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Viva Mayr was recently voted Europe’s Best Medical Resort at the first annual European Health and Spa Awards. The chic Austrian resort has become one of Europe’s most sought after wellbeing destinations and a favourite weight loss clinic of the rich and famous. Catherine Beattie went for a week...

Health for Life

Viva Mayr was recently voted Europe’s Best Medical Resort at the first annual European Health and Spa Awards. The chic Austrian resort has become one of Europe’s most sought after wellbeing destinations and a favourite weight loss clinic of the rich and famous. Catherine Beattie went for a week and found it a life-changing experience. 

Viva Mayr is not just an upmarket health spa in a beautiful location – it’s a world famous naturopathic resort clinic dedicated to the restoration of health. Its treatments and therapies are based on the Mayr cure, a fasting and intestinal cleansing programme, developed by Dr Franz Mayr at the turn of the last century. Mayr believed that most illnesses stem from an unhealthy digestive system and devised his intestinal cleansing programme to restore good health. 

Founded in 2004 by Mayr practitioner and physician Dr Harald Stossier, Viva Mayr combines the original detox programme (still practised at the nearby Mayr Health Spa in Dellach) with modern holistic medicine and state-of-the-art facilities. Your personalised diet and treatment plan is prescribed after a detailed medical consultation and your digestion rested with a strict detox diet that includes small amounts of organic food. You learn a new approach to food and better eating habits. Most of us eat too much, too quickly and too late. We also make the mistake of drinking water with meals, which dilutes the saliva and digestive juices, weakening their effectiveness. At Viva Mayr you are encouraged to drink water and herbal teas between rather than with meals (water fountains and water carafes with crystals are dotted around the clinic and pure mountain spring water is on tap). While better health rather than weight loss is the main aim of the detox, most people shed several kilos during their stay. 

I arrive at Viva Mayr on a warm summer evening. My room on the second floor is pristine and airy with light oak floors and a low wooden framed bed with white duvets. There’s a large desk, flat-screened TV, easy chair and a small table with a kettle and selection of herbal teas. The bathroom has quality modern fittings and plenty of large cosy towels. There’s even a hot water bottle, to be used for giving myself a liver wrap – rather than for warming cold feet! 

Large picture windows lead out to a private balcony area with sun loungers and glorious views of the lake. If the good weather continues, I can see myself spending time here soaking up the sun. 

I unpack my few belongings then go in search of something to eat. A friendly waitress seats me at a table on the outdoor terrace and hands over a menu card. She explains (in perfect English) that as I’ve just arrived, I can choose supplement foods in addition to the dinner of a spelt bread roll and a small bowl of soup. I’ve not eaten since breakfast, so I’m famished and order smoked trout, mozzarella cheese and avocado. The food arrives, beautifully presented but in minuscule amounts – a single fish fillet, three slivers of avocado and a small triangle of cheese – adorned with a tiny sprig of rosemary. No dessert – just a pot of herb tea. 

The menu card states that ‘digestion starts in the mouth with the saliva. Every mouthful of food should be chewed at least 30 times before swallowing.’ I tear off a piece of the spelt roll and chew it slowly until it becomes a pulp. It takes ages. With all this chewing, meals here are going to last hours! 


No treatments are carried out on Sundays, so I have a day of leisure (and little food) before starting the programme tomorrow. Time to explore the pretty lakeside village of Maria Wörth and its tiny 15th century church and to take an exhilarating speedboat ride down Lake Wörthersee. 

On my way to bed, the receptionist hands me a list of appointments for Monday and reminds me to pick up a glass of Epsom salts – to be taken with warm water as soon as I wake up. Epsom salts are an important part of Mayr therapy, gently but effectively clearing out toxic substances from the walls of the intestines. For those who need further help, there’s colonic irrigation. 

I’m up early to take my first dose of Epsom salts. As expected, they taste absolutely vile but act almost immediately and without cramps or griping. I rinse out my mouth with the medicated mouthwash (which also tastes foul) and then take a long hot and then a cool shower. 

At breakfast there’s a choice of porridge, eggs, sheep’s yoghurt, beef, ham, smoked trout fillets, rice cakes or spelt roll, herbal tea or coffee substitute. 

I’m sharing a table with Helena and Jane, who are also from the UK. Helena is here for a week co-authoring a diet book with Dr Harald Stossier*, while Jane is staying two weeks to sort out her allergies. As we slowly munch mouthfuls of softly boiled egg, they tell me about their experiences and treatments. I’m surprised how well adjusted they are to taking the horrible salts every morning and eating so little food and wonder how I’ll cope this coming week. 

My first appointment is at 09.00am in the clinic area on the first floor – a 50-minute massage with a therapist called Christina. She suggests I have a 25-minute foot massage to stimulate my lymph glands followed by a back massage. The foot massage is unbearably ticklish! 

