When I stepped off the plane at Salzburg Airport to a serene view of scenic snow-capped mountains, I was on the brink of burnout. I’d jumped at the chance to take myself away from my usual schedule to immerse myself in a full-on gut detox at Viva Mayr in Altaussee, Austria. The retreat is the brainchild of the late Austrian researcher and physician Franz Xaver Mayr, MD, and it entails 21 days of chewing every mouthful of food 30 times, in addition to writing off sugar and anything acidic in favour of alkalising, gut-friendly foods to give your body a rest.
I spent seven days at Viva Mayr and then stuck to the plan for 14 days upon my return (more on that later).
Ahead of my trip, I had hungrily devoured a lot of food. Why? Because every review I could find made it clear that I'd certainly not be eating cake or sweets during the week ahead. I also read that there were lots of toilets because the program's diet and daily tummy rubs tend to cause bowels to loosen rather frequently. I noticed the reviews mentioned a chewing trainer (i.e., stale bread served to encourage you to chew each mouthful 30 times) and the fact that chatting in the dining hall was frowned upon, so I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.
I took more books than I could have possibly read in a week and enough leisurewear to host a fitness pop-up. Worst comes to worst, I’ll fill my time with reading, walking and swimming, I thought.
Viva Mayr in Altaussee, Austria, sits on a lake with a glorious mountain view.
I was expecting the retreat to be fairly austere, but Viva Mayr boasts five-star surroundings and service. My room had all mod cons and a balcony overlooking the mountains. The bathroom was spacious with a big tub and a separate shower. There was (to my surprise) a large TV in the room, but rather tellingly, I didn’t turn it on once. For all my reservations in the lead-up to my stay, I can wholeheartedly say it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.
Now, I’m not saying the reviews I read weren’t truthful—the people I met during my stay made me realise that everyone has a different experience at Viva Mayr. Sure, my stools were a little loose (yep, I’m putting that out there), but nothing was as urgent or violent as I had pictured. The chewing trainer was actually okay—I chose the same buckwheat one each day; I liked it, but it turned out I was chowing down on the trainer most residents avoid. (To give you some context on my food choices, I also love plane food and am in total agreement with Emily Weiss’s Instagram tag, #PlaneOldDelicious.)
So what’s a week at Viva Mayr really like? On the first morning, I woke up and drank Glauber’s salt—a punchy mix of mineral-rich salt and water—to get everything in the gut moving (unfortunately you have to do this every morning). The experience was a little like Russian roulette, as the bottles are lined up at the herbal tea station and you don’t really know what you’re getting. You drink this first thing in the morning; then you’re encouraged to do some gentle exercise before heading to breakfast 30 minutes later.
In the dining hall, you’re assigned your own table where your supplements and medicines for the week are left for you.
My first breakfast consisted of the chewing trainer and two choices off the menu. (Think avocado, egg, bresaola, smoked salmon, goat cheese (soft or hard), manchego and other delicious options.) I love cheese and cured meats, so I was pleasantly surprised. The food was delicious. Sparse, but delicious.
My breakfast (including the chewing trainer) on the first and second days of the program.
I then headed upstairs to meet with my doctor. You’re assigned a doctor, who you see daily. On the first day, it’s an initial checkup (including a urine and blood test) that helps to create your supplement and diet plan for the week. After that, the check-ins are all belly rubs and chats to see how you’re doing. The daily abdominal massage is there to help loosen bloating and to keep things moving.
I was given a pretty strict diet for the first three days: a chewing trainer and one choice of food at breakfast and lunch, and then broth at dinner. The dinners were the hardest. I took full advantage of the salt and linseed oil on my table to perk up the broth and give myself a daily dose of essential omegas. I was ravenous at the start of the week and got through each day by filling up on the broth that was set out midmorning along with the herbal teas and mountain-sourced fresh water whenever I felt hungry.
Luckily, by day four, I was allowed a chewing trainer in the evening. The funny thing was that by day five, it was a chore to get through the tiny meals. I was chewing like a trooper and eating with intention. My stomach felt well and truly deflated. I also started to feel full incredibly quickly.
Dinner is served.
I was also prescribed some medicine for a parasite (lovely) and a host of supplements, including magnesium to help me relax and antioxidants to combat the effects of city living.
My table and supplements.
