Soulfood yoga & photography holiday review | yoga holiday, Greece
Yoga, photography & wonderful food on relaxed Zakynthos
The quick read: Soulfood runs retreats throughout the year in a variety of locations including Morocco, Tuscany and Cornwall. We went for a week of nutritious meals, yoga, photography and local excursions at their flagship venue, Villa Zaharoula, on the Greek Island of Zakynthos. Run by three great old school friends – Kate Farmer who owns the villa and cooks your amazing food, yoga teacher and Sweaty Betty Ambassador Charlie Morgan and professional photographer Chloe Crewe Read – the week was light hearted, laid back and great fun. You’ll deeply stretch your body, unwind and calm your mind with daily yoga, meditation and other healing practices and learn a creative skill – all in a chilled and relaxed atmosphere, against the backdrop of a shimmering Ionian sea.
Who it’s best for: Old or young, male or female, a regularly practicing yogi or a novice – if you come to this with an open heart and mind, prepared to explore, learn and experience new things, the Soulfood experience will thrill and delight on many levels and you’ll leave refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired.
Who it’s not for: If you want to wholly retreat from real life in a more disciplined manner or be pampered with spa like beauty treatments then this isn’t for you. Neither is it if you want hours to yourself to lounge by the pool, though nothing in the schedule is compulsory.
What you do: As well as being delightful hosts, each founder brings their own skill to the mix: there’s renowned yoga teacher, instructor to the Harlequins Rugby Team and Sweaty Betty Ambassador, Charlie Morgan; professional photographer Chloe Crewe Read and Kate Farmer, who has a faultless knowledge of the area and spends hours in the kitchen whipping up a stream of wonderful meals. The timetable, though meticulously planned, was always flexible and the girls are always attentive and reactive to the desires of the group.
Rising with the sun at around 7, guests potter to the kitchen for tea before morning yoga practice with Charlie from 8 to 9.30. This included a meditation – sitting on the wall, wrapped in blankets, gazing out over the horizon. Most days yoga was in a makeshift, bunting-decked shala on the front terrace, though one morning we moved to the poolside and on another were whisked off to a little cove as a surprise to practice by the gently lapping sea. Charlie leads a dynamic yet meditative vinyasa flow class accompanied by a chilled out playlist. Every day the routine is new and creative, challenging and rewarding, yet wholly accessible to all. On our stay a qualified yoga teacher practiced happily alongside her mother who had never been to a class before.
Breakfast from 10 is a help yourself affair and at 11 the two hour photography lesson begins. Chloe was a delight as a teacher, always encouraging and patient with our numerous questions she found something new to engage and enthrall us every day, from still life at the villa or capturing the droplets of water and waves on the beach to night photography and a trip to a characterful hilltop town where we could take in the architecture as well as the wrinkled, sun soaked faces of the locals. We were asked to create a ‘photo story’ using a selection of 12 pictures and on the last night presented this to the group (along with our favourite shots from the week) in a slide show.
Lunch was usually between one and two, some days at the villa and on others (alternating with dinners) we visited local restaurants and ate looking out over the sea. This could always be combined with a quick dip while the food was prepared! Some days we headed off in the afternoon to nearby coves to swim and bask in the sun, but there was always the option of staying by the pool.
Evening practice at 6 explored various healing techniques such as Yin, partner or restorative yoga and Thai massage as well as more practical life coaching exercises where we worked through emotions, outlined goals and aims for the future, sang mantras and Oms at the tops of our voices or danced around like crazy things to the sounds of Whigfield’s Saturday night! Dinner, either in the villa or out, was anywhere between 8 and 9.
Being here is a great chance to experience Greek Island life – swimming in beautiful coves with crystal clear blue waters, visiting charming hill top towns and sampling local cuisine at a selection of fabulous restaurants.
Where you stay: Villa Zaharoula is perched on the hillside amongst olive groves and looks out over the Ionian sea towards the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca. It was built by Kate’s mother almost 15 years ago and has a beautiful exterior, painted a lovely warm yellow with teal turquoise shutters and covered with creeping bougainvillea and plumbago. They make their own olive oil from the groves and on our last night, in a mini mock award ceremony, we were each presented with a little bottle to take home.
There are six bedrooms, four on the ground floor and two on the first – all are white washed (except one, which is painted a deep blue) and feel airy and fresh with simple charming furniture such as hand painted drawers, large framed mirrors and sinks balance on lovely exposed brickwork. There’s a choice of twin or double, all are ensuite with showers and some have views. If you book in early enough to get the master bedroom you’ll find yourself in an exquisite four-poster with a private balcony looking out over the sea.
Downstairs is a living area where we had our evening classes and an open plan kitchen, with a large table and sofas is on the first floor with beautiful views and an outside eating area in walled terrace behind. There’s an outdoor swing here too. A lower terrace at the front (on ground level) has a large wooden table and seating so you can eat looking out over the pool and sea.
How was it for us: The week felt to me like a fun summer holiday with friends, only infinitely better given the added bonuses of a wonderful yoga practice, generous nutritious meals and a comprehensive photography course – something I have wanted to do for years.
