Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I'm currently enjoying an eco-friendly mini break at the Mayr clinic in Austria. The clinic has sweeping views of Lake Worthersee, the purest lake in Europe, and is set in ravishing organic meadowlands studded with poppies, buttercups, daisies and cowslips; wild-flowers we take for granted but which are rapidly disappearing from the UK in our mania for immaculate green lawns.

Some of you may already be familiar with the Mayr's rejuvenating regime involving Epsom salts, stale bread rolls and sitz baths, which one either loves or loathes. This is my fourth visit and this time I'm deemed too thin for the stale rolls and am put on the "reconstitution stuffing" diet, a regime which involves piles of boiled potatoes at every meal. This is supplemented by delicious organic vegetable pâtés, soups, local cheese and yogurt.

I spend the day eating (each mouthful must be chewed 50 times to ensure proper digestion, and consequently meals take forever), gossiping with fellow guests, resting with a hay pack over my liver, and kneipping (a form of water therapy).

Where some hotels pay green lip service (encouraging people not to have their towels washed, which is usually just a ruse to cut their washing bills), the Mayr has gone further. The clinic recently installed 300 sq m of solar panels, which provide energy for all the heating and 35 per cent of lights and hot water.

All the rubbish from our rooms is sorted and recycled - the paper put in wicker baskets at the end of each corridor, and the glass water bottles are collected and refilled.

When we have a massage, the sheet we lie on is kept in a locker with our room number on so we can use it again (most places use reams of paper chucked away afterwards).

Austria is very environmentally aware - the Greens regularly poll around 10 per cent in elections and are well represented in parliament and local councils. If you want to be deep green you can even take the train all the way there. At 24 hours door-to-door, it would be quicker but for the four-hour pit stop at Munich station, a beery pleasure dome with enough retoxing opportunities to tempt the most vigilant Mayr devotee.

The Mayr is popular with county ladies, occasionally accompanied by their browbeaten, half-starved husbands. The spartan and austere regime seems to particularly appeal to those who went to boarding school or prison.

I'm enjoying the soothing Hotel du Lac leisurely atmosphere and the time to indulge in surreal conversations with fellow inmates. At lunch I sit next to a deaf dowager. "What does your boyfriend do?" she booms in Lady Bracknell tones across the silent dining room on her 50th chew of boiled potato.

"He's a builder," I shout back.

"Ah." Long pause. "Did you find him in the

Yellow Pages?"

www.golfhotel.at; European rail information ( www.bahn.co.uk)