Sunday 19 August 2018

'I felt much lighter in more than weight' - My detox in an Austrian medical spa

A week to purge bad habits works wonders for Ciara Fergusen in Austria

The Vivamayr spa at Maria Worth, on the shores of Austria's Lake Worthersee
The Vivamayr spa at Maria Worth, on the shores of Austria's Lake Worthersee
Ciara beside the lake

Ciara Ferguson

All in all, I was feeling the pinch. And you could, too, if you gave me a squeeze. I needed a New Me. With that in mind I checked into what looked like the lovely serene Vivamayr at Maria Worth, a medical spa on the shores of Austria's Lake Worthersee for a week's detox.

I had a week to myself and a desire to purge the old bad habits, and to learn how to live healthier. Easier said than done.

While Vivamayr is all about making small, lasting dietary changes, I didn't expect it to be such a hard-core immersive experience. To put it another way, there were a lot of what you might call 'hangry' people floating about in their bathrobes. It's all quite austere. It is however, effective.

It helped that the situation on the shores of the lake is stunning. The region is renowned for its natural beauty and is a peaceful setting for the modern clinic and hotel.

Ciara beside the lake
Ciara beside the lake

In addition to the nearby Alpe-Adria regions Italy and Slovenia, the area offers top-class golf courses and alternative sports such as rowing, water skiing and Nordic walking.

The nearby town of Maria Worth is a centre of Austrian summer tourism.

The little parish church Saint Primus and Felician stands on the highest point of the peninsula. It is a major pilgrimage site and due to its romantic setting, a popular wedding church. Another nearby attraction is Pyramidenkogel, an 851-metre high mountain with a 54-metre observation tower, the Pyramidenkogel Tower.

In 1901, the composer Gustav Mahler built a villa near the hamlet of Maiernigg, on the lakeside in the east of the municipality, where he was already using a composing hut in which most of his works - written between 1900 and 1907 - were composed. The hut is now open as a small museum. Of course, all that is assuming you have the energy to sightsee.

Modern Mayr medicine, created by Dr Harald Stossier, is based on the famous detoxification programme first developed by Dr Franz X Mayr in Austria almost 100 years ago.

The philosophy is actually quite a simple and sensible one. It is based around the idea of the gut being the second brain and the route to health, and indeed to all manner of chronic problems from allergies to diabetes to arthritis.

Every three years, those who enjoy the perks of the German medical system may be eligible to request a medical cure for ailments, including stress, headaches and exhaustion. If approved, the patient is sent to a health spa, usually for about three weeks, where they receive a customised exercise, relaxation and nutrition regimen. Many of the visitors here were on the 'Kur'. This strikes me as a highly-evolved exercise in preventative medicine. So what do you think, Leo?

More of a health clinic than a spa hotel, Vivamayr has been located at Maria Worth since 2005 with a new, purpose-built five-star branch at Altaussee, opened recently and Vivamayr has long been beloved of celebrities and politicians the world over. It must work, given the number of repeat guests I came across, who come to rejuvenate at least on an annual basis.

One major key to health is a balanced diet. Eating properly, which means focusing on how and when to eat, rather than what to eat.

No therapy is the same for everyone. With each programme, the individual's condition is taken into account. The starting point is a thorough diagnosis, a vitality check and the use of Applied Kinesiology to identify allergens and intolerable foods.

I was prepared for the chewing (30 times a bite) and I had been practising on chocolate at the airport but Dr Nadja Aichbichler, who saw me on the first day, had other ideas.

A liquid diet of tea and broth for two days - along with the requisite morning dose of Epsom salts and something called base powder.

I was allergy tested using muscle testing and found that I had an overgrowth of candida, gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance and that this would explain my recent discomfort.

She told me she had worked in oncology for years until she decided, rather than treating people when they were already ill, she would like to work in preventative medicine. Dr Nadja has been at the clinic since it opened in 2005. Dr Harald Stossier and his wife Dr Christine Stossier also work at the clinic and all the physicians are qualified doctors, as well as nutritionists.

I was prescribed a strict sugar-free diet for three weeks to be continued at home and no gluten (bread, biscuits, cakes etc) or lactose (milk, yogurt, chocolate) for another two months, after which I can begin to reintroduce the foods again.

And so it began. Six days of daily stomach massage, swimming, medicated oil up the nose to clear my sinuses, electrolysis foot baths to draw out impurities and supplements and various other nice treatments such as an amazing shiatsu massage from Florian to soften the blow.

This "cure'' is not for the faint-hearted. As the days wore on I became lethargic and tired. But I had also been promised that at the end of those days I would feel free. I too became one of the 'hangry' people. I had a migraine - probably caffeine withdrawal - every day and I felt weak and grumpy. Just as well I was on my own.

The services provided are top notch. There is a beauty salon for facials, manicures and scrubs. The ambience is one of austerity and calm and the place is decorated in pale woods and soft colours.

The location beside the lake is truly beautiful and, of course, you can swim in the lake, which is the temperature of a warm bath. There are two jetties for sunbathing and an indoor pool and outside sauna. After two days I was allowed eat in the restaurant and the food served is small, simple and nicely presented. They love the humble spud here.

It is seven days' minimum stay and I felt it was really worth it. The things I learnt there are not just for a week, but for life. Literally and metaphorically.

After a few days my stomach had gone way down and I lost three kilos. I felt much lighter in more than weight. I had been scrubbed with sea salt both inside and out, and I feel ready for anything.

Getting  there

You can contact Vivamayr Maria Worth at or call them at +434273/31117 but first check their website at

Rooms at Vivamayr cost from €199 single per night

There are some mandatory medical services for all guests:

  • 1 initial medical checkup €170
  • 1 final medical checkup €170
  • Daily abdominal massage €80 per day
  • 1 muscle function test according to Applied Kinesiology €170


Aer Lingus to Vienna and Austrian Airlines flight Vienna to Klagenfurt.

The Vivamayr Diet Book by Harald Stossier and Helena Frith Powell is published by Harper

The Vivamayr diet

Allergies and intolerances aside, the normal Vivamayr alkaline diet is based on a few simple principles.

Here it is in a nutshell (almond or walnut preferably):

  1. Chew, chew and chew again — aim for 30-40 chews for every bite. Stay present when you are eating. Take your time.
  2. Drink water, about two litres a day, but only between, never with, meals as this interferes with digestion.
  3. No raw food after 4pm.
  4. Eat earlier in general, go for 6pm, and keep it light. A glass of wine with your meal is fine — as the body considers it a food rather than a drink and it doesn’t interfere with digestion. Less of the snacks. Leave four-five hours between meals.
  5. It may be a cliche, but breakfast like a king, have a good-sized lunch, and keep your dinner small and light. Skip dinner from time to time if you are not hungry.
  6. Never eat when you are stressed, rushed or feeling upset. Wait until you feel calmer.
  7. Stop eating when you feel full.
  8. Exercise a little every day, even 15 minutes. An hour’s walk in nature works wonders.
  9. Combine your foods so that you eat twice as many alkaline foods as acid foods.
  10. Eat more of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables and whole grains.

Watch while, like magic, youth beckons once more(ish).

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

Take me to church

The little church of St Primus and Felician occupies a dramatic position on the peninsula that juts out into Lake Worthersee — an astonishingly lovely example of simple and pure Gothic architecture.

Gustav Mahler

In 1901 the composer Gustav Mahler built a villa near the lakeside where he completed his 4th Symphony and composed his 5th to 8th Symphonies. The hut is now open as a small museum.

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