Charlie, Chloe and Kate are a winning threesome with infectious enthusiasm and cheeriness. They worked incredibly hard but still made time to join in with almost everything. There were many moments of peace and calm during the yoga and meditation but for me the most lasting memory of my week is one of endless giggling and laughter.
They were always flexible, open minded and enthusiastic for guests to try new things. One guest who had very recently qualified as an instructor, was invited to lead a morning yoga class, and though she admitted to being terrified by the prospect, she was brilliant and the encouragement seemed to do wonders for her self-esteem.
Kate’s knowledge of the area also brought huge extra value – she took us to beautiful secret coves, knew the best restaurants and the people who ran them and on two occasions arranged for established chefs to cook for us. Tom Thornton, who has cooked for the Queen at Balmoral, made a fabulous Sea Bass Supper and we were taken to the exquisite 5 Star Private Estate of Kapari Bay, owned by chef Emma Schuster, who laid on a spread of dreams. As we sat looking out over the bright blue sea, tucking into the most sensational array of salads followed by white peach ice cream (made only out of white peaches), I felt like I was in a glamorous photo shoot – it was the lunch of a lifetime.
There were so many standout moments: the morning a group of us sped off for a blissful early swim, stripping off and swimming through the velvety water as the sun rose … sunset yoga above the famous Shipwreck Cove as the last of the tourists wandered by looking at us all in slight bewilderment, morning yoga and watermelon on the beach, comedic restauranteur Dennis (Dionysus) with his uncanny likeness to Faulty Towers’ Manwell and dinner at the exclusive beachside Nobelos Restaurant.
I adored the yoga: the more dynamic mornings stretched every part of my body, especially my hips where I had been holding so much tension. The evenings were calming, cathartic and constructive, in one session we sat and devised individual wheels of life, jotting down all our aims and aspirations.
What we took home: As well as a collection of photos I was genuinely proud of and a renewed enthusiasm for photography, the mental and physical benefits of the yoga felt really palpable. Everything seemed so much looser and I felt far more flexible during exercise. I also felt lighter emotionally after the endless laughter and having had time to focus on my goals and priorities. We were also all given goodie bag filled with treats including energy bars, NEOM face and body mists and Sweaty Betty water bottles and vests.
Would we go back: Definitely. I am very excited to see where they’ll be popping up next – the other venues all sound equally fabulous.
Food view: We ate consistently well throughout the week – from fresh octopus and Greek Salads in restaurants to Kate’s sumptuous menu back at the villa.
Breakfast was something different and imaginative every day. A freshly made juice or smoothie with one of a series of delicious creations, from overnight soaked chia and oats with banana and goji berries to quinoa and buckwheat pancakes served with fresh fruit, nuts and Greek yoghurt. While no particular food group was off limits there was very minimal sugar during the week and everything was healthy and nutritious.
Lunch at the Villa was a wonderful selection of salad dishes, think brown rice with feta and peas or roasted sweet potato with asparagus and pine nuts … chilled gazpacho, freshly made tzatziki, pitta breads etc. Supper varied from a vegetarian curry with courgette fritters and roasted peppers to sea bass or chicken. We adored the swordfish steaks served with a green bean salad and sweet potato chips. There were always two large jugs of water in the kitchen or on the table, one with lemon, one cucumber and guests could also help themselves during the day from both the fruit bowl and a jar of nuts (though I suspect we were a greedy bunch who ate them all rather faster than expected as these disappeared after day 3!). There were also herbal teas and PG tips for those who couldn’t survive without!
What’s queenly: The variety in everything, from the wonderful food and yoga classes to the photography locations and daily trips … everyday was different and fun filled, and I soon learnt not to ask too many questions about ‘the plan’!
What’s lowly: There were quite a few flies which was slightly distracting during yoga and at breakfast but they weren’t such a problem after the first few days.
Insider tip: Take good mosquito spray with you as they are about in the evenings – though you can buy it at the Port. Each bathroom contains one Bayliss and Harding liquid soap, so you’ll need to take your own toiletries.
Price: The cost for the 7 nights was from £825 per person based on sharing a room with one other to £1150 for single occupancy. This includes yoga and photography classes, excursions, accommodation, breakfast and one other meal a day as well as transport to and from the airport in Greece. There is no extra charge if you want to use the washing machine.
Value for Money: You pay extra for meals eaten out (bills were generally split between the group) but the overall price really is good value given how generous everything else is – every day there was at least 3 hours of yoga (usually more), 2 hours of photography, local trips and meals including the exquisite lunch at Kapari Bay and dinner from Tom Thornton.
Sister retreats: Soulfood are currently setting up HQ in London from where they will run an urban retreat space, cafe and gallery. They plan to run healthy holidays in Cornwall in the UK, Zakynthos, Morocco, Calabria in Italy and other ‘surprise’ locations. As well as yoga and photography holidays, they will include a variety of other activities dependent on the location including nutrition, cooking, surfing, hiking, kayaking, horse riding and mountain biking.
Reviewed by Hannah MacInnes
© Queen of Retreats