The Lanserhof Diaries

A seven-day guide to the rejuvenating cures, ice-cold chambers and other spartan delights in Germany’s famed Lanserhof health resort.

DAY ONE

I am aboard a train bound for the remote German island Sylt, where I will spend the next seven days at Lanserhof, a luxury resort and state-of-the-art health spa, all in one. Sylt is the third and latest addition to the Lanserhof family of health resorts; the first opened its doors in Lans, Austria, in 1984. In recent years, Lanserhof’s popularity has grown beyond its main clientele of retired Germans, becoming the go-to destination for business elites and fashionable types looking to unplug from their terribly busy lives.

What attracts these well-to-do guests is a program on offer known as “the Cure,” a strict dietary regime designed to reboot your gut and, in turn, revitalize your overall health. For many, this soup-for-lunch-soup-for-dinner diet, combined with the various treatments on offer, results in dramatic weight loss. The minimum stay is seven days at a cost of €7,000 ($7,700). “The more you pay, the less they feed you!” as one Financial Times commenter put it.

Anxious about what awaited me, I phoned Lanserhof’s chief marketing officer, Nils Behrens, a few days before my arrival. He enthusiastically explained that each stay begins with a medical examination, after which the doctor creates a program, including a diet and a range of therapies. “None of our guests have the same medical program,” said Nils. “It’s completely personalized, completely bespoke. This is the biggest difference, compared with all our competitors in the market.”

Perhaps you, like me, are in generally good shape – you try to hit 10,000 steps a day and eat a banana every now and then for good measure. Even so, you wake up some mornings feeling like a scrunched-up ball of paper. You power-chug coffee all morning to ward off fatigue, only to end up wide awake past midnight. Stress hovers around you like a fly on a garbage can: it comes and goes, but it’s always buzzing. For me, Lanserhof represents an opportunity that is all too rare in life: the chance to focus on nothing but my health for a week. This would be no holiday, though, Nils warned: “We’re kind of strict – we’re German, you know. But we have the best results.”

Distracted by visions of what awaits me on Sylt – or rather, the food that will be missing – I suddenly realize that the train hasn’t moved for some time. I ask the men behind me, who don’t really speak English, what’s causing the delay. “There’s a bomb,” one of them replies. As I process this bafflingly unexpected response, he assures me: “It’s from World War II.” Well, okay then!

I ask a passing train worker to clarify, and she begins typing into her phone before showing me the Google Translate result: “There are already experts on site to blast it.” I ask whether this happens often, and she replies in the most German way possible, “Sometimes.”

Soon enough, the train rumbles to life, joining in unison with my tummy. Lanserhof beckons. “I can do this,” I assure myself. I have already survived a bomb threat.

DAY TWO

By 7:30 AM, I’ve already had my weight and height recorded, my blood pressure measured and blood taken from my arm and my earlobe (?). At breakfast, a smiling waitress wearing a dark blue jumpsuit places a bowl of coconut yoghurt and two slices of fermented buckwheat bread before me. “I hope you enjoy your breakfast,” she says. “That’s it.”

Morning brings the first chance to properly explore the building, which opened in June 2022 at a cost of €130 million. Designed by architect Christoph Ingenhoven, the 17,000-square-meter (182,986 square feet) space contains 55 rooms, a gym complete with a rock-climbing wall, three saunas, a saltwater indoor-outdoor pool and dozens of white doctors’ offices. Outside, the building’s enormous thatched roof makes it look like a spaceship parked atop a hill. Inside, it’s all mid-century furniture, neutral colors and natural textures. The focal feature is an enormous white, spiraling staircase that connects the facility’s five floors. It is very quiet but for the sound of guests clopping around in their Lanserhof-branded Birkenstocks.

Soon enough, I sit down for my first session with the doctor. She explains that, with all the food available to us these days, our digestive system really needs a rest from time to time. There’s ample research supporting the notion that the gut is like the body’s second brain, and good microbiome maintenance is vital for good health. Through fasting and a diet of “really clean food, not a lot of variety,” the Lanserhof Cure is designed to restore the gut to factory settings.

“It’s not only what you eat, but how you eat,” the doctor continues. Often, we eat too much, too fast. The key to the cure, she says, is to chew each mouthful 30 to 40 times before swallowing, “until it’s liquid, really.” The more you chew your food, the easier it is to digest. The diet runs from level zero – tea and broth – to level three, and she recommends I start on level two. At this news, relief courses through my body.

