The benefits of progress are measurable, or so it seems. At times, however, the costs are high, human costs in particular, which is frequently ignored in the bottom line. Even high-power executives and other heavy-hitters occasionally need to push the reset button. Some find their way to the Lanserhof in Austria. Swiss Style took a look.
Hippocrates and your mother knew best: “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” Great advice in an ideal world, but the world is not ideal. The wear and tear that the current economic system exacts on natural resources is reflected in the erosion of human resources, from underpaid seamstresses in Asian sweat shops, to the big guns under constant pressure to perform and make the right decisions. They, too, have to pamper themselves not just by purchasing a few expensive baubles now and then, but by visiting a service and maintenance centre on occasion. The life of high finance and ease can be difficult, with rich foods, cocktails, long days shuttling from office to office by plane often with tobacco as the only companion, and the permanent threat of making a mistake and falling fast down the ladder of success.
For what it’s worth, regaining a sense of normalcy and proportion is often all it takes to find one’s way back to health and high-performance. How one does that is very personal and can range from singing in a choir, jogging, bungee jumping or even work in a soup kitchen. The other option, given a certain level of income, is seeking regeneration and rejuvenation at a place like the Lanserhof, a stylishly appointed hotel-cum-spa in the village of Lans in Tyrol, Austria, which has developed its own therapeutic programme for its guests. Owner and manager Andreas Wieser did not originally think he would become so deeply involved in healthcare – which he likes to contrast with the idea of “sickcare,” i.e., regular medicine – when he opened for business in 1984. But those were the 80s, after all, an era unencumbered by the frenetic atmosphere of globalisation and instant and ubiquitous communication. Today, he operates with a host of doctors, therapists and professional coach-types and offers at times tough cures to stressed-out C-title bearers, high net worth individuals and men and women who have chosen careers that have the same effect on the soul as lowgrit sandpaper on balsawood.
Wieser calls his system “Lans Med Concept”. It combines state-of-the-art medical treatment with less standard approaches from various traditions. The idea is not only immediate healing, but also and long-term physical and mental wellbeing. The patient – client, customer, in more contemporary terms – should go back to his or her daily grind feeling fresh, young and beautiful. Wieser’s basic idea at Lanserhof consisted in “converting the mind of regular medical doctors, who always seek problems to heal, to service-focused people, who do more for prevention and for improving the quality of life”. As he puts it, Lanserhof’s medical staff look forward, they seek the resources of the body, its balance and its potential.
Wellville in Tyrol
Wieser’s health resort is a modern, sleek building, whose lines would stand out somewhat from the local, traditional Alpine architecture, were it not for the generous use of wood along the walls. Inside those walls, the guest benefits from a wide spectrum of services, from detoxification and personalised fitness programmes, to dermatological treatments. The health resort has also developed unique innovative programmes to boost the patients’ health in a holistic manner. One of them is called Vital Aging, a technique that allows individuals to counteract the effect of time by fully activating their ”energetic and physical potential” rather than denying ageing or covering up its aesthetic manifestations.
Particular attention is also given to nutrition. Over the years, Andreas Wieser together with Lanserhof’s topnotch kitchen brigade, have developed what Wieser calls “Energy Cuisine,” the backbone of a diet designed to support the detox process. It is based on organically- grown, fresh ingredients (which have absorbed the sunlight, as opposed to processed and frozen produce) and is adapted to the individual consumer’s constitution, which can be hot, cold, and so forth. These Chinese classifications go back over 2,000 years and are still applied today. The idea is to avoid hard fasting and work “with nature,” as Wieser puts it.
Health straight up
The Lanserhof is by no means the only establishment that offers in-depth overhauls. The market is quite crowded, and many of these enterprises are founded and run by self-styled visionaries peddling allegedly revolutionary ideas. When it comes to our bodies, we are often willing to go to any length to restore the feel-good feeling of younger days. “This is not esoteric, this is not religion,” Wieser is quick to point out, stressing the scientific basis of his concept, which is rooted in naturopathy (see box). Most professionals working for him are trained medical doctors and professional therapists, he points out. In fact, some of his earlier customers tended to be “alternatives, new-age types,” but they have now been replaced by more pragmatic businesspeople who demand and obtain results from the therapies at Lanserhof.
If there is some influence from the Orient or from the alternative side of the medical fence, it is well disguised. The Lanserhof and its staff try to sustain a culture of empiricism, rigour and care. Wieser’s own biography is permeated by the same values. Austrian- born, he trained at the prestigious école hôtelière de Lausanne. He went on to work for a German holiday resort operator for several years, during which he developed a very service-oriented attitude. His knowledge of the human body comes from his parallel life as a competitive runner. Wieser managed to run a marathon in 2:47, “a very fast time for that period,” he likes to remark not without pride. His passion for running and performance opened new horizons to him: “It truly raised my awareness of fitness,” he recalls. “I understood very well how the human body functions, but also how the human mind functions and how emotions affect everything.” Wieser gradually discovered the world of nutrition, the role of meditation and all the interconnections between the physical and intellectual universes. After all, even a pragmatic people like the Romans used to say “mens sana in corpore sano”. The spirit of business All stories have a watershed and in Wieser’s case it happened in 1984. It all started in a rather ordinary fashion. After opening a winter resort in Carinthia, he decided to take a few months’ sabbatical and went back to his home in the Tyrolian Alps. There, he got in touch for the first time with Lanserhof, which was a large, four-star hotel built right after the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. The only problem was that the owners had been somewhat too optimistic: “Everybody thought that after the Olympics Tyrol would enjoy a Golden Age, but the infrastructure was too large and was never successful,” Wieser recalls. It was a bit of serendipity: management hired him as a consultant to develop a new concept.
