A guest uses a cryo-therapy chamber at VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth, Lake Wörthersee, Austria

VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth review:
Feels so gut


Ahead of each year’s Awards season, medical wellness resorts in the Alps pop up on celebrities’ Instagram feeds like daisies in spring. Though there’s no shortage of retreats between Austria, Germany and Switzerland, the intestinal cleanse and cellular reset at VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth has ‘gut’ to be the best, if its followers are to be believed: Rebel Wilson, Naomi Campbell, Nicole Kidman, Tracey Emin, and at least one Rolling Stone have all visited to D&D – digest and decompress. But what would mere mortals like ourselves make of the gut health retreat?

It would be hard to overstate how marvellous of a day it is when we first arrive in Maria Wörth. We’re here for a seven-day physical and emotional detox, and clearly couldn’t have chosen a more scenic locale to lay low. Sharing a small peninsula on Austria’s Lake Wörthersee with a pretty church and an even prettier chapel, VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth has it all: the teal lake, the Alpine forests, the snow-capped mountains on the horizon. But we’re not here to sip on Almdudlers and take to the slopes. Instead, we’re on a mission – and it didn’t just randomly occur to us to visit. Rather, we felt inspired after a trip to VIVAMAYR’s day clinic in London, where prospective visitors can get a taste of modern Mayr Medicine.

It was Dr. Franz Xaver Mayr who, at the turn of the 20th century, first devised the ‘Mayr cure’, a more holistic approach to treating patients that relied not solely on conventional therapies, but also drew on lesser established medical examinations and treatments. Crucially, his technique prioritised healing the bowel, an unusual maxim at the time. Some 120 years later, of course, the world looks a little different. Between kimchi and kombucha, it’s hard to stay on track with the latest trends in fermented foods that support good intestinal health, and if you haven’t had a yoga teacher semi-condescendingly remind you that ‘your gut is your second brain’ in the past year or two, you’ve clearly been living under a rock (consider staying put).

Mayr of course had fantastic gut instinct – literally – although his early 1900s approach has long evolved into ‘Modern Mayr Medicine’, which is more widely practised, and employs state-of-the-art diagnostics. Accordingly, upon checking into VIVAMAYR, our first order of the day is running some tests with our allocated doctor, who will care for us for the entire duration of our stay. We run checks on our lungs and heart, and are glad to hear all is in order. Next up, we test the amount of antioxidants and free radicals in our blood. While a 1:10 relation between the two is considered healthy, our body turns out to store an astonishing 20 times more antioxidants than free radicals (thanks, in part, to our plant-based diet). So far, so good.

Functional myodiagnostics form the last part of our initial health check-up. During the examination, tiny amounts of food substances are placed on our tongue, while our muscular strength is measured. Though there is no scientific consensus around the method, the results are striking, and confirm what we’d already suspected: with even just a dusting of gluten on our tongue, our legs can’t push with the same force as they do when other substances are placed in our mouth. It’s mind-boggling, and demonstrates that to one extent or another, our body reacts badly to gluten. Consequently, the wheat-based protein is banned from all our meals – and thereby bowel – for the duration of our stay at VIVAMAYR.

We can live with this one intolerance, especially seeing it’s ‘so LA’, but when we receive the results from our metabolic test, we’re shocked. ‘Your body currently relies entirely on burning carbohydrates’, our sports therapist tells us, ‘while burning 0% fat’. That wouldn’t be good news in any scenario, but him delivering the results in a ‘Ma’am, there’s been a terrible accident’ kind of way helps to drive home the point that this is a matter of genuine concern, and we’re grateful he’s not sugarcoating it. The good news? We’re still young enough to flip things around in a short period of time. ‘You’ve got a week here to make a difference… Use it’, advises our therapist. Now, there’s a goal.

Viva la method

Over the coming days, we busy ourselves with all sorts of treatments and doctor’s appointments, while the strict Mayr diet tailored to suit our individual, medical needs works its way through our intestinal tract. Once, when our stomach rumbles during our daily abdominal massage with our doc, she exclaims ‘Ah, the Mayr symphony! Lovely to hear’, while another time, she places her hands on our belly and asks ‘shaken or stirred?’. It’s funny, of course, although the purpose of the treatment is to loosen unwanted residue that resides inside our gut. ‘The goal is diarrhoea’, our doc had told us on our first day, as we were prompted to grab a glass of water mixed with Epsom salts after breakfast (when the salts didn’t help us part ways with what was left of the vegan chicken curry from the airport lounge, we were given magnesium citrate instead).

