I hadn’t felt well in so long. Years. The endless cycle of chronic pain and antibiotic abuse. I always felt like I was coping, getting by; going out at the weekend, smiling, forwarding my career, being as good a friend/daughter as I could. But inside I was a different story. When you are living with chronic pain, you probably think about it 99.9% of the time; you are in the room but you aren’t. Relationships become strained, you get scared to commit to plans, but yet, often you look fine on the outside.

As long as I hadn’t felt well, I was always aware of the Mayr principle, of this Austrian-led philosophy in Europe where rockstars disappeared after hedonistic excess and people’s health problems were dissipated. It was always my backup plan to go there – and after being on antibiotics for a year with a permanently uncomfortable tummy, funny taste in my mouth, exhausted and nowhere close to feeling like me – I was offered the opportunity to visit Park Igls, a medi-spa on a sunny hillside in Tyrol, Austria.

I arrived at 11pm one night this September, after a carb-loading-mini-sesh in Italy with Editor-in-Chief, Angelica Malin. Picked up in a van in the dark night from Innsbruck coach station, with crumbs of my panic snacking still on my sweater, I was scared. What had I got myself into?

Park Igls: The Lowdown

Firstly, a bit on what Park Igls offer. The Mayr principles dreamed up in the early 20th century by Franz Mayr have been modernised in recent years. These principles were based on the idea that a healthy gut is key to a healthy body and a prevention in chronic illness and diseases. The doctors at Park Igls come up with a personalised plan which involves fasting and detox, supported by exercise and other activities. The plan is recommended for a minimum of a week, I could only go for five days, but I would really recommend a week. There was one man there for 3 months!

The days begin with what anyone who knows vaguely about Mayr will have heard of, the bitter salts, which eliminate waste from your body (in theory give you the poops), although my system never felt them very strongly. Everyone talks about how much they are experiencing the effects of the salts (a casual lift conversation involves a chat about your bowel movements).

Mornings are very busy at Park Igls. After bitter salts drinking and a bit of kvetching about the taste of it to myself, I would head down in my dressing gown to the kneipping area. Kneipping is a form of hydrotherapy in which parts of your body are plunged in and out of cold and hot water. This stimulates blood flow, the metabolic system and strengthens the immune system. There are various types from feet kneipps to full body ones where you are plunged naked into a mini bath. Following that, I went down to breakfast.

Park Igls: Breakfast Time

The principle of Mayr eating is the classic: breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Having never been hungry for breakfast in my entire life, I found myself ravenous for stale-esque bread and a choice of protein, but meals cannot be rushed. The big principle here is chewing: every mouthful must be chewed and chewed. Most people’s food isnt being properly broken down before it ends up in the stomach. People are on their phones, chatting, watching tv, basically doing anything but concentrating on chewing their food. Every meal should take a half an hour, for this reason the dining room is silent apart from the sounds of people working their way through crunchy buckwheat crackers.

Following breakfast, it was back upstairs for a liver compress – the best thing in the world – essentially a hot water and wet cloth laid over your stomach, which detoxes the liver and is the most comforting thing. The lovely staff tuck you up in blankets and you can nap or read while looking at the soaring Austrian mountain side.

Park Igls: Daily Schedule

Apart from this, you have a daily schedule differing of your needs for massage, wraps and most importantly, medical appointments. My doctor was Dr Irene Brunhuber, who is the most brilliant and talented physician. My first appointment with her was a lengthy overview of how I had come to be there, and my medical history. She methodically took all the details down, thinking hard and examining me. What I love about her approach is the combination of test-based science, but an understanding of the limitations of Western medicine and the abuse of antibiotics. Even now she is giving me support remotely three months later in my journey to healing my gut. I was put on a programme of probiotics, supplements and a light diet while I was there, along with extensive blood, allergy and stool tests.

Lunch is absurdly good, the chef is from a fine dining background, and the food, although tiny portions, would not look out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant. The one big difference: no one is drinking water with the meals. According to the Mayr principles, having liquids around meals just dilutes your digestive juices so should be avoiding during and half an hour before and after. In the afternoons, I ambled into Innsbruck for a browse, went on a cable car up a mountain side but a lot of the time sunbathed in the glorious gardens. There is a deep blue pool and huge sauna and steam cabins to sweat out all the rubbish coming out of you.

There are lots of exercise options, and I enjoyed Nordic walking in the rolling hills, and yoga just before dinner. There is a gym, but I felt too delicate for anything major.

Days merge, every day is the same but not. You will feel hungry at first, because you are consuming a small amount of food, but it does begin to fade. Day 2 and 3 are the worst in the Mayr Cure, as it’s called. Headaches, crying, dizziness are all part of the course, but the kind medical staff do everything to make you feel comfortable. Big shout out to Claudia from reception who was always delightful to my plaintive whinging. But then one day you wake up and the whites of your eyes are the brightest they have ever been and you feel like you have been given 10 million jolts of energy. This is when the fun begins and you realise they are actually geniuses.

The crowd is serious, there are no Insta selfie babes here, it’s mainly older Austrian ladies who I quickly bonded with in the dining room with daily nods over our buckwheat toast. Most people have been returning for years – from elderly people coming for a health once over or those looking to kick start a much desired weight loss.

There are points of severe loneliness; the time when dinner, the smallest meal of the day, features a couple pieces of bread, soup and an egg, and if you are lucky is finished at 6.30pm. You’re hungry, alone and the only option is to return to your quiet room. I took to roaming around the local village watching people eat hunks of bread and huge goblets of beer. But after a couple days, you become institutionalised. When I left for the airport, I felt terrified about to face the real world, how would I know what to eat? Where were my kneipp ladies?

Park Igls: The Verdict

How am I feeling today? I am a bit more complicated than the average guest, I am still struggling with health issues they couldn’t quite fix, but my stomach feels so so much better and my general body feels like it’s been given a huge MOT and service. I have learnt tools and techniques and have slowed my eating down by 200%.  I am definitely going back next year and couldn’t be more grateful to Dr Brunhuber, Dr Gartner and the kind and capable staff.

Photo Credit: Mayr Clinic Park Igls

For more information on Mayr Clinic Park Igls, see here