I recently decided that the best way to give up wine and coffee would be to leave the country and be restrained by strict European doctors. The fabulously stylish Lanserhof health clinic in the Austrian Alps seemed an obvious choice for an emergency detox.
Sadly, the legendary Lanserhof at Lans – a modernist monastic retreat high in the mountains – is closed for refurbishment until December 2016. But happily, the Lanserhof has a temporary home: a ‘pop-up retreat’ in the beautiful ski resort of Kitzbuhel, also in the Austrian Alps. Its base is the Schwarzer Adler Hotel, which has a stunning rooftop pool surrounded by mountain peaks.
What is it?
The Lans Med concept – aka The Cure - is a symbiosis of naturopathy and modern medicine with strict dieting, exercise, spa and spiritual renewal in stunning scenery.
Guests are assigned a personal doctor for their stay, while a fitness trainer will take your stats, measure your body fat, and devise the perfect exercise for your metabolism and body type. Extras include life-coaching, various therapies, medical and holistic diagnoses as well as yoga and meditation classes. An average stay is three weeks and, if you have the energy, you can also try hiking and mountain biking.
At the heart of Lans Med Concept is the theory that gut health is the key to overall optimum health. Key concepts are
Drinking Epsom Salts or ‘bitters’ in the morning to clear you out and save you the indignity of a colonic.
Chewing each mouthful 40 times. The food is pre-digested in the mouth, providing relief for the digestive system. It also leads to a quicker feeling of fullness so you only eat as much as you need.
Not drinking with meals or half an hour before or after to avoid diluting stomach acids and reducing digestive function.
Ingredients are freshly prepared, organically grown and sun-ripened, and the meat free-range. A typical meal is a bowl of soup with toast for chewing, or protein plus steamed potato. For those on the more potent diet regime, dinner is a cup of tea with honey and a slice of orange.
Kitzbuhel is a picturesque Medieval town in the Tirol: Alpine lodges with bright flowers dripping from their balconies against the spruce and fir tree covered peaks. The white-painted Schwarzer Adler Hotel is in the heart of the town; think traditional Alpine meets boutique chic. Its uber-modern spa is an architectural design dream, brutalist concrete, wood and steel tempered with cream and natural coloured soft furnishings.
There was no mini bar, or even teas and coffees, in my room, which was otherwise pleasingly minimalist and spacious, its modern bathroom stocked with Lanserhof’s own shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and medicinal salves. Some Lanserhof guests had upgraded to the swankier (and quieter) suites on the fourth floor.
What’s on offer
The Lanserhof areas of the hotel are distinguishable by their fashionably austere grey and white design (the real Lans is an architectural designer's dream). Unfortunately, you have to pass the sumptuous hotel breakfast buffet in the morning to reach the Lanserhof dining area. Each guest is assigned to their own personal table so that you may be given the correct diet plan, then sit in silence and chew, chew, chew.
Take a small lift up to the stainless steel rooftop pool where you can swim while gazing at the surrounding mountains and Medieval church spires. It’s absolutely stunning. The area around the pool is decked with loungers and umbrellas, and there’s a bar and comfy outdoor sofas at one end - sip your medicalised teas and admire the Alpine panorama.
It’s hard to tear yourself away from here when the sun’s out, but The Black Spa down in the basement must be profoundly welcoming in winter after a day on the slopes. There’s a chic, small pool area in concrete and beaten metal with a Jacuzzi. The gym is up the stairs near the pool: head down for the thermal area which has a laconium, hot sauna, milder bio sauna, steam room, and showers. Beyond a curved screen is a dark, circular relax area with waterbeds. Remember that Europeans (mainly Russians and Germans) are prone to spa-ing in the nude: you may feel overdressed in your swimsuit and want to keep your eyes above neck level. Lanserhof guests have exclusive use of the Kneipp (hot and cold salt water) baths in a separate room.
The Lanserhof and Black Spa treatment areas are divided and there are separate receptions, with the former commanding four enormous white, medical treatment and consultation rooms. This is where I had my deep tissue massage, reflexology and stomach treatments as well as my medical consultations.
What’s it like?
