Shock treatment in Bavaria | Marina O’Loughlin stops eating


What happens when a food writer is denied food? Famously anonymous Sunday Times restaurant reviewer Marina O’Loughlin travels to the Lanserhof Tegernsee health resort for what may be her most radical culinary experience to date

Shock treatment in Bavaria | Marina O’Loughlin stops eating

I am, as social media “influencers” would have it, #blessed. My job – restaurant critic and food travel writer – would appear to be the best of all possible worlds. Each morning, as I contemplate which restaurant I’m off to, or which country, I sing a tiny hallelujah. But I also fret about the pillages that years of the gig are wreaking on my body. The days of snapping back into shape, of shrugging off the tequila and tasting menus, are gone: now no overindulgence goes unmapped. The breath gets shorter, the thighs get wider, the energy lessens into lethargy, the only exercise the lifting of menus.

It’s all so pure, so pristine, so intensely clean, it makes me feel like a grubby little troll

So a trip to the beautiful Lanserhof Tegernsee, an extraordinary and multi award-winning wellness sanctuary and spa in a Bavarian landscape of forests and mountains, offers the chance to redress some of the damage. To recalibrate, recover, re-set the dials in an atmosphere of tranquil, austere luxury. No, that’s not a contradiction: Lanserhof is uncompromising in its approach to health, but it’s done in such a way that you simply sink into the bliss of it all. With a clientele of media moguls and supermodels, oligarchs and Prussian aristocracy, not a single corner is cut in the mission to cossetting and curing the world’s most demanding guests.

Marina checking in to Lanserhof

Plus me, of course. Arriving at my room, a sanctuary in shades of cream overlooking snow-capped mountains and the complex’s outdoor pool, I do a little skip of pleasure. See: already perkier, bouncing on a huge bed clad in the highest of threadcounts. It even smells beautiful. There are two bathrooms, one a vast temple to cleanliness with underfloor heating, a tub you could swim in and towels the size of duvets, the other smaller, more discreet, complete with one of those extraordinary Japanese loos that gently jets (or pulses, or oscillates) with warm water before wafting your bits softly dry. It’s all so pure, so pristine, so intensely clean, it makes me feel like a grubby little troll, as though getting into the crisp white linen might somehow sully it.

Guest bedroom at Lanserhof Tegernsee

The spa’s award-winning architecture has been designed to instil a sense of serenity and wellness. Rooms and public spaces group around an internal courtyard in an almost monastic way; all materials are sustainable, untreated and chosen for “health-friendliness”, a harmony of natural woods and stones, green and energy-efficient without a hint of the hairshirt.

The LansMed Clinic arm of the resort is quite extraordinary – acres of immaculate white corridors off which doors lie open on silent rooms full of curious equipment straight out of Barbarella. Treatments are based on the holistic philosophy of Austrian physician Franz Xaver Mayr: intestinal wellbeing and the cleansing of toxins at the very, er, heart of it. The literature on the subject is pretty uncompromising: “Sluggish Intestines Make a Person Look Ugly and Old” runs one heading; another passage talks of the “flaccid stage”: “the breasts, belly and rump sag; rings appear below the buttocks; and the lower part of the body spreads out into a shapeless, blubbery mass”.

I’m put on the hardest-core regime which I masochistically and Catholic-ly believe I deserve

The introduction to the clinic’s treatments is an individual M.O.T: a check-in on arrival with dedicated doctor for any number of health tests. Another round of tests at the end of your stay lets you know how you have fared. My check-in is with tall, serious and entirely white-clad Dr M.; I think her diamond earrings might weigh more than she does. From her reaction to me, I might be the unhealthiest person she’s ever seen. I’m put on the hardest-core regime which I masochistically and Catholic-ly believe I deserve: a “monotone” diet of sheep’s milk yoghurt and buckwheat toast (unattractively titled “chewing trainer” – you’re required to chew every mouthful 30 or 40 times) for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, it’s basically the water that vegetables have been simmered in. No actual vegetables, or raw foods. Plus, every day, quantities of Epsom salts which flush you out as effectively as Dyno-Rod.

The lounge at Lanserhof Tegernsee

Very soon I find myself suffering quite badly from what they call “cure crisis”. Despite only having one coffee a day at home, withdrawal is pretty powerful; time begins to blur into a hushed round of treatments, exercise classes, walks in the beautiful countryside and padding from spa to clinic to pool to “silentarium” to my allocated table in the restaurant, rarely getting out of my huge fluffy dressing gown so that my lack of designer sportswear is less shaming. I’ve forgotten to pack my Fitbit charger, so I’ve no idea how many steps I rack up schlepping from Bathhouse to gym to spa to the medical centre’s Blue Sofa where we’re collected for our daily round of treatments, but I reckon it must run into the several thousands. I find myself avoiding the lift unless laden with a couple of goblets of the day’s choices of tea from the supremely elegant lounge area’s tea bar (rosemary, or horsetail, or their own special blend, each annotated with its particular beneficial properties).