Next is my medical check up with Dr Christine Stossier – wife of Dr Harald Stossier, Viva Mayr’s director. I like her instantly – she’s friendly, reassuring and radiates warmth. She warns me that I may feel tired and emotional the first few days, but as my digestive system is rested and cleansed, I’ll feel better. She explains that over half the body’s energy is used digesting our food, so slowing down the digestive process has an energising effect. Dr Christine asks lots of questions about my lifestyle and health, weighs me, examines my tongue, takes my blood pressure and listens to my heart. Based on my answers and her findings, my diet and treatment schedule is prescribed for the week. 

I’m on the mild cleansing diet, which means restricted food for the first few days and a slightly more ‘generous’ intake later in the week. So it’s soup and main course only at lunchtimes and sadly, none of chef Florian Klinger’s delicious low calorie desserts until Friday. 

Any kind of detox is tiring. At Viva Mayr, you are encouraged to rest and sleep as much you need and to only take gentle exercise. As I have a free afternoon, I change into my swimsuit and take a dip in the lake. I don’t stay in long because the crystal clear water is icy cold! 

After the spelt roll and soup ‘dinner’ (served between 6pm and 7pm) I’m still hungry, so help myself to a cup of vegetable broth from the lounge and go for a short walk around the village before bed. I sleep badly and have crazy dreams. 

I wake with a headache and sciatica-like pains in my lower back. However, Karin’s back massage eases my back pain and nasal reflex therapy soon clears my head. 

I’ve never had nasal reflex therapy before. Therapist Roswitha slips a cotton bud soaked in aromatherapy oils into my left nostril. She explains that the nose has three zones connected to different organs in the body. The cotton bud is inserted into each zone for five minutes – then the procedure is repeated in the right nostril. Initially, not the most pleasant of treatments, but effective for clearing headaches, hay fever, sinusitis, snoring and other respiratory problems. 

After a relaxing herbal bath with massage jets and chromatherapy lighting, Sybille puts me through my paces on a piece of equipment called Galileo (similar to a Power Plate but kinder on the joints). She shows me some tummy strengthening exercises, which I try to carry out while balancing on the vibrating plate. They are surprisingly difficult and I quickly work up a sweat. 

After lunch, I’m back in Dr Christine’s office for a Lüscher-colour assessment – a psychological test to reveal my emotional state and how I deal with stress. Finally, I have an abdominal massage – a traditional Mayr treatment, to tone and improve the health of my intestines. It’s very firm and deep and I feel occasional twinges of pain, which Dr Christine says is inflammation. This will soon subside with my cleansing diet. 

I feel tired and lethargic this evening, so opt for an early night and a liver wrap (a cold damp cloth placed over the upper tummy with a hot water bottle on top). The damp warmth increases blood flow to the liver and speeds the detoxification process. I wrap up in a bath towel, climb into bed and fall asleep almost immediately. 

My Galileo session starts at 8.30am, so I’m up early for the Epsom salts routine and manage to get through breakfast and the exercise session without dashing to the nearest loo! The Galileo exercises seem a little easier this morning and Sybille keeps saying ‘Perfect, perfect!’ which is encouraging. 

The daily nasal therapy seems less unpleasant today as I’m not so tense and have a good book to read while sitting with the cotton bud up my nose. Then my feet are ‘detoxified’ in a warm electrolysis footbath and the water gradually changes to a murky brown. 

In the afternoon, I spend more time with Dr Christine having kinesiology. I lie on the treatment couch while minute amounts of minerals and other substances are dropped on my tongue. My raised leg resisting the doctor’s pressure on it tests my reaction to each one. It seems I have a slight intolerance to lactose but no other allergies. The bad news is that I’m deficient in calcium, zinc and vitamin C. Dr Christine recommends I take supplements and give up dairy products for three months. 

A second abdominal massage follows the kinesiology, this time minus the painful twinges. Finally we discuss yesterday’s Lüscher colour test, which shows I have no serious emotional hang-ups, but should address certain areas in my life to attain more personal happiness. Fascinating! 

After an early Galileo session that involves new and more complex routines to strengthen my abs and tone my arms, I’m glad to slip into a relaxing pine bath to ease my aching muscles. 

Dr Christine is attending a conference, so Dr Grohmann is taking over my medicals for the last two days of my stay. Like all the staff here, she is charming and speaks perfect English. She gives my abdomen a sound massage and I notice her technique is not as firm as Dr Christine’s. 

At lunch, Jane and I say goodbye to Helena who is flying back to the UK this afternoon. We’ll miss her entertaining company and look forward to reading the diet book when it is published. 

It’s a gloriously hot afternoon, so I flop on a sun lounger with my iPod for a couple of hours before my next appointment – a group cookery lesson with the charming Florian Klinger – Viva Mayr’s Head Chef. 

