The ultimate vitality spa break

Our intrepid spa maven ticks the final box on her European bucket list, at an Austrian eyrie that specialises in a 2.0 version of one of the toughest – and most effective – wellness programmes around

The exterior of the health spa in Lans with its indoor/outdoor pool
The exterior of the health spa in Lans with its indoor/outdoor pool | Image: lanserhof.com

Mayr Therapy, as every good spa obsessive knows, is the brainchild of Franz Xaver Mayr (1875-1965), the Austrian physician who, at a young age, started practising what he called his “gut theory” on cow bellies, having realised that the medical industry was more focused on the heart and lungs, leaving the stomach and intestines largely neglected. The more Mayr explored, the greater became his conviction that true health is centred in the gut, and that most people’s digestive systems are at least partially compromised by toxic build-up. 

Mayr’s eponymous cure – a version of which I am about to embark on – focuses on cleansing and invigorating the internal organs. This translates into a Spartan regime of fasting – think “eating” countless cups of herbal tea with a teaspoon for lunch; one-course dinners in silent dining rooms; “chew training” with chunks of stale bread (each mouthful must be masticated 30 to 40 times to encourage salivation); and daily Epsom salt drinks, which sound harmless enough until you’re dashing in a blind panic for the nearest loo within half an hour of downing one.

Thankfully, the swanky Lanserhof spa in Lans, Austria, offers its discerning clients a modernised, “evolved” version of the Mayr Therapy which, unlike the original, orthodox FX Mayr treatment, allows talking during mealtimes. Then there’s the fact that you’ll be fasting in style at the Baden Haus – Lanserhof’s gorgeous new-build, four-storey architectural marvel, consisting of 16 new suites, a gorgeous indoor/outdoor pool and a massive wet spa, all with 360-degree postcard views over the Alps. Be warned, though; on the diet, the staff remain as rigid and hardcore Mayr as ever.

Day 1

6.30am The day starts with the obligatory Epsom salts in warm water, and a chunk of time in the loo. These are a little snug for my liking, but they boast a nifty built-in shelf that “collects” your stools, so you can examine the qualitative effects of your detox journey, should you wish to. 

One of Lanserhof’s cryotherapy treatment chambers
One of Lanserhof’s cryotherapy treatment chambers | Image: lanserhof.com

7.30am Breakfast, served in a gorgeous dining room overlooking the snow-capped Alps, is porridge, cinnamon and maple syrup – with lots of chewing – and some malt coffee and rice milk. So far, not nearly as draconian as I had been expecting. 

8am As I’m only in residence for three days, Dr Georg Kettenhuber, Lanserhof’s medical director, has put me on a 3.1 diet – as soft as it’s going to get. “This is very much against our advice,” he admonishes me gently. “We urge guests to stay a minimum of 10 days, which is really the time the body needs to start detoxing.” I explain that I have a three-month-old and 16-month-old at home, and three days is all we have. Thus resigned, he takes down my height, weight, blood pressure and frequency of bowel clearance, and starts typing vigorously. I’m given my plan: lots more of the dreaded salts and immediate marching orders to the Infusion Room, where all the intravenous work is carried out.

9am My drip bag is filled with minerals (magnesium and natrium bicarbonate) to help me “de-acidify”, which alongside bowel work is the big game play here. The Russian woman next to me, not happy with her minerals, starts demanding vitamins; soon we’ve all jumped on the bandwagon, begging for the VitaB complex (as close to a half-bottle of bordeaux as it gets around here). I’m shushed by Dr Georg, who’s been called in to steady the troops. Vitamin infusions work better once the body’s alkalised – tomorrow for me. The Russian gets hers.

10.30am I’m sent off for a detox algae treatment. A green, pleasant-smelling mud, sourced from Italy, is smeared over my entire body. Then I’m placed on a steam bed and wrapped tightly in a sheet, with a sheet tent erected around me to keep the heat in. The aim is to allow the mud to deeply penetrate the epidermis, which helps to release toxins in the connective tissue. For the next 30 minutes I sweat buckets. 

12pm A quick impedance test to measure my body composition comes back normal, but my muscle density has decreased and with it my basal metabolic rate – the basic calorie intake required to keep the body functioning, which has fallen from 1,650 to 1,393 in two years. The bottom line here is that I need to start exercising again to rebuild muscle mass. The more muscle mass, the more calories burnt, the more fetching I look in my skinny jeans. Simple. 

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1pm For lunch I savour a delicious parsley soup and a pretty veggie lasagne, and am aware of the mob on the tea fast eyeing me enviously. 