Diarrhoea isn’t exactly be the most pleasant therapeutic approach there is, of course, but other treatments are downright amazing, and each guest is prescribed their very own set of therapies made bespoke to them. Since we’re recommended to focus on relaxation, we’re in for massages, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, a Hydroxeur bath, assisted stretching and private kapalabhati classes on the pier as the sun rises above the surrounding mountain scenery. We try some of the more out there methods, too: there’s an electrolysis foot bath with ionised salt water that opens the pores on our soles and directly pulls out toxins. The water turns an eye-opening shade of yellowish brown after just ten minutes – for smokers, we hear, it usually goes black. Then, there’s nasal reflex therapy, which sees a staff member shove a cotton bud soaked in essential oils down a range of nasal cavities we never knew we had (uncomfortable, sure, but also fascinating).

Our favourite treatments include cryotherapy, a session in VIVAMAYR’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber, ion induction therapy to enhance cellular metabolism in inflamed tissue, a ‘floating’ mud bath and utterly relaxing craniosacral therapy. Arguably the most important component of the modern Mayr technique is what you eat, and guests are divided into different levels of dieting. Some are on a strict tea and broth regime, while others, like ourselves, get to eat small portions of easily digestible, solid foods. We’re on ‘level 2’, meaning we’re served an alkaline vegetable soup alongside a ‘chewing trainer’ with a spread, some herbs and a teaspoon of cold-pressed oil for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Since you’re likely to be wondering, chewing trainers are small, dense breads of which each bite is to be chewed at least 30 to 40 times before swallowing. ’You are what you eat’, says our doctor, ‘but you are how you eat, too’ (that said, how we eat at times makes our stomach rumble in protest over having been put out of work by our teeth). While they may not be to everyone’s tastes, we grow rather fond of chewing trainers, and overall find that all meals are genuinely tasty, not to mention surprisingly varied – who knew how many different types of vegetable soups you could make in a single week? Each guest is allowed seconds, too, so long as they stop eating when a feeling of satiety kicks in. We’re startled at that, and look at one of the waitresses in amazement. ’The point of this diet is to fast, not to go hungry’, she says with a knowing smile. ‘They’re not the same thing’.

The gut-set

There’s certainly a culture of not wanting to indulge amongst guests, regardless. It’s rather hilarious at times, with some visitors jokingly ordering Wiener schnitzel with fries and a large pint of Austrian beer in VIVAMAYR’s near-silent restaurant (the waitresses chuckle in sovereign benevolence at this). Another time, we join a group of guests discussing their favourite cakes and desserts. When a staff member walks past, we collectively fall as silent as kids caught smoking by their parents. But the fasting, along with the restaurant’s clinical-chic interiors that allude to the medicinal, clean properties of all that’s served here, have a welcome side effect on social dynamics within the setting, too: you’re naturally curious as to how the person sitting at the next table is getting on.

In our case, the table we’re allocated for the week is right next to that of a British man in what we’d assume would be his fifties, whose company becomes a source of entertainment and encouragement during our daily chats. He clearly lives the type of life you’d associate with someone jetting off to a gut health retreat in Austria, having run a prominent English business for many years, that has enabled him to heli-ski in Greenland one week, and detox in the Alps another. As we gradually become fasting buddies, his wife teases him by sending daily snapshots of the ‘delicious’ dinners she’s enjoying at a Four Seasons resort in the Maldives – you’ve got to love the institution of marriage.

He’s not the only interesting character we meet during our stay at VIVAMAYR. There’s the kid who looks like a pro skateboarder, hooked up to a vitamin drip; the Irish lady who founded a famous charity; the Californian cougar who shows us a selfie she took with Joe Biden; the fabulous Turkish woman who, upon being asked what line of work she’s in, responds with ‘my husband is an industrialist’; and the ‘spiritual medium’ from NYC, who ‘just got here from Bali’ and ‘might do a month in Switzerland next’, because she’s ‘working on a super huge book right now’ (she’s also an artist, but you already knew that). Finally, there’s the OG, who’s been doing annual Mayr retreats in Austria for a whopping 25 years in a row, and who invited his brother to come along eight years ago. ‘He lost a lot of weight and felt so much better afterwards, he’s been living the Mayr life ever since. It changed his life’.

