To say I was startled would be an understatement. I was gobsmacked. Bewildered. I was on a long walk up to the impressive Pyramidenkogel Tower that hovers above the splendid southern shores of Lake Wörth in Austria when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a huge deer, at least four-feet tall at the shoulder, complete with arm-length antlers, leaped out, landing barely five metres in front of me. My heart skipped several beats as my leg muscles tightened, preparing to flee. Then for what seemed to be a very long minute we both stood transfixed – staring at each other, both wary of making any movement, fear writ large in both our eyes. But I’m racing ahead.
A week earlier, I’d arrived at Vivamayr – the Center for Modern Mayr Medicine, in Maria Wörth, Austria, after a gruelling 10-hour flight from Dubai, looking forward to a well-deserved detox relaxation week. I’d done a bit of homework before I set off and had learnt that the recently redeveloped Vivamayr centre in Austria is apparently where the rich and famous check into rest, reflect, revitalise and reboot. I was keen to recharge my batteries, which seemed to be needing some TLC after the stresses and strains of the hectic pace of work and life in a fast city like Dubai.
Situated in the Maria Wörth village of Austria, the Center looked quaint and inviting. The lobby resembled a five-star hotel’s and was warm and welcoming. After a quick check-in, I was led to a clean, comfortable and unfussy double room that boasted beautiful swathes of bright colours, overlooking the picturesque Lake Wörth. The region is renowned for its outstanding natural beauty and peaceful environs and the wooden chalets surrounding the lake with cute jetties looked straight out of a watercolour painting. As tempting as the water looked, the snow-capped mountains in the distance were a reminder of the temperatures, cold but crisp, and a huge contrast to the hot, humid city I’d come from.
My detox programme was to only start the next day, so hungry and slightly apprehensive, I headed to the restaurant for my evening meal. And the first thing I noticed was the illustrations of mobile phones, laptops, tablets… all with large, bold, red cross marks over them. The message was clear – no communication devices in the restaurant. I quickly turned on the silent mode on my phone, not wanting to upset other guests who seemed to be enjoying their food in the absence of ringtones and email pings. Those who were conversing were doing so in subdued voices and there was a certain air of calmness and tranquillity.
I would later learn that during mealtimes you are expected to concentrate wholly on the food, and experience and enjoy it using all senses, hence the ban on phones. Since I was yet to start my programme, I was allowed to order from the main menu. I choose a vegetable coconut curry with chickpeas. Minutes later it arrived and as the waitress removed the silver cloche, I grabbed my teaspoon – yes, teaspoon – and began tucking in. The reason only teaspoons are provided is to ensure that you do not stuff your mouth with food. Taking it easy and relaxing is the mantra of the place. The al dente vegetables were delicious in the spicy coconut creamy sauce, and I tried hard to stick to the 50-chews-per-mouthful rule that I’d been informed I had to follow. Pushing aside the dessert menu, I made my way back to my room to find my week’s programme under my door. The 8.15am start wasn’t too far away, so I called it a day.
Up early the next morning, I was ready for my busy day of appointments. But first, I had to have an Epsom salts solution. Following instructions, I spooned two large scoops into a glass and added warm water. I eyed the mix for a moment. This was alien to me. I typically start the day with an unyielding black coffee. I took the first gulp, then the second. It tasted like warm water – until I had the final gulp. I shuddered as a foul taste kicked in, the hot, chalky, slightly salty sludge seeping down my throat.
Wide awake now, I headed down for a breakfast of salmon, scrambled eggs with chopped herbs. My first consultation was with Dr Ines Weinder. After introductions, I hopped on the wooden bed, and as soon as I whipped off my top, the doctor began poking and prodding my abdomen, pressing and pinching. She then gave me an overview of The Mayr programme that I was undergoing. It was developed by Dr Franz Xaver Mayr, who died in 1965. A legendary Austrian doctor who devoted his life to the study of the digestive system, he believed that if you clean your gut, improve it and then have a highly alkaline diet of spinach, kale, fresh herbs and sea vegetables, your health and energy would improve drastically. ‘The process involves resting the gut by going on a strict diet, quite like giving your intestines a break,’ Dr Weinder explained.
Dr Weinder then proceeded to ask me a series of questions about my diet – why I skipped meals, do I feel bloated after a meal – before suggesting that I take an Applied Kinesiology test to check muscle strength. An hour later the report came in and she gave me the bad news: I’m gluten-, fructose-, wheat- and dairy-intolerant. Even as she was briefing me, a copy of my results was being rushed to the kitchen just in time for my lunch to be prepared according to my new diet plan.