Though we’re expected to dress for dinner, there seems little point in slapping on the lippy for a bowl of hot murky water which I’m expected to eat with a teaspoon

The restaurant plays a massive role in all proceedings. Another beautiful space in shades of taupe and stone, it has no decoration other than a single, dramatic flower arrangement. You’re not permitted to do anything here other than eat or – if you’re in company – talk; I bring a book with me, but I’m smilingly discouraged. Phones are forbidden other than in the rooms. No drinks are allowed with food, and I don’t just mean booze. I’ve been prescribed a number of supplements: bitter herb drops, various vitamins and minerals sit at my regular table, reproaching my dreams of toasted cheese. Though we’re expected to dress for dinner, there seems little point in slapping on the lippy for a bowl of hot murky water which I’m expected to eat with a teaspoon. This is the sort of space I’d more usually be found necking martinis; the irony is not lost on me. Here, after “dinner”, chic 50-something couples play chess and draughts and cards while earnest chaps play restrained jazz. I suddenly feel very alone.

Treatments veer wildly between the gorgeous and the alarming. In the former camp, there’s a detox pack, where I’m slathered in seaweed and aromatic herbs then perched over a steamer tub and, well, steamed. I feel like the world’s most privileged courgette. Then I’m plunged into a bathful of milky oil, the lights are turned out and the water changes colour in an altogether delicious and unexpected way. (Apart from the lemony-green, which is worryingly like Berocca wee.) In the latter camp, I place what Doctor M. calls “bloody cupping”: literally, being suction-cupped after rapid stabbing with a scalpel so the resultant vacuum sucks blood into the glass sphere. It’s apparently to clean and detox the cardiovascular system but seems to me as primeval as leeches. Also, never mind bloody cupping, it’s bloody painful. According to Wikipedia, it’s also a treatment for black magic and possession, so – result.

The pool at Lanserhof Tegernsee

There’s quite a lot of doctoral belly manipulation, which I’d find quite comical if they didn’t take it so seriously. There are also talks and film shows in the Inspiration room, and “cooking for health” demonstrations in the restaurant kitchen by head chef Karsten Wolf. This, to someone on buckwheat toast and sheep’s yoghurt, is a special sort of torture. If you’d told me a week ago I’d be salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the sight of cold quinoa porridge I’d have pronounced you insane. I can’t imagine what I’d have done if they’d made sausage rolls. But despite the deprivation, I’m weirdly not hungry the whole time. Mid-stay, I undergo “deep liver detox”. I’ll gloss over what this entails, but have to confess the process is gruesomely fascinating. And I’ve never been so grateful for the magical Japanese loo (nor for being here solo).

With the “cure crisis” having passed, serenity is in fact kicking in. I spend as much time as I can gliding through warm, salty, almost amniotic waters of the glorious outdoor infinity pool, lap after lap. One day, snow falls heavily: swimming outdoors with the snowflakes pattering around me is an exquisite experience. The last time I spent so long swimming was in Glasgow’s Western Baths as a schoolgirl where the entire focus of my dreams and ambitions was a packet of Smoky Bacon crisps and a hot chocolate from the machine. This time I feel like one of the one percent.

My check out meeting goes something like this:

Doctor M.: “You need to be healthier, you need to keep this up.”

Me: “I’m a restaurant critic.”

Doctor M.: “I suggest protein shakes.”

Me: “I write about food.”

Doctor M.: “How about the Dukan diet?”

Me: “I’m a restaurant critic.”

Doctor M.: “You really need to cut down on your salt intake.”

Me.: “I write about food.”

Unedifying, I’m afraid; I do worry that no matter how magnificent and reborn you feel after these kind of experiences, it’s pretty much impossible to bring back into the real world – even if you’re not a restaurant critic.

But it has been a remarkable week. I’ve been up at 7am of a morning, yomping around snow-clad fields, doing yoga poses while listening to the sounds of the forest. I’ve been pummelled and massaged and oiled and marinated until my skin feels like velvet. I’ve realised that meditation is not for me (that’s mostly down to my irritation at the meditation guru, a neatly bearded chap who looks as though he’d like to inflict Tantric sex on you). But my eyes and complexion are glowing and I have more energy and motivation – and less avoirdupois – than I did when I arrived. And I’ve hobnobbed with the kind of people I’d never meet under normal circumstances, though I get the impression that many Lanserhof guests are insanely wealthy people trying to cheat death.

Me, I’m content with a renewed appreciation of life on the outside world. And food. Oh dear lord, how I newly appreciate food. C


Healing Holidays offer seven-might retreats to Lanserhof Tegernsee from £3,899 per person sharing, including flights. 020-7843 3597;