My kind of retreat

Could this holistic Greek holiday herald a fresh start in life?


Anyone who was sent on an Aish or Habonim holiday by their parents when they were children may have memories of what it was like to holiday with 60 or so others. In childhood it seems the most natural thing in the world to travel, eat, play and learn as a community. And perhaps come back somehow changed.

In adulthood the concept seems bizarre. But if you are travelling solo, looking for something to re-ignite your mojo but don't want to be alone, Skyros Holistic Holidays may be just the ticket.

I signed up for this unique community style retreat with 62 strangers and headed for the small village of Atsitsa on the sunny Greek island of Skyros.

I got there one warm Sunday evening with a handful others I had got to know during the transfer from Athens. As we sauntered with our bags on to the resort a welcoming party cheered us in and handed us some wine. It was a good start.

Atsitsa has a lofty position cascading from a hill top to a small bay taking in a bar, a restaurant, myriad of spaces with pretty flowers, fig trees and even a grape vine growing over a pagoda dotted with urns and vases overlooking the sea as it laps the curve of the bay. It is a lovely eyeful, especially when nature's hues are intensified by a glorious sunlight. If I had a backing soundtrack it would have been Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. My accommodation was a small rustic bamboo hut, one of 49 dotted amid vegetation on the hilltop. It had a power point and the showers were some feet away. I could have opted to stay in the stone villa on the cliff edge, where I would have an en-suite but where was the fun in that?

Many of us were solo women (an assortment of ages), a handful of lone men and two couples - some there for the company, others looking for clarity and some simply looking for respite from stressful lives. Some had been before and they had an expectant air contrasting with the first-timers who were looking sheepish, wondering how the week would evolve.

On the first morning we gathered in a low stone-walled circle - the Magic Circle. Founder Dina Glouberman, was there - an esteemed psychotherapist inspired by Habonim. She wanted us to be present in the moment and relaxed enough to connect with each other. She guided us through visualisations, eventually forming groups of eight who would be our œkos "family" with whom we would meet every day for a 20-minute gripe exchange. Friendships began to form. There was "housework". We were encouraged to volunteer meal time clear-ups, go fruit picking or cut veggies. The latter was sold to us as the activity where most romances have sprouted after having made eye contact across the cutting table. This was a brilliant technique to nudge everybody into the community so that no-one slipped through the social net .

There were several classes: trapeze, wind surfing, writing, yoga, improv, singing, photography and art. Dina's class, New Beginnings, based on her motto "You Are What You Imagine", had the highest attendance.

I secretly wanted to do trapeze, but felt shy. So, during the morning I plumped for the two-hour Beyond Yoga class with guru Kenneth Ryan whose mystical approach offered deep relaxation, meditation and insights. In the afternoon, I joined the improvisation class with Dave Bourn, a comedy writer. The classes were often hilarious and overran for the sheer fun of it.

I also squeezed in photography classes with Kel Portman. His "gobbledigook" lessons meant that no-clue novices like me got a shot at clicking something creative into being.

It's amazing how quickly you get into a rhythm. Breakfast was followed by "demos" - the community meeting. Announcements were made, news shared, extra activities suggested such as a sing-a-long or trip into town or impromptu bongo classes or yoga on the beach, and all sprinkled with comedy from the "compere" Mike. It was wonderful to start each day with a shared giggle.

Between my classes there was a wholesome lunch and free time, and after a couple of days of activity-packed community life, early rising, and late nights by the bar, I took to snoozing under the blue-hued sky for an hour or so in one of the hammocks. Sometimes I sunbathed on the rocks while the water tickled my toes or at the oddly named Dead's Goat Beach - a pebbled patch of bay reached by a secret path. Or I simply read a book sitting on a comfy chair with a superb vantage point that looked out to sea. Dinner was at 8pm.

My hut was opposite the Magic Circle where trapeze tuition took place in preparation for the cabaret on the penultimate night. I began to feel a rising sense of trapeze envy.

But the universe works in strange ways. One evening, there was a high-octane auction to raise money for Grecian causes - we raised 4000 euros. On offer were language lessons, hypnotherapy sessions, souvenirs, offers of hospitality and even a 10-minute Monty Python style argument. My contribution was three half-hour reiki sessions. When,Deborah Sanderson, the aerialist auctioned an hour-and-a-half private lesson at her base in Leeds, my hand instinctively flew up.

The cabaret-cum-variety show was tremendous fun. There were beautiful harmonies by the singing group, comedy sketches, poetry and trapeze.

I spent the last night with a handful of others on the beach in silent reverie watching the sun go down. The bright yellow solar ball was ringed with shades of orange that cast pinkish-grey hues over the horizon, turning the rocks and the voyeurs into silhouettes. It was the perfect setting for contemplation.

I found myself reflecting on a most unusual week that gave rise to some new emotions and insights. This was play time for adults and perhaps a prelude to new beginnings.

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