Alongside all of this not-eating, Lanserhof offers a range of treatments to massage, soak, steam and infuse your way to health. During my call with Nils, he recommended three I should try: CellGym, a breathing machine that feeds you oxygen at alternating levels, a sort of altitude training; cryotherapy, where you spend three minutes in a -110 degree Celsius chamber; and 3D body mapping, in which a machine takes a 3D image of you to detect your most hidden moles. “I can tell you I have 440 moles,” Nils recounted cheerfully. “I’m pretty close to a Dalmatian dog.”

I start with that one and head downstairs to my date with Vectra, an imposing machine that takes up most of the room. Dotted around its interior are 96 cameras, which fire in one hot flash to create a 3D model of whoever stands at its center. I step inside, pose as if I’m in an airport security scanner and close my eyes, and the cameras fire in a warm vroom. “I’ll show you what it will look like,” the technician tells me, pulling up a 3D image of himself in only his underpants. “That’s my belly,” he says, zooming in.

Dinner is a tasty but small bowl of chestnut soup, which is gone before I really register it was there. For a little treat, I end the day by testing out the three saunas. In bed, I am more steam than man. It is 8 PM.

DAY THREE

Overnight, the unexpected has happened: snow has fallen, more than it has in several years. “No one was prepared,” the man at reception tells me. “Not even the animals. The deer looked lost.”

I venture outside to explore this wintery wonderland. Today, Sylt is most famous as a holiday destination for wealthy Germans, who call it “the German Hamptons.” In summer, its population swells from 15,000 to 100,000. Lanserhof is near the island’s – and Germany’s – northernmost tip, and at a certain point my phone vibrates: “Welcome to Denmark!” Nearly every house I pass is built in the Frisian style, made of red brick and topped with a thatched reed roof. The air is so crisp and unpolluted, Germans call it “champagne air.”

During World War I, Sylt was a military base, and during World War II, it formed part of the Nazi regime’s Atlantic Wall, the fortified defense line running down Europe’s western coast. Lanserhof itself is built on a former army site, and the nearby houses once housed military families. The remains of bunkers from the period can be found somewhere on the island, and while I’m curious to see them, by now my hands are sore from the cold, so I head back for a warming lunch of beetroot and little boiled potatoes. Mmm!

DAY FOUR

Each morning, I wake up and down a glass of Epsom salts, which, despite its name, taste nothing like salt and a lot like bile. At breakfast, a little thimble of bitter drops awaits me, which I’m told detoxifies the liver yet tastes suspiciously like pure alcohol. This is followed by a shot of wheatgrass and a slice of bread, which I dutifully chew to mush like a cow in a meadow. Lunch is the largest meal of the day: a plate of vegetables, a side of boiled potatoes and a slice of bread. Dinner is just soup.

I had read that some guests experience ketosis, an energetic rush that comes when the body begins to burn fat. Instead, having gone four days without coffee, I have the strange sensation that I am a character in “The Sims” video game, wandering listlessly, my vitals on display for all to see, surrounded by ambient music and incomprehensible chatter (German).

Feeling kaput after my carrot lunch, I pay a visit to chef Dietmar Priewe, the man I am holding personally responsible for my hunger. (You can’t spell “Dietmar” without “diet.”) Beaming and fit, Dietmar tells me that male guests in particular struggle with the portion sizes, and for the very desperate he offers an extra serving. But he does not deviate from the diet. Not even for birthdays.

Dietmar shows me a photo of himself from several years back, weighing significantly more. He was living a typical chef’s lifestyle when, one day, he found that his XL jacket was too small. So, he made a commitment to change, which included finding a new workplace. “I thought, ‘Which hotel company can I learn more from, learn to understand healthy food?’ Lanserhof has a very high knowledge for studying nutrition.”

Here, the food is seasonal and locally sourced wherever possible, which can present a creative challenge during the winter months. “At this time, we have potatoes, broccoli from the farmhouse, root vegetables… But when you’re cooking beetroot, carrots, beetroots, carrots, it’s a bit tricky. Most people say, ‘It’s too much.’”

Repetitive, maybe, but the food has been delicious. “We don’t cook Michelin-star food,” he says. “We cook for a good, healthy life.” And with a big smile, Dietmar’s off to continue dinner preparations. That night, a pumpkin soup arrives at my table, finished with a Dietmar-sized smiley face drawn in a dark oil.