Looking round the immaculate kitchen, I can understand why the food at Viva Mayr is so exceptional. Florian hands out recipes before demonstrating how he produces the vegetable broth and several other dishes. He makes everything look so easy (and healthy) using just one pan to cook a complete dish of vegetables and fish, chopping and stir frying the vegetables in a few splashes of coconut oil. He uses potatoes, carrots, beetroot, mange tout, corn, celery, fennel, endive and lots of wonderful herbs like thyme, basil and stevia – a herb with sweetly flavoured leaves. Florian’s Mayr Cookbook has just been published (only in German) and includes many new and exciting recipes that reflect his modern and innovative take on Mayr nutrition. 

In the evening, fitness trainer Jurgen Kahlhammer gives a talk on Fat Burning in Sport – the Myths and the Truth. I learn useful tips on losing weight and exercise. For instance, if you exercise in the evening, don’t eat afterwards – just drink water and your body will continue burning off more calories for longer. Also, drink BEFORE exercising. Jurgen also stresses the importance of eating three meals a day with no snacks in between. The new notion of eating lots of small meals increases rather than reduces weight. He recommends a fitness regime that includes taking a day off between activities and switching them around; walk or jog one day, bicycle another, play sport another, swim or work out in the gym another. 

All this talk of exercise prompts me to take a longer walk before bedtime. Strolling by the lake, I realise that despite my meagre dinner, I’m not particularly hungry and feel quite fit. I take a sauna and swim several lengths in the indoor pool before going to bed. 

No sign of the sun this morning, just rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightening over the hills across the lake, which has turned an exotic turquoise colour. A gale is blowing when I sit down for breakfast. By the time my boiled egg appears, a torrential storm is raging and one of the fitness trainers is risking life and limb taking down the parasols on the jetty and getting extremely wet in the process. 

The rest of the day is less dramatic. Another electrolyse footbath followed by nasal reflex therapy – and the opportunity to enjoy a few more chapters of Shadow Baby a novel by Margaret Forster – an absorbing and moving story I can hardly bear to put down. 

I share herbal tea with Ursula Forstnig, the hotel director, who tells me that Viva Mayr’s guests come from all over the world because they are genuinely concerned about their health. Most people come on their own and stay for a week or ten days the first time and longer on a second visit. The clinic’s programmes have changed lives and cured a myriad of health problems including diabetes, insomnia, high blood pressure, IBS, indigestion, obesity, allergies, food intolerances and even infertility. 

My final medical consultation includes a weight and health check and advice on continuing my new eating habits when I return home. Dr Grohmann massages my abdomen and tells me it has reduced by a measurement of two fingers since my initial examination, as has my weight – by over 2 kilos! 

Jane is also leaving Viva Mayr tomorrow and we are sharing a taxi to the airport. Her health has improved considerably during her stay and she is already planning a return visit next year. 

On my last evening, I enjoy a leisurely swim and have the pool entirely to myself. I feel lighter and fitter than when I arrived a week ago and have learned so much about food and digestion. Before coming to Austria, I ate healthily but never chewed my food enough or considered my digestion. Now that I am eating slower and chewing correctly, I need less food to satisfy my appetite and I’m gradually losing the excess weight around my tummy. Viva Mayr has totally changed my attitude to food too. For the first time in my life, I can control my food intake, knowing that how and when I eat is just as important as what I eat. 

Viva Mayr’s healthy eating guidelines:

  • Only eat when you are genuinely hungry
  • Eat slowly – never when you are rushed or on the go
  • Take small mouthfuls and chew until food is a liquid
  • Eat raw fruit and vegetables only in the morning and afternoon
  • Eat dinner early – ideally before 7pm
  • Keep hydrated with water and herb teas between meals
  • Don’t drink water with meals as it dilutes the digestive juices (alcohol is digested and metabolised so a glass of beer or wine with food is fine)
  • Don’t eat when you are stressed, bored or upset
  • If you have to miss a meal – miss dinner
  • Eat like a king in the morning, a prince in the afternoon and a pauper at night.
The Viva Centre for Modern Mayr Medicine
Seepromenade 11
A-9082 Maria Wörth
Tel: 00 43 42 73 31117 €160 per night single; €140 per person per night sharing a double room plus daily tourist tax of €1.70 per person. Price includes all food in personalised diet plan, mineral water, teas and daily programme.Medical consultations, prescribed treatments and tests cost extra. Contact Viva Mayr directly for advice and current packages.

Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Klagenfurt
Transfers to and from airport can be arranged on booking.

*The Viva Mayr Diet
14 days to a flatter stomach and a younger you
By Dr Harald Stossier and Helena Frith Powell is published by Harper Collins at £12.99 ISBN 978-0-00-728954-7
(Reviewed in A Good Read section)

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