travel

Holistic Austrian Retreat

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Eve Boggenpoel recharges body and spirit at a holistic Austrian retreat

I’m standing on the edge of a silver lake and tears are streaming down my face. But it’s not sadness I feel. The setting sun has left a fragile pink glow over the mountains and, as I listen to the slow movement from Mahler’s Fifth on my iPod, I’m surrounded by such beauty that all I feel is joy, and I realise the work of Viva Mayr Spa is done.

My joourney began 10 days’ ago when, after just three hours’ sleep in two days, I somehow managed to pack a suitcase and get to Lake Worth in southern Austria. Having been working 14-hour days for the previous few weeks, I was close to exhaustion, and a trip to the famous health spa to sample the burnout programme was just what I needed.

Description: Lake Worth in southern Austria

Lake Worth in Southern Austria

Nestling on the shores of a 22 km lake, Viva Mayr Hotel is famed for it’ s strict diet regime – dry spelt rolls, vegetable broth and cleansing Epsom salt laxatives. Founded on the belief that most health complaints can be eased by balancing the digestive system, I’m keen to find out just how accurate that philosophy might be.

Description: Mayr’s food-combining diet aims to balance and rest the digestive system

Mayr’s food-combining diet aims to balance and rest the digestive system

After a flight that’s shorter than my daily commute to the office, I meet the lovely Dr. Nadja Aichbichler, who diagnoses intolerances to gluten, yeast, lactose and histamine, using applied kinesiology (muscle testing). As I lie on the couch, she places a food sample on my tongue and asks me to push my raised knee against her hand. Despite being a firm believer in alternative medicine, I’m slightly skeptical about her methodology. But my doubts soon fade when I feel the different responses I have to an ‘OK’ food (a strong push) and one I have an allergy to (a weak, ‘zig-zag’ movement). When she tests the acupuncture meridian that relates to my stressed-out adrenal glands, I can’t move my leg at all! What’s even more interesting is that her results match blood tests I had earlier in the year.

Description: Mayr’s delicious organic food is tailored to guests’ individual needs

Mayr’s delicious organic food is tailored to guests’ individual needs

With gentle reassurance, Nadja plans a full programme of treatment to help replenish my energy levels and heal my inflamed gut – which she tells me is compounded by stress and bed Dietary habits such as eating in a rush or late in the evening. Her recommendations include food combining, light therapy and herbal baths, plus a daily cocktail of vitamins – to be given intravenously – to help create more ATP, the molecule that provides the energy for most cellular activity. I’m also prescribed Sanopal – an energy-boosting recovery drink normally given to cancer patients after chemotherapy. It seems I’ve overused my body so much that I need to stay two weeks instead of one, not just to set myself back on the road to health but, Nadja tells me, so I can change my life.

Description: Viva Mayr Hotel

Viva Mayr Hotel

Over the next couple of days, I settle into a routine of therapeutic treatments and daily abdominal massage from Nadja, but it’s the diet regime that creates a framework around which all else revolves. When I arrived at the clinic, the amount of food served seemed minute, but by the third day, my boiled egg, plain soya yoghurt and small buckwheat roll feel like a banquet, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever get through it.

There’s something very special about mealtimes at Mayr. The white linen tablecloths, fresh orchids and beautifully folded napkins (one day a bird, the next a meticulous representation of a shirt) all reflect the respect given to eating routine. As my fellow guests and I quietly focus on chewing each mouthful the recommended 40 times, an air of tranquility settles over the diners while we contemplate the lake and mountains beyond. Soon, eating feels like a healing meditation in itself.

I’m also struck by how completely Mayr lives out its philosophy. There’s an on-site lab that test the lactose level of every dairy product used in the kitchen (if you’re lactose intolerant you can still eat products that contain less than two per cent of the sugar), potentially harmful Wi-Fi is banned and there’s even a switch next to your bed that disconnects your room from the main electricity circuit to protect you from Electrosmog during the night.

As the days melt into each other, I gently explore ancient churches in the pine-clad hills behind the spa, visit the cottage where Mahler composed his symphonies, try Nordic walking on woodland tracks and cycle to the next village on a power-assisted bike. And, as my energy returns, I have a private yoga session in the garden sauna room and improve my breast stroke in the pool. I’m determined to return in the warmer weather so I can swim in the lake, which has water that’s pure enough to drink.

Shortly before my stay comes to an end we set out for a trip to Lago di Fusine in the Italian mountains, where towering snow-capped sentinels surround a crystal-clear lake. And while slippery paths mean we can’t walk all the way round, it’s so magical that I’m mesmerized by the awesome beauty of it all. I make our guide teach me how to say, ‘I am happy’ in Austrian, and spend the rest of the trip saying ‘Ich bin gluclich’ whenever I have the opportunity. It’s been a very long time since I felt so alive.

Two months’ later, back in the midst of my busy life, the seeds sown at Mayr are bearing fruit. I’ve continued to lose weight (7 kg in all) on my new, mainly organic diet; had an extension built on my house (for a new kitchen) and signed up for a yoga teacher training course. It seems Nadja’s prediction of a life-changing holiday wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

Even in the swimming pool you can take in relaxing views of Lake Worth

The rainbow colors of the light therapy treatment are deeply relaxing

Rest is a crucial element of the Mayr ‘cure’

Description: Each morning, I wake to the sound of bells from the church at Maria Worth

Each morning, I wake to the sound of bells from the church at Maria Worth

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