At first, it was just a way to take a brief break from his regular work. But then, in his own words, a very strange thing happened: “I used to speak a lot with the local people in Lans and I gradually developed a sense of familiarity with the place. I started to feel very comfortable there and ultimately decided to stay.” So, he took over the organisation and built up a small company. His funds, by no means large amounts, he threw into advertisement and PR. The advantage of Lans is its relatively central location near Innsbruck, which has an airport. Italy is just to the south over the Brenner Pass, Germany to the north, and more importantly perhaps, Switzerland is just a few hours away by car as well. “Within a few weeks, the first executives started to come and everything began,” he remembers enthusiastically.
It all comes back to location, location, location. The village of Lans itself (pop. 1,000) is enough to begin any healing process. Lying at nearly 900 metres to the south-east of Innsbruck, it radiates idyllic, picture-postcard charm and seems to trigger a need for deep, cleansing breathing. Its most famous and popular sight is Lans Lake, a large pond really, with a boggy bottom, whose origins go back to the Ice Age. It serves as a convenient swimming hole for Innsbruckers and travellers. “For people who are not used to the Alps, Lanserhof’s privileged position is already wellness,” Wieser points our. “It is a cure of its own, the environment itself is very energetic and the quality of minerals in these mountains, mainly composed of chalk and quartz, makes it a special place.” The pleasant environment of the nearby village and his friendly people, who impressed him so much thirty years ago.
Wieser says that Lanserhof is “rightfully seen as a pit-stop, a quick stop-over at the box for managers and entrepreneurs to maintain in good shape and go back to their top performances right after”. Its customers now include people from business, fashion, media and the film industry. The clientele has evolved through time, Lanserhof is no longer regarded as a place for overweight individuals or those with problems with their bodies, “now we have people who know what they should do, who live very healthy and come here to learn, get analysed and motivate themselves. Current customers know a lot about their body and their health,” he says.
A world of opportunities
Potential customers for Lanserhof’s services have grown significantly over time. Wieser attributes this to some of the bare facts of modern “life” styles and work habits: “People are now mostly sitting in the office and working at their computer. This is the problem: the body does not follow the mind!” he laments. Medical research proves his point, if not his vitalist explanation. The correlation between low physical activities and pathologies such as obesity, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular diseases is widely acknowledged and has been amply demonstrated. These problems have become the biggest cause of mortality in all industrialised societies and preventive medicine, fitness and a careful diet are considered the most effective ways to combat the problem. And the need is growing. Lanserhof will even have to enlarge in 2014, but it will add only new facilities and no new rooms as space is a major constraint in the current location. As globalisation brings a homogenisation of lifestyle and needs, especially at the top-tier segment of business executives, the demand for health and wellness services has expanded to regions previously unaffected by this phenomenon: “Countries like Italy, Spain or the entire Latin American continent have little or no solutions in this field,” observes Wieser. It’s no wonder, that investors have been asking him to replicate the concept elsewhere, something he is thinking about for the future. However, Lanserhofs will not be mushrooming on the sunny hills of Tuscany or on the rocky beaches of a Greek island any time soon. Location is a fully integral part of Lans Med Concept and franchising is “very difficult to organise as it requires very deep coordination,” Wieser argues. “It is not like opening a fast food restaurant,” he adds ironically. However, joint-ventures and management cooperation with other structures are part of his long-term vision and will surely contribute to spread new concepts of health and wellbeing.
Andreas Wieser based his Lans Med Concept on the work of the naturopath Franz Xaver Mayr (1875–1965). Naturopathy, or Naturopathic Medicine, is a form of alternative medicine based on the vitalism which posits the existence of a special energy called vital energy not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry.
Naturopathic philosophy favours a holistic approach to health issues, seeing physical, social and mental as inextricably linked. Most naturopathic physicians employ the principles of naturopathy within the context of conventional medical practices. Even though Lanserhof defines it as the “medicine of the future,” its origins are rather old.
Modern naturopathy was founded in Germany and the United States at the end of the nineteenth century and, after a period of rapid growth, went into decline after the 1930s. Beginning in the 1970s, interest for naturopathy revamped, especially in the United States and Canada.
Although naturopathy is increasingly accepted by the general public, members of the medical community show a critical view of naturopathy, especially due to its unproven vitalistic underpinnings. However, collaborative efforts between naturopaths and medical doctors, such as the one taking place at Lanserhof, are growing and have proven effective in the prevention and management of a broad range of common ailments.
The people who enchanted Andreas Wieser and made him take the bald step of taking over Lanserhof and transforming it in what it is now are the 900-odd inhabitants of Lans, situated 8 kilometres south of Innsbruck, in Tyrol. The village is located along an old salt road and was first mentioned in a document of AD 1180. Along with Lanserhof, its main attraction is a glacial-origin lake named Lanser See, which offers wonderful ice-skating in the winter.
Article by Andrea Bonzanni