The stressful nature of modern life has led the great and good to seek out the world's best wellness clinics to help recharge the batteries – Jo Foley takes us through her top four
For more than 30 years, the Lanserhof Medical Spa has been recognised as Austria's premier health clinic. In its picture-postcard Tyrolean setting just fifteen minutes from Innsbruck, it has, through extensive research and constant refinement, merged the science of modern medicine with Asian and European concepts of holistic wellbeing, offering it to a who's who of the world's wealthy alongside captains of industry, oligarchs and royals.
At its centre is the Lans Med Concept, an amalgam of traditional naturopathy, a modernised approach to the Mayr philosophy and medicine. Each visit begins with a detailed medical questionnaire and consultation with a doctor, after which a programme of treatments, therapies, infusions, exercise and baths is prescribed for a minimum stay of seven days. And while prevention and regeneration are its core, it also offers help with such afflictions as stress, imbalances, low energy, sleep problems, detox, weight loss and gain, ageing, menopause and impotence.
Its aficionados return annually to keep a check on their health and had managed to keep their wellbeing regime a closely guarded secret until last year, when the Lanserhof spawned a sexy, younger version at a lakeside in Bavaria. Lanserhof Tegernsee has already picked up awards for its architecture, with those for wellness bound to follow.
The elegant simplicity of its structure is based on the architectural principles of a monastery, with a central cloister for privacy and seclusion. 'Architecture for the soul' is how it describes its classic design in oak and larch woods, which provides acres of space in the public areas, while all rooms and suites have vast windows to highlight the lake, mountains, forest and light, making the landscape part of the healing element.
Best of all, though, is its stillness. Some visitors are unnerved by the silence for the first few days and ask for music in the treatment rooms. Early-morning guided forest walks are encouraged, as is an exercise programme based on balance, stability and co-ordination rather than weights, machines and endurance. If it sounds easy, don't be fooled. Guests are sent home with a regime to follow three to four times a week, along with certain daily exercises – brushing teeth while standing on one leg, for instance.
The medical aspect is overseen by Dr Elke Benedetto-Reisch, a formidable force. Each guest is monitored on a daily basis and adjustments made along the way. In between there are saunas, steams, baths and a fantastic heated outdoor salt-water swimming pool. Diet is based on the Mayr method of gut cleansing, with salts, drops, massage and supplements, with food constrained mostly to broth, yoghurt, spelt bread and potatoes, where every mouthful has to be chewed at least 40 times.
The Mayr regime draws a loyal following of hoteliers, jewellers, minor royalty and cabinet ministers to the two clinics at Lake Worth in southern Austria — Viva Mayr and the original Mayr and More. Both are serious detox centres based on the teachings of Dr Franz Xaver Mayr, which concentrates on the digestive system – if the gut is healthy, then so is the body.
Each day begins with a dose of Epsom salts and the food is a mix of dry rusks, broth and little else, with enforced mastication. Time between meals is devoted to consultations, treatments — everything from massage to Kneipp baths – medical tests and pure rest.
The last of these is of prime importance to stressed clients, with no stimulation (TV, books, movies) encouraged after 9pm. The minimum stay is for seven nights, but many regulars opt for ten or more.
La Prairie, Switzerland
For more than 80 years, pontiffs and princes, prime ministers and presidents, as well as a host of rock stars and rogues, have descended on Clinique La Prairie in Montreux. This is where Dr Paul Niehans developed his live cell therapy, CLP Extract, which is said to boost the immune system and aid longevity and body repair. Originally the extract was administered in three lengthy injections, but now it can be taken orally.
La Prairie is divided into two distinct areas: a spa and a medical centre. The former offers every type of therapeutic as well as pampering massage, facial, wrap or peel, while the latter has a range of surgeries, from orthopaedic to aesthetic and cosmetic alongside full medical checks and analysis. It also has a renowned dentistry section and one of the top menopause clinics in Europe.
Golden Door, USA
Originally for women only, the Golden Door, one of the most exclusive spas in the world, now offers both male and co-ed weeks. Surrounded by mountains and forests and encased in wild flower gardens, Zen gardens (pictured) and orchards, the spa near Escondido in southern California has hosted every American woman of note from CEOs to politicians, law-makers to movie stars.
Each programme runs for seven days and is limited to 40 guests. Every aspect of wellbeing – nutrition, fitness, mindfulness, pain empowerment, psychological health – is attended to with demonstrations, lectures, one-to-one coaching, classes and treatments.
Everything is bespoke and catered for – tracksuits, sports equipment, robes etc are all supplied.
Each guest has their own villa where daily massages take place, and each villa has its own meditation shrine. All meals and classes are included in the price, as are daily facials, unlimited body wraps, treatments, your own personal trainer, manicures and pedicures as well as hair styling. Arrive by car and your vehicle gets a treatment too – a hand wash.
As they say, this place is for the rejuvenation of mind, body and soul.
Jo Foley is a writer, editor and consultant specialising in spas and wellness