The days didn’t drag on like I thought they would. I took some great books that I really enjoyed, which helped pass the time. I walked around the lake, taking in the stunning views. The rest of the time was taken up by appointments. As I was there to review the place, my schedule was pretty packed. The only things included in Viva Mayr’s package are your room, the food and use of the facilities. Everything else is charged as an extra, and it certainly adds up. The only mandatory things are your daily check-ins with the doctor.
So what’s good? One of the highlights, for me, included the water shiatsu, where weights were attached to my body and I was (with closed eyes) maneuvred around a swimming pool for well over an hour. It’s an otherworldly experience; you sort of feel like a baby in space (trust me—it’s incredibly relaxing).
Chilling on the jetty.
The salt body scrub is another win; you’re scrubbed down and left to float on a waterbed (it left my skin looking glowy and my mind feeling zen). I loved the facial with Tarryn Warren, where I had all manner of peels, LED lights and masks applied. It was the sort of facial where the therapist is doing amazing things to your skin that you could not replicate at home. I’m also a huge fan of colonics, and I had one near the end of the week to help the detox process. On the last day, I plucked up the courage to get an IV infusion of vitamins and minerals that left me feeling incredibly energised.
It was a good way to end the week.
The most bizarre treatment award goes to the nasal reflex, where a cotton swab dipped in essential oils was stuck right up my nose and used to press on three different acupressure points during a 15-minute window. It was meant to help alleviate hay fever and any sinus problems.
There are so many treatments and classes you can book into. You can do meditation with singing bowls, partake in yoga or work with a personal trainer. You name it, it’s probably available at Viva Mayr, which means you can create a week that’s totally suited to what you enjoy. In the evenings, to stave off boredom (or hunger pangs), there are activities such as torch-lit walks and a tour to a local salt mine. (I didn’t do this, but I heard it was brilliant.)
There are daily group walks and even trips to the nearby towns to shop. In the evenings, I would head to the spa for a swim and use the sauna before retiring to my room to do a liver compress. Meant to aid the detox process, the compress consists of a wet, cold towel wrapped around your middle that’s topped with a hot water bottle to stimulate the liver. I have no idea if it worked, but it gave me something to do.
The clientele varied from overworked businessmen pacing the halls on hushed conference calls to an American news anchor to a London-based Pilates teacher and an elderly couple. Some people were loving it; others left early. The thing with Viva Mayr is that you need to go into it with an open mind and a willingness to just go with it. If you don’t plan on spending extra money on appointments, you need to enjoy walking, reading, swimming and sitting in your own company.
I met with the general manager while I was there and let him know there was no real support for people who are addicted to their emails and are unable to switch off. The same goes for people who have bad diets and unhealthy guts because of stress. However, one of Viva Mayr’s locations, Maria Wörth, now has an in-house psychiatrist who’s available for those who need support for the mind—not just the body. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with my feedback, but it’s a good addition to Viva Mayr’s offerings.
It’s also very easy to get caught up in it all. I spent about £300 on supplements and food to take home. I chatted with some people who met and stayed at Viva Mayr the previous year. One of them had stuck with Viva Mayr’s techniques for nine months after their last visit, whereas the other person hadn’t finished the 21 days of the program, seeing their visits purely as a seven-day detox and nothing else. If you’re the kind of person who can stick to things, by all means buy all the products. But if you’re faddy (like I am), proceed with caution.
Every Thursday, there is a lecture about how to carry on the program at home, and it’s totally do-able—even if you don’t invest in the supplements and whatnot. After seven days, I left Viva Mayr eight pounds lighter. I possessed a flat stomach, bright eyes and the clearest skin I have probably had since I left the womb. A week later, I went for a massage, and the therapist asked if I’d been on a detox. She could tell because when she massaged my back, over my liver and kidneys, I apparently felt ice cold—a sign that I was super healthy.
Did I carry on past the 21 days? No. I’m lucky that the weight has miraculously stayed off, but it’s tough to tear yourself away from your desk and chew each mouthful of food 30 times when you have deadlines looming and an inbox that’s groaning with unread emails. I take the supplements when I remember, try to drink water more often and make smarter food choices. I try to get to bed early like I did when I was there. I try my best, and that’s all I can hope for. And now that I have the knowledge of Viva Mayr’s program, I can do it any time I want to.
I mean, I could go back…
Viva Mayr, Altaussee, costs from £213* per night for a single occupancy. The initial and final medical examinations are £156* each and obligatory. Treatments and tests cost from £9*.
*Prices are converted from euros and are correct as of August 2018.