I spent a week at the elusive detox centre that *every* celebrity swears by, here's what really happens...

The ultimate wellness retreat.

24 Feb 2019

I’m being driven through the snowy Austrian alps towards - the world’s most revered (and intense) detoxification centre. I’ve been told by previous guests that I’ll leave feeling ‘incredible’ and that the whole experience is ‘life-changing’, which is all well and good but it’s what I have to endure to get there that’s the terrifying prospect.

I’ve made the grave error of reading reviews en route. In one such review of the wellness centre, makeup artist Lisa Eldridge admits: “I often feel very depressed on day three as my sugar withdrawal reaches its peak and I've found myself talking first-timers out of quitting on day three on several occasions.”

Lisa, I’m petrified.

I ignored the pre-program detox tips, which advised weaning yourself off caffeine, alcohol and carbs a week in advanced to prepare your body. Instead, I’ve sunk at least half a bottle of wine every day for the last week, pulled an all-nighter and shovelled down a curry on an award’s season shift at work the night before my trip. I’m coughing, spluttering, shattered, riddled with migraines and full of regret. Let’s just say Viva Mayr has its work cut out. Besides, I keep telling myself that the experience will make for brilliant dinner party fodder over a bottle of Malbec in a few weeks’ time when this is all a distant memory.

Messages begin to fill my Instagram inbox. “Oh, you’re brave”, “Fair play, I’ve heard it’s intense”, “Good luck, you’ll be stuck on the toilet for seven days.” I’m determined to prove the naysayers wrong and have grand visions of emulating Jesus after 7 days here, practically walking on water back to my flat in Clapham next week. So were my Messiah-like visualisations wishful thinking or a reality?

For those of you not so acquainted with – or living in fear of - Viva Mayr, allow me to take you behind its elusive doors in all its brothy, Epsom salty glory…

What is Vivamayr?

Vivamayr Altaussee is one of the world’s leading luxury medical detox and wellness centres, where wealthy patients fork out around £4,000 for a week of intense detoxification. In fact, most stay for three weeks and one guest even endured three months.

Tucked away between the rolling Austrian mountains, the James Bond-esque private health clinic has achieved a cult-like status among its loyal health-obsessed devotees. Kate Moss, The Rolling Stones, Suki Waterhouse, Elizabeth Hurley, Karlie Kloss, the world's top business executives, politicians (Theresa May and Michael Gove), and Russian oligarchs are all regulars.

How the ‘Mayr Cure’ promises to heal guests

The clinic is lead by Medical Director, Dr. Sepp Fegerl, and guests follow the 'Mayr cure' – an intense detox programme designed to purge the body of toxins and leave guests feeling toned, vibrant and full of energy in just 7 days.

The focus of the programme is mainly on prevention – that is, taking time for oneself, destressing, detoxifying the organs and maintaining a balanced diet. Each guest’s medical diagnosis and the various treatments they’re recommended are tailored their individual needs. Ultimately, Vivamayr is a haven that gives the body exactly what it craves but is so rarely given: rest, sport, massage, therapy, and special dietary meals.
Detoxification is at the heart of every programme, with an emphasis on rest, strict cleansing of the digestive system and re-education of eating habits (e.g. chewing your food around 60 times per bite to encourage proper digestion – yes, really).

The philosophy of Vivamayr is that health and the immune system originates in the gut and the clinic was onto this premise long before all the trendy gut-boosting brands you’ll find in your local Whole Foods. The process is based on completely clearing the gut, combined with relaxing detoxifying treatments and holistic therapies for the ultimate detox.

After a preliminary examination with a doctor, where they grill you on your lifestyle, ailments and eating habits, a personalised treatment plan is drawn up for each guest, which is then discussed in detail and adapted daily based on how your body is reacting. As well as a full interrogation on exactly how much prosecco you drink every weekend, blood tests and a functional muscle test is carried out.

The functional muscle test, also known as Applied Kinesiology (AK), involves your doctor placing certain food powders on your tongue and asking you to push your legs into her hand. The test is based on the belief that various muscles are linked to particular organs and glands so if you show a weakness when pushing, that correlates to an internal problem. The test showed that I was intolerant to coffee and dairy, which is really convenient since the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is my triple-shot flat white. She also discovered that I have a parasite. Joy.

The doctor uses the analysis of your bloods, Applied Kinesiology test and alcohol consumption confessions to prescribe you a course of supplements. Thanks to my recent water infection, chest infection, and dangerously high free radical levels, I was popping more pills than a teenager on their first trip to Ibiza.

Laxatives, liver packs and nasal reflexology: Vivamayr's daily rituals and treatments

One thing I grew to love about Vivamayr was the sense of routine, which is a comprehensive set of daily tasks one must adhere to like an uptight army sergeant. I’d wake daily at 7am and sip on my Epsom salts. A glorified laxative, the salts shift the tough, sticky toxins from the stomach and liver bile tract and flush them out of the body. Each guest is also ordered to take ‘base powder’ three times a day – an alkaline powder that reduces acid in the stomach.

I’d then take half of my supplements (the rest were left in the restaurant to be taken with meals) and follow the daily shower ritual, which consists of a dry body brushing session and hot-cold-hot-cold shower to boost circulation and kickstart the detoxification process.

Next, I’d carry out the oil pulling ritual, which promotes the elimination of toxins, before cleaning my teeth and heading to a morning workout class during which I’d pray the side effects of the Epsom salts didn’t kick in (side note: at least three unfortunate people dashed out of the class for this very reason but Vivamayr is a no-judgement zone, after all).