It’s quite the claim to make, but we can’t disagree. Modern Mayr Medicine arguably has the potential to improve people’s lives in the long term, and VIVAMAYR’s reputation speaks for itself. That said, you’d be well advised to take some test results and the consequent medical advice with a grain of salt. When we ask three different practitioners about how to best tackle our carbohydrate-crazy metabolism, for instance, we’re given different (and somewhat contradictory) advice each time, which is due to some of the tests and science relied upon operating in a bit of a grey zone. That’s not to discredit the more out-of-the-box medical approach. But it’s important to remember that it comes with certain limitations.

There’s also the admin side of things. Treatments paired with strict eating times and the breaks you’re strongly advised to take between drinking and eating – while some medicines need to be had with a glass of water – can cause stress in an effort to get it all right. We often set our alarm extra early just to have a glass of water with medicine at least half an hour before breakfast at 7:30 am, and our first treatment of the day at 8 am. Meanwhile, our days end with oil pulling, tongue scraping and preparing a liver wrap to fall asleep with in time for the recommended sleeping hour. An app would arguably do wonders in allowing guests to easily reschedule appointments, access their itineraries or revisit test results digitally… you receive a lot of information after all, and we find each bit to be fascinating.

Rest and results

That’s not to say you’ll have a hard time on property. In fact, you’d struggle to if you tried. VIVAMAYR offers 46 rooms and suites, including one 187 sqm/2,013 sqft private villa with its very own pier right on the shore of Lake Wörthersee. The spa is phenomenal, too, with a relaxation room overlooking the picturesque surrounds, several types of saunas, infrared cabins, steam rooms, a laconium, a large indoor pool, a separate garden sauna mere steps away from the lake (for some added Wim Hof cold plunging) and a glass-fronted fitness studio outfitted with the latest TechnoGym equipment. In short, it’s a joy to spend some time here, no matter what you do.

And the regular workouts and peaceful setting certainly have an impact on us. Towards the end of our retreat, we’re asked to submit a urine sample, which puts a smile on our face for many a reason. Firstly, there’s the strangely adorable, branded mini bag we put our sample into (a VIVAMAYR take on Jacquemus’ viral Le Chiquito). But more importantly, our results unmistakably show that within the space of a single week, our body has done a 360, reverting to burning the maximum capacity of fat it is able to metabolise – from zero to hero. This frankly blows our minds, and as a welcome side effect, we’ve dropped some weight, too. Not that that had been the goal of our visit: we came here to find some peace after a particularly stressful couple of months, and to reset our system along the way.

‘When you’re stressed, your body resorts to burning carbohydrates, which are easier to metabolise and offer quick energy’, our doctor explains. ‘But that’s not a healthy way to live. It shows that your body thinks it needs to be on at all times’. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how even just a week of relaxing lakeside, combined with food that gives the gut a well-earned break, would have a tremendous impact on our bodily functions. Having returned to burning fat, which requires about 18 times more effort to metabolise, yet offers sustained energy, we feel less sluggish and more motivated. ‘People react to stress differently’, says our doctor. ‘We have these big CEOs and important decision-makers stay with us, whose metabolic tests come back with perfect results. That’s not because they don’t have a lot on their plate, but because they make time for those 15-minute breaks every couple of hours, to signal their body that it can rest for a bit’.

Any stay at VIVAMAYR is ultimately about helping people help themselves. In conversation with several members of the team, we make out that what they want is for guests to leave with a deeper understanding of what’s good for their bodies, and most crucially, for their guts (hence, our stay concludes with a consultation with the retreat’s in-house dietitian, who gives us precise instructions on how to slowly transition back to our regular diet in the weeks and months to come). Some just visit once, and make profound lifestyle changes that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, while others, on a first-name basis with the restaurant staff, fly in twice a year. Those lucky enough to live in London or Vienna can frequent VIVAMAYR’s day clinics for diagnostics and therapies alike.

Our main takeaway from our retreat is that while our body isn’t perfect, it’s adjustable and resilient. And that given the right environment, it has astonishing potential to heal and reset itself. This environment can be in the comfort of your own home (especially if you happen to have a lake in your backyard). Or it could be here in the Austrian Alps, where a team of professionals cares for you with an intuitive branch of medicine that begins where traditional medicine ends. If, like ourselves, you opt for the latter, you might even get lucky and find yourself being bumped up one dietary level towards the end of your stay at VIVAMAYR. ‘Congratulations, you’re now on level 3’, says our waitress during our final lunch, before serving us a small, easily digestible dessert of almond-based vanilla mousse with apple compote. After a week of eating chewing trainers, it tastes like heaven on earth. Maybe it is.


Photography courtesy of VIVAMAYR

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