2pm I head into the woods in my finest Bandier workout gear for a two-hour hike. Lanserhof offers group Nordic walking most days; I’ve missed the afternoon slot so I go it alone. It’s wonderfully meditative and restoring. There’s also yoga, Pilates and two high-tech gyms staffed by personal trainers.

4pm A deep-tissue massage: nothing too exciting, but what it lacks is made up for in spades by the salt scrub and sweat bath that follow. Skin is the biggest organ, accounting for around 16 per cent of body weight (for me, that could be almost 10kg and two square metres of toxic wasteland). My therapist rubs almond oil and then coarse sea salt into my entire body; the sensation is intense. I’m then plunged into a near-scalding bath and left to sweat out the toxins for 15 minutes. 

6.30pm Discombobulated and quite headache-y, I head to the dining room, relishing the thought of a meal, only to find a tiny wedge of orange awaiting me. I inhale it and signal to the waitress for my main course. “That was it for you,” she informs me. “But drink as much of the herbal tea as you like.” I take a flask to my room and sulk.

Day 2 

Part of the Lanserhof spa with one of its saunas
Part of the Lanserhof spa with one of its saunas | Image: lanserhof.com

7am Nil by mouth; breakfast is replaced by a laser-bloodstream therapy session, an IV bag of vitamin B solution and a smattering of blood samples for testing. The laser is a new one for me; I’m hooked up to a machine that beams three “colours” of energy into my blood. It’s said to stimulate the immune and metabolic systems and to optimise organ function. There’s an array of optional vitamin infusions to accompany it, including an oxygen “chaser”.

10.30am Another day, another wrap. I’m covered in goat butter and left to baste, thankfully not smelling of goat afterwards (even if I feel like one). 

12.30pm By now I’m ravenous. Lunch is a light soup followed by fishcakes and salad. The Lanserhof food, though scant, is delicious and so beautifully presented it takes the edge off being at the toughest detox centre in Europe. 

2pm The afternoon drifts by as I shuffle up and down the stark white corridors past other guests, all clutching their mugs of herbal tea. Between treatments, including a honey detox massage (an exercise in agony that feels a bit like a 50-minute bikini wax) and a TDA high-tech facial booster, I head to the indoor/outdoor pool to reset. The wet spa is gorgeous: floor-to-ceiling glass with panoramic views (just bear in mind that it’s co-ed, so you might get an eyeful of more than you bargained for). 

5pm I end the day with a triple session of cryotherapy. Kitted out in a bikini, socks, trainers, a mask and ear muffs, I head into the first of three chambers, which is chilled to -10°C, and run two laps around it. Then it’s into the second chamber, which is -60°C, and two laps later, into chamber three. Here it’s -110°C – I call it quits in 70 seconds. I shoot back through the other two chambers as fast as my legs can take me. Cryotherapy has myriad benefits, from decreasing inflammation to boosting collagen, but what I’m most chuffed about is having apparently burned 500 calories in three minutes. Progress. 

A typical lunch of Tegernsee fishcakes, potatoes and bitter greens salad
A typical lunch of Tegernsee fishcakes, potatoes and bitter greens salad | Image: lanserhof.com

Day 3 

8am It’s time for my organ ultrasound. I’m a huge believer that anyone over 40 should do this annually to help with the early detection of any number of diseases. This time, however, it’s my turn to be told I have a couple of “suspicious” spots on my liver. For a moment I’m too stunned to speak, but the nurse ushers me past the cardiologist’s office (they have a full suite of in-house specialists) to Dr Georg, who thankfully has studied my blood results; all is normal, so it’s highly unlikely that it’s anything serious. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly reassuring to know you can be having an MRI within hours and be receiving comprehensive and expert care should there be a real issue.

A quick visit to the osteopath for a bit of limb “reorganising”, a bite of lunch, and I’m off. The journey home is pain-free – just over three hours.

The Bottom Line 

This was the last grand European spa on my bucket list, and it lived up to its hype. The accommodation is very comfortable, the facilities are state-of-the-art, and the practitioners are excellent, professional and smiley in equal measure. Lanserhof is largely what you make of it: it can be super-medical or just a spa-out to lose a few kilos, which I did in my three days there, along with all the lingering symptoms of a stubborn, month-old cold.

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One small note: they tend to buddy up guests for meals, so if like me you prefer to dine solo, ask to do so in advance. I also found it difficult to get some of the treatments I wanted as they were fully subscribed. So to avoid disappointment, book them a few months before you go.

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