Between meals (more on those later), one goes about their daily ‘itinerary’ of medical appointments and treatments like a sort of robed zombie. On day one I felt like I was wandering, wasted, through a house party at 5am desperately trying to locate an exit.

My treatments included IV drips to boost my immunity and liver function, relaxing massages, detoxifying electrolysis foot baths and mud wraps designed to draw out toxins. Other bizarre treatments included Nasal Reflexology which involves someone shoving a Q-tip soaked in essential oils up your nose to stimulate different nasal areas. It apparently helps alleviate migraines, sinusitis and hay fever. I was also treated to Watsu water therapy, which involved a man cradling me like a baby for over an hour in a swimming pool and swirling me around until I felt drunk.

Free time can be filled with reading, spa trips, long walks, extracurricular activities organised by the Mayr or just sitting on your arse doing sweet f*** all while scrolling through Instagram and mentally eating and drinking all avocado on toast and prosecco-fuelled brunches on your screen.

I’d usually head to bed around 7pm (who am I?!) because I developed a mild addiction to Gossip Girl and carry out my ‘liver pack’, which involves applying a cold, soaked towel to your stomach with a hot water bottle on top. It apparently promotes detoxification and chills you out.

So, what's on the menu? Stale bread, bone broth and a so.many.potatoes

Disclaimer: I love food. I know everyone claims that but I truly do. My male friends are shocked and impressed in equal measure by my portion-matching, 20 McNuggets are a mainstay on my weekend menu and I’ve (regrettably) put on two stone in the last few years as a result. Oh, and I love booze even more. While I give myself Monday and Tuesday night off without fail, the rest of the week is a hazy mix of prosecco, white wine and too many double G&Ts than I care to (or even can) remember. I’ve become stuck in an awkward ‘drunk-hungover-drunk again’ viscous circle and I’m desperate to get off the liver-annihilating merry-go-round. Whatever outcome Vivamayr bestows upon me, at least it will force me to take 7 days off the sauce, which is, rather worryingly, the longest period of abstinence I’ve had in the last decade. The only thirst quenchers at Vivamayr are water or herbal tea – and you’re not even allowed to drink with meals to encourage better digestion. So long, Pouilly-Fuissé, see you on the other side.

As for the food, it’s sparse and extremely plain. My daily menu consists of two boiled potatoes and a boiled egg for breakfast, a minute piece of trout and more potatoes for lunch and, as predicted by my much-bemused brother, who visited the clinic last year, I’m only allowed bone broth for dinner. The broth, which I grow to dread throughout the day, is essentially a really watered down mug of Bisto gravy.

While my stomach rumbled throughout the first evening, as the days passed, much to my delight and discombobulation, my appetite rapidly shrunk. While a gaggle of glamorous 40-something women begged the waiter for more food in a fashion akin to Oliver Twist, I smugly tucked into my rather pathetic portions without craving additional sustenance. The secret to feeling full at the clinic is chewing your food between 40-60 times, which is a real ball ache but seemingly an effective one. While I can navigate the day without bigger portions, I do miss variety and flavour. In fact, my anti-parasitic tablets, which have a sweet flavour, have become a daily treat. I relay this to my friends via WhatsApp and they're slightly concerned.

Physical, digital and mental detox

Broth aside, my main concern about my week at Vivamayr was the lack of company. I can’t remember the last time I spent longer than an hour on my own and I’m out at least five times a week. Rather surprisingly, this was the element of my stay I relished the most. Whilst I was originally hugely keen to network with my fellow guests, including a certain former Prime Minister’s wife, I actually became a complete hermit and spent 90% of the time between my treatments on my own. I enjoyed long walks through the snow and around the lake, went straight to bed after dinner after 7pm and watched back-to-back episodes of Gossip Girl on Netflix and lounged around reading the books I’d been meaning to read since I wound up my English Literature undergrad in 2011. As well as being a cleanse for the body, Vivamayr offers guests a mental and emotional detox and the guests I did meet (high-flying lawyers, a Barclays MD and a self-confessed ‘party boy’ from Dubai) were in dire need of exactly that.

For guests who do wish to do more with their time at Vivamayr, the clinic offers daily activities. From morning exercise classes and water aerobics to cooking classes, horse-drawn carriage rides and shopping trips, there’s plenty to do.

Vivamayr: A day in the life

For anyone who is thinking about visiting Vivamayr and is as much as a control-freak as I am, here’s a play-by-play account of how a typical day looks (please note it’s different for everyone based on their medical needs and preferences).

7am: Wake up, drink Epsom salts, drink Base Powder, carry out oil pulling
7.30am: Gentle morning exercise class
8am: Use the toilet (ahem) and head to breakfast where you’ll pop your daily pills and feast on your largest meal of the day (mine was most often potatoes with an egg)
8.30am: Head to the medical centre for a massage
10am: Immune infusion
12: Lunch (mine was usually a small piece of trout and three boiled potatoes washed down with my supplements)
2pm: Nasal reflexology
3.30pm: Abdominal massage by doctor
6.30pm: Dinner (that oh-so-deliciously satisfying broth)
7pm: Netflix and chill (not the sordid kind, obviously)
*The free time between appointments was filled with reading in the lounge, long walks and trips to the spa.

Drum roll, please: The results

I'd heard about the elusive post Vivamayr euphoria and I can attest it exists. I felt totally energised every morning, rejected my morning coffee and my colleagues all said I looked 'really well'. I'll admit I struggled to stick to the plan (they advise you continue the cure for a further two weeks) and my body isn't happy with it. I've had two rather heavy nights out and experienced a top 10 worst hangover as a result (and trust me, I've had some bad ones). However, overall I finally feel back to optimum health but seriously, I don’t want to see another boiled potato again for at least a week.