you can achieve zen simply by popping on a fluffy robe, having a facial and watching Netflix with a glass of prosecco, a conventional spa without the white coats will suffice. But me, I’m sold. Because when I return to my busy life in London, the healthy habits of ‘mindful eating’ that I developed stay with me. I’ve suddenly turned into that mysterious breed of woman who eats slowly and deliberately, savouring her food. And sips a glass of red wine rather than downing it. I feel almost French. As a bonus, after a week on yoghurt and vegetable soup, everything tastes amazing. So for spa cynics like me, or people in search of a serious inside-out health reboot, the extra investment is definitely worth it; to know that you’re in well-trained hands, your issues are tackled seriously, and to leave with tangible results. Those beauty editors are on to something.
Stays at the Viva Mayr Maria Wörth (vivamayr.com) start at £120 per night, on an all-inclusive basis
The Best Of The Rest: European Medi-Spas
Ultimate Designer Detox
Lanserhof Tegernsee, Bavaria, Germany
This brand new health resort unites Mayr medical principles with Design Hotel aesthetics. A gleaming £55million, award-winning design, and a fully-equipped medical centre with a team of doctors each revered in their fields. Hotelier Ian Schrager sends a steady stream of travel industry high-flyers here for stunning views and that refreshing middle-of-nowhere feeling.
Sports Luxe Break
Sha Wellness Clinic, Alicante, Spain
A wellness clinic that feels more like a holiday, Sha’s sexy, space-age spa on Spain’s east coast excels when it comes to fitness. There are free classes in barre, yoga and TRX, plus golf and jet-skiing. A full medical is offered on arrival and genetic testing is used to determine your propensity to disease. Plus the macrobiotic menu doesn’t feel like deprivation – we dined on foaming fennel tempura and apple flan.
A seven-day personally tailored all-inclusive programme at the Sha Wellness Clinic (shawellnessclinic.com) starts at £2,695
For a cultured crowd
Buchinger Wilhelmi, Lake Constance, Germany
The quieter cousin of the Mayr regime, the Buchinger offers a similar regime of fasting and physical therapy in a tranquil lakeside setting but its cultural programme elevates it to another level. The concerts, drawing classes, writing workshops and aura of quiet reflection attract a stream of academics and
creatives; last year Jeanette Winterson wrote about the mental clarity she found here.
A 10-night stay at the Buchinger Wilhelmi (buchinger-wilhelmi.com) starts at £1,900, all-inclusive