For the first three days, it’s hard – not helped by the fact that I had severe caffeine withdrawal. Then suddenly, you get into it, you find your groove. By day three I noticed a change: I wasn’t hungry but my stomach was flatter, my skin clearer and I seemed to have a steady level of energy.
On day one I have a medical consultation with Dr Georg Kettenhuber, Medical Director and Mayr Doctor. At first, he seems very stern – tall, bald with black framed glasses – but turns out to be funny and charming. When you book, you are sent a medical form to fill in, and Dr Georg goes through this with me, deciding which nutrients would best serve my various and mostly stress-related gastric quirks. I am weighed and given a basic medical check before he draws up my plan, which is presented to me in a neat little blue book that evening at dinner. Along with my diet plan (the easier one: I get soup rather than tea in the evening), I will have lymphatic drainage and deep tissue massages and wraps.
Next I have a check-up with movement therapist Christina Leipold. She connects me via padded wires to a machine that delivers lots of graphs. The conclusion is that I have more fat than muscle – something that can easily be discerned by a quick glance at my body, but obviously the graphs and machine make it seem more scientific.
Over the coming days, I join Christina and a couple of guests on a hiking and biking tour, a fantastic way to take in the beautiful scenery and clean mountain air as well as bond with fellow guests. I never quite make it to the 7am exercise mornings that she also hosts, but I am told that few of the guests do. Most guests book in for a private personal training session with Christina, too.
As part of my programme, I have at least one spa treatment a day. My therapist Nescha Lukic has a shaven head and slightly brusque manner: he begins and ends each session by barking “So!” (slightly different to the gentle prayer bells I’m used to back home). He also has a discerning habit of cracking his knuckles, as though he is about to extract information from me. Having said that, he delivered the best deep tissue massage and reflexology I have ever had. I was a bit unsure about the suction cups – a mechanised version of cupping, very fashionable in the Olympics apparently, and good for lymphatic drainage – but thoroughly enjoyed the treatment where I was smothered in white mud and honey then wrapped in a warm, water-filled blanket for 40 minutes.
We loved/didn’t love
Swimming in the freshwater rooftop pool while watching stair-lifts rise through the pine forested mountain side, then curling up on a lounger to read: utter bliss.
Our hipster breakfast – buckwheat toast and avocado washed down with sips of malt coffee. Besides the endless chewing, we could so be in Shoreditch.
Chewing 40 times – okay it’s annoying at first, but after two days, it felt perfectly natural and the habit stayed with me for weeks after. (Indeed, I am now a bit of a chew convert/bore).
Mountain biking with electric bikes to give you a power boost up steep inclines – how to feel bionic – and wading in a fresh-mountain stream along the way to cool off.
Losing a few pounds and feeling quite amazing, even after a week. I noticed my cellulite had improved too: maybe it’s true what they say about caffeine and wine.
We didn’t love
The buzzy nightlife in the town. I was hoping for something a little more monastic and remote – like the Lanserhof at Lans. Although the hotel and spa were luxurious, and the town and area gorgeous, sharing the pools with speedo-wearing lounger-hogging Russians and Germans spoiled the retreat aspect.
Who would like it?
Burned-out execs - we hobnobbed with an international restauranteur, the head of a major fashion label, an art gallery curator to name but three.
The rich and famous – actors come here to lose pounds (and years) before making film or TV appearances.
The unwell – your treatment plan is overseen by a qualified medical team. You can pay extra for diagnoses such as food intolerances, genetic profiling, ultrasound, colonoscopy, dermatology, sleep laboratory and stress analysis and any medical treatments.
How I would love to be a Lanserhof regular – it’s the most effective yet luxurious way to detox, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Also, like Notting Hill AA meetings in the noughties, there are networking opportunities aplenty. Most importantly, even after a week I noticed a dramatic difference – I lost weight as well as a few bad habits and felt glowingly energetic. I entered a cynic, but emerged a convert. Now all I need is the high flying job to be able to afford to go back…
Kitzbuhel is an excellent taster: I now have my sights set on the Lans itself.
We took a train from Munich airport to Kitzbuhel for less than 60 euros return – you have to change twice but our online ticket gave us all the details you need, including times and platform numbers. Very efficient.
A LANS Med Basic is 1,481 euros per week (2,708 euros for two weeks). Our double superior room at Shwarzer Adler Hotel was 190 euros per night.