But meanwhile, I’m taken to another room for a weigh-in. My numbers were not bad. I am in the correct weight-for-height range. My BMI is good, just a little extra fat around my tum. ‘But with exercise and diet, you could lose that,’ said Gabriel, my instructor. Lunch today was creamy courgette soup, with chopped parsley, smoked salmon and three rice cakes. Everything was so unhurried, so different to my usual quick lunch break in the office.A flurry of treatments, full-body massages, foot treatments, one-on-one training sessions and yoga filled up my next few days here while I waited patiently for the results to start showing. I worked out every day, taking walks by the lake in the mornings; even though it was freezing at that time, I was on a mission, a weight-loss-detox mission. I would be lying if I said there weren’t nights my stomach was aching and my head was banging, but I always had the Epsom salts to drink and surprisingly that did suppress my hunger; the Epsom and I became friends quite soon. Nights would end with a glass full of warm water with a spoon of magnesium citrate – a saline laxative only slightly less brutal than the Epsom salts.After day three I had a less hectic daily schedule and decided I must take in some of the sights around the clinic. On day four, I grabbed my camera, jacket and hat, and headed out. I was about to embark on something I rarely do in Dubai – walk! I wasn’t too sure where I was heading, but I grabbed a local map from the lobby and set off. The energy that I had was unbelievable – I felt I could just keep walking forever, stopping only to snap some pictures of the amazing scenery.
An hour passed, then another, and I was still walking. It was late evening when I decided to turn around, and that was only because the light was beginning to fade. That evening I took a quick shower and went for my evening meal of parsnip soup, boiled potatoes, rice cakes and chopped herbs. I splurged out by asking for another two rice cakes with my meal. Strangely full and contented, I returned to my room and called it a night. Up at 7.15, I headed for my daily consultation. Dr Weinder seemed happy as she prodded and massaged my abdomen. ‘I see a massive change,’ she said, smiling. ‘Your stomach expanse has reduced by 8cm.’ I mentioned that I’d been on a long walk, had slept well and was feeling more energised. ‘Those are the results we want,’ she said.
Pleased, I decided to treat myself to a tour. Hopping into a cab, I headed into the city of Klagenfurt. As the car moved smoothly down winding roads that followed the lake, there was the odd bit of snow on the sides of roads, and they caught the sun’s ray and gleamed even as the waters of the lake sparkled. Getting off at the Old City with its central Alter Platz, I walked past the Old Square, the first zone in Austria that was pedestrianised, then past a string of cafés and restaurants, where people lined the cobbled streets sipping coffee and munching on cakes and croissants. The air was redolent with the sweet smells from patisseries. But strangely and to my surprise, the aromas actually made me feel a bit sick. A brisk walk took me to the slightly warmer City Arkaden shopping mall, but not a big mall crawler, after a quick look around, I stepped out into the real world… for more walking.
Late in the evening, I returned to Vivamayr. A shower and dinner later, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Next morning, my last day at the Center, I woke early. My daily Epsom salts drink knocked back, I set off to the lake. It was a particularly cold morning and the grass was frozen. I could for the first time in a long while see my breath as I exhaled. Some shots for Instagram over, I headed back for a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Then it was the daily consultation. Dr Weinder did the usual pushing and prodding and measuring and weighing before announcing that I had shaved an inch off my waist, my stomach had reduced by 8cm, and my total weight loss was 4kg over the course of a week. ‘Wow,’ I said to myself. I felt as though I’d scored five grade As.
Bursting with energy, I wanted to make the most of my last day, so after my daily treatments, I had the hydrotherapy bath – my absolute favourite. Just like a regular-looking bath, this had hundreds of LED lights that change colours as you lie there being massaged by the water jets. There was one more place I wanted to see – the structure that loomed over the trees on the fringes of the Center. Pyramidenkogel Tower is built of wood and steel, and at a height of 100m is the tallest wooden observation tower in the world. It features a visitors platform at 83m, a café at 70m, and a 66m long slide that once you’ve scaled the steps to the top you can slide down (or as I did take the lift down).
Walking boots on, camera in hand, I was off. I knew the uphill walk would take me 90minutes, so I booked a cab to bring me back to the Center. A staff warned me to watch out for deer as I stepped out. Ten minutes into the walk I looked down and the clinic looked tiny. Huffing and puffing, I continued trudging up when I heard the shrubs and undergrowth crackle. Then suddenly, the aforementioned huge deer leap out of nowhere. Halfway up an icy hill, face to face with the animal, we stared into each other’s eyes for a long minute, before the deer, as suddenly as it appeared, took off, bounding off into the dense woods. I stood there for a long while, sipped some water, then shook myself out of the shock and continued. As I got higher and closer to the tower I was in awe of how this wooden structure stood 83m high in the sky. Climbing up the final steps to the top, I could feel the wind biting my face. Barely managing to hold my camera I popped a few selfies and some of the breathtaking mountain views before I began making my way down to a café. Sipping a hot cuppa, I ruminated over the past week. Just seven days ago a sluggish, bloated guy in his mid-forties had checked into Vivamayr, not really knowing what to expect. But in just one week, I seemed to have learnt a lot. I have most importantly learned how to chew my food, breathe right and relax.
I’ve been prodded and pummelled, massaged into snoring unconsciousness… but it has been worth it. I’ve realised that a small change of mind and lifestyle choices can make the most complex thing such as the human body really work in your favour. I’m now gluten-free, have sourced alternatives to dairy, and even on the most hectic days, I have decided I will never skip a meal, even if it’s a rice cake and a layer of peanut butter. And yes, although summer is here, I still enjoy my walks.