Spa of the Month: Lanserhof


Lanserhof in Bavaria has consistently won the award for the World’s Best Medical Spa. And once you’re here it comes as no surprise. But medical spa? In the UK we’re used to spas being places for relaxation: a nice massage, a bit of pampering, nothing too serious. At Lanserhof, the approach is entirely different. This is a place run by doctors (albeit pretty cool doctors who have a uniform of white jeans rather than white coats) and it combines the most recent medical innovations with naturopathy and holistic medicine. Now most British doctors don’t give much credence to natural healing methods (think of the outcry over homeopathy) but in Germany – and most of the rest of Europe – it’s very different. The medical profession is not unnerved by other approaches, it embraces them. Very effectively.

When, you arrive, though, it’s the sheer beauty of the place that knocks your socks off. There’s mountain, there’s woodland, there’s a glittering lake (Tegernsee) in the valley below. This is no accident. Nature is part of the Cure. And the Cure is what you’re here for because at the very heart of Lanserhof is the Mayr detox that, ideally, you should do twice a year.

The Cure is based on the work of Dr Franz Mayr, an Austrian doctor, who believed the foundation of health are to be found in the gut. So, detoxification, de-acidification and intestinal cleansing are the order of the day and help the body’s metabolism, immune system and its ability to self-heal. It’s all to do with what you eat, when you eat it and, most importantly, how you eat it. Handed an explanation of this process, I am shown to my palatially minimalist room – massive bathroom and a sun terrace overlooking the woodlands. It is my own little bit of heaven for the next week and I’m not at all surprised this is a place where super-models like to hang out.

I arrive just in time for lunch. I have my first (and possibly last) meal of soup followed by fish with vegetables. It’s delicious and the other diners at my table look on with a certain amount of envy as they’re only having cheese, a boiled potato and some bread. One says even this is a feast compared to what she has been having. Everyone has their own programme, though, as people come for different reasons – a specific injury or condition, or recovery from an operation; relaxation and stress relief; weight loss and detox. As for me, I’m feeling quite positive. Frugality? Bring it on.

So, to find out just how frugal that’s going to be, I begin with an assessment. It starts with Tim in the sports department who weighs me and measures every bit of my metabolism: fat and muscle content, water levels, BMI etc etc. On the basis of this and other checks he does himself, your doctor (you’ll meet up after this every second day) decides on the level of the Cure appropriate for you, advises on exercise and chooses your other principal treatments (you can opt for more). The levels of the Cure start at 0 – which is just vegetable broth and herbal tea though hardly anyone does this. I’m actually up for this but my doctor, Dr Darius Chovghi, puts me on level 1 and this means yoghurt and buckwheat toast as my “chewing trainer.”

You may think you know how to chew but most of us apparently bolt our food so the digestive juices don’t get going to break it down meaning it isn’t absorbed properly – and then we keep on eating because we don’t feel full. I have the same for breakfast and lunch (monotony is a good thing here) for the next five days, with a bowl of smooth vegetable soup in the evening.

So when you’re not in the restaurant (which is a pretty limited amount of your time as you would imagine) what are you doing? Well, there are plenty of treatments in the detox package. So on my first day I have a deep tissue massage with Robert who is something of a philosopher and explains to me the pressures of modern living mean a constant release of stress hormones that never have time to leave our bodies because we never truly relax. Our ancestors would have brief periods of stress (when they were out hunting deer or being chased by bears – this is Bavaria, remember) but long periods of sitting round the fire, telling stories and eating the said deer. We don’t do that. We just hold it all in and keep on adding stress till it makes us ill. (I recall at this point there was a very harassed looking patient sitting waiting for her appointment and reading a book called The Rushing Woman.)

So relaxation is important and besides meditation classes there’s just a sense of tranquility about the place. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture – all glass walls, timber and blonde on blonde interiors – built four-square around a central garden giving it a monastic calm. Then you are encouraged, too, to spend a lot of time in nature itself. There is a 7am “Active awakening inside Nature” – this means you go out while it’s still dark (well it was in late October) walk through the woods and end up at a spot overlooking the lake to do exercises while the sun comes up from behind the mountain. It’s based on the very German wanderen idea and it’s a surprisingly good way to start the day.

There are Nordic walking expeditions every afternoon, too, as well as classes – yoga, Pilates, Theraband, training for backs, balance, co-ordination. One afternoon there was even a jazz dance class – absolutely brilliant and I learned a routine from Dirty Dancing. Not the lift. There’s a wonderful heated outdoor pool and lots of saunas and steam rooms, next to a very luxurious relaxation room. You could be doing something just about every hour of the day though you aren’t supposed to during the Cure – don’t forget the relaxation.

Part of the Cure (or so it seems to me) is that everything here works like clockwork. Down to the smallest detail. Scuff on the wall? Someone is instantly there with a paintbrush. Fancy a swim on your last morning? There’s a waterproof bag in your bathroom for your swimsuit. The wardrobe light turns up as you towards it, they have the biggest towels I’ve ever seen and not one but two dressing gowns (one warm, one cooler). They’re little things but just things you don’t have to think about. The cumulative effect is: relax – you’re in good hands.

My treatments are pretty relaxing, too, although they’re principally aimed, of course, at detoxing. So I have a seaweed detox pack where I’m steamed until tender and then relax further in an oily bath. Detox drainage turns out to be cupping (remember The Madness of George III?). This is more like electro-cupping and the suction cups make a strange croaking noise like an angry bullfrog as they move across my body stimulating my lymph system. There’s reflexology, more massage and, every time you see your doctor, you have a manual abdominal treatment – a massage that both stimulates the detox process and lets the doctor see just how your intestines are coming along.

There are many, many other treatments you can do while you’re here and some people come along specifically for these rather than the Cure. There are lots of medical tests – everything from heart ultrasound analysis to colonoscopy (apparently this is done as a regular check-up test in Germany) – with the labs and the doctors on site as well as follow-up treatments. There is mental health coaching, every kind of massage and body treatment, some nice facials and a lot of cosmetic treatments. There are also “infusions.” No, nothing to do with a nice cup of herbal tea, though there is plenty of that, too. These are vitamin or mineral replenishments supplied intravenously – everything from Vitamin C and iron to amino acids and oxygen. Being needle-phobic I feel slightly faint at the very thought.

I did overcome this, though, for “mesotherapy.” I had heard of this before but never tried it – it originated in France and, while it’s well known in Germany, it hasn’t really made it across the Channel. It entails a lot of tiny injections (I know, but there is an anaesthetic cream applied to the face first) that apply first a detox cocktail (all natural ingredients and vitamins) and then hyaluronic acid and then a last cocktail of vitamins and trace elements such as zinc. According to Elke Benedetto-Reisch, the Medical Director, it’s an “honest, natural anti-ageing treatment that supports the skin.” I was pretty much speechless with terror but it actually didn’t hurt and the results were very good indeed.

And there were more results. I’d lost just over six pounds and about two inches round my waist, I’d exercised every day, my skin looked fantastic and I felt very, very calm. So, onwards and upwards then? At our final meeting, Dr Darius suggested I carry on for another week and, given my metabolism has now been detoxed, it is working faster and better than before so I should lose more weight more quickly. Now that really is a result.

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