With a missed visit resulting in a healthy living disaster last year, Anna-Marie Solowij explains why Austria's Mayr clinic is her stress-relieving saviour

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Last year was a healthy living disaster for me and I blame it all on the fact that my annual visit to the Mayr clinic in Austria  (I had an unbroken six year record) had to be cancelled due to work commitments.

My annual pilgrimage had come to represent so much more than a one-week detox and recuperation. It informed the rest of my year, perpetuating the good effects of a ‘cure’ in the clear mountain air, swimming in a turquoise lake and hiking in pine clad hills, as well as eating less and experiencing the usual psychological clear-out that’s a bonus they don’t charge for, but which is the reason why most Mayr devotees return year after year.

I couldn’t contemplate another year without my Mayr fix so I booked a precious fortnight and - like a lioness guarding her cubs - warned away anything that might threaten it. Determined to get the most out of it, I also committed to The Organic Pharmacy’s Pre-Mayr programme which kick starts the detox process 10 days ahead of your visit, so that the first few days aren’t wasted dragging yourself around in a bathrobe with a groaning headache. An in-depth session with a homeopath identifies strengths and weaknesses, then a course of supplements and elixirs are prescribed for detoxification and support.

Returning to the Mayr was like seeing an old friend, albeit one who’s had a facelift, as the bedrooms in the main house have had a much-needed makeover. Gone are the floral nylon carpets, green and yellow colour scheme and worm-eaten pine furniture, and in their place are chic limed oak, a neutral colour scheme, marbled bathrooms, good lighting and a mattress so comfortable I stripped the bed to check the manufacturer’s label (none visible, but it was memory foam). The Kneipping Centre (the nerve centre of the spa area) has also had its former 70s livery updated in more muted tones and the gym now boasts easy-to-use training equipment so that guests who want more activity can exercise with ease. The clinic has rightly taken ownership of the branding ‘The Original F X Mayr’ – after all, it’s where the Mayr’s ‘outer health through inner cleansing ‘ philosophy was born.

Although the most important things remain the same (the sense of comfort, care and reassurance from a devoted staff that treat guests like family - a lifeline when you’re in the middle of a detox and feeling pretty grim) the Mayr has managed to up the ante when it comes to other things. They’ve listened to their guests and made sensible revisions; it’s a slow-down world in this rural, tranquil place so evolution triumphs over revolution every time. Under the direction of Dr Stefan Domenig, the charmismatic new medical chief who also authored The Alkaline Cure , a recipe book which underpins the Mayr’s alkaline eating ethos, guests are now seen by their doctor every day instead of every other day, for the manual abdominal massages that are key to the detoxification process.

Also, body massages (part of the standard programme) are now 50 rather than 30 minutes long, allowing the therapist to properly get to work on tense muscles. And although it’s not exactly a treatment, the popular guided walks through the woods, around the lake and through meadows feature daily on the activity schedule, led by the charming Judith, accompanied by Joy, her doting chocolate Labrador. At sunrise, spotting a deer darting through the forest, seeing wild blueberries growing, smelling the hay-scented air is an important connection to nature that most of us don’t have.

In many reviews of the Mayr (usually written by first timers) there’s much dramatic emphasis on the effects of taking Epsom Salts, having your daily calories slashed by three quarters, having to chew dry bread 40 times each mouthful and not talking during meals. Yes, those things are fundamental to the cure but they’re not the entire picture. I return year after year because, in a hectic life, I need space for just me. When I’m there, I don’t have to think or make a decision; no one’s expecting anything of me, other than to turn up for classes and appointments on time. What I get out of it is a fresh start for my body and mind: I automatically lose weight, although it’s not top of my agenda, I relax in a way that’s simply not possible on a normal holiday and although I always choose to visit on my own, I end up making long-lasting friends. You could say it’s my addiction, but proof of its good effect is that it’s my only addiction.