DAY FIVE

I’ve enjoyed every treatment so far, from the deep breathing of the CellGym sessions to the reflexology massage (“Hmm,” the reflexologist had said, holding my toe, “headaches…”). But this morning, I meet my nemesis: the “natural detox hay” pack. It involves lying on a square mat filled with damp hay, resting on a heated waterbed. I’m then wrapped in a thin, papery sheet and a thick rubber blanket. I have the impression of being trapped in a stinky horse stable in the middle of a storm, my rainwater-soaked clothing leaving me hot, wet and itchy. It is meant to last 50 minutes; I pack up after five. “It’s not for everyone,” the very kind attendant says.

This, I think later, did not feel like a luxurious experience. Nor does eating a meager serving of boiled potatoes at lunch each day. At these moments, the clinical reality of Lanserhof clashes with any preconceived notion of “luxury.”

Rather, the luxury of Lanserhof is more innate: the experience of spending time in beautiful surroundings, focusing on yourself and what you want to improve, and then actually doing so with the help of a team of experts. “It’s such a pure luxury to just concentrate on yourself, to not be distracted by anything,” general manager Dorit von der Osten tells me. “Being with yourself sometimes allows emotions to come up, which, in your day-to-day business, you put away: ‘I don’t want to think about it right now.’ Here, during this week you’re staying with us, you have time to really think about what bothers you, and you can solve it. This is real luxury, in my opinion.”

This form of luxury is proving popular, and Lanserhof is growing – both on Sylt, where several new diagnostic labs and guest rooms are under construction, but also near Marbella, where a fourth facility is scheduled to open in 2026.

On our call, Nils had recalled how, when he first joined Lanserhof, the plan was to build its global reputation by attending industry awards ceremonies and conventions, ensuring it was placed on various top-10 lists. “In the end, people love top-10 lists,” he said. “I was saying, ‘Hi, I’m Nils from Lanserhof.’ I was at one two weeks ago, and no one asks me anymore what we’re doing. Everyone knows.” Today, his goal is more specific: “Our vision is to be the number-one holistic health resort in the world.”

DAY SIX

With my time at Lanserhof drawing to a close, here is a noncomprehensive list of everything I have learned about myself:

  • I have 134 moles, each of them harmless.
  • I have a mild fructose intolerance, but no problem with lactose.
  • A heartbeat analysis reveals that, even when I am not stressed, I do not relax. Oy…
  • My body mass index (BMI), faulty as the measure may be, is normal, though I need to build muscle in my torso.
  • My week of soup has lowered my cholesterol from slightly elevated to normal.
  • Most surprising of all, despite eating far less in a week than I typically would, I lose just 0.1 kilogram (0.22 pound), and now hold the record for Least Weight Lost at Lanserhof.

Doctor’s orders: two probiotics for two months and two teaspoons of psyllium seeds a day.

What better way to end my stay than with a petrifying bout of cryotherapy. It works like this: wearing nothing but a bathing suit, a beanie, shoes and gloves, you enter a sort of walk-in freezer set to -10 degrees Celsius, where you stay for 15 seconds. You then enter a second chamber at -70 degrees for a further 15 seconds. Finally, you pull a third door and step into a chamber set at -110 degrees Celsius, where you stay put for three minutes.

Before I enter, the technician advises me that, rather than moving around to distract myself from the cold, it’s better to gently hold my body and try to meditate. “Piss, that’s cold,” I immediately think as I step into the first chamber, but 15 seconds passes swiftly, and I’m on to the next room. Fuck, it’s so cold. What could a further -40 degrees possibly feel like? Fifteen seconds finishes, and I pull the next door open.

It’s hard to convey exactly what –110 degrees feels like. I am too distracted by the cold to meditate. I notice that my arm and leg hairs stand frozen on end, and I feel my eyelashes catch as I blink. Toward the end, the skin on my shins begin to hurt, and I begin to shiver. It’s difficult but not alarming. There is something calm about the whole ordeal. And when three minutes is up, and I return to room temperature, I have more giddy energy than I can remember having in forever.

DAY SEVEN

I have a confession to make. During my stay, I was in possession of an illicit substance: an Air France biscuit, which I secretly stashed in my bag in case of emergency. I didn’t touch it my entire stay – I forgot about it, really – but on the journey home, the hunger finally gets to me. I chew each mouthful 30 times.

This article was originally published in Mastermind 15 – buy it here.

All clothing by LORO PIANA

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