Urania Villas review | yoga retreat centre, Greece
Luxury clifftop retreat in Lefkas
The Quick Read: Urania Villas consists of five stone villas perched on a clifftop about 200 metres above sea level with gorgeous views overlooking the bay of Vasiliki on the southernmost tip of the Ionian island of Lefkas. During high season, the villas are rented out to individual families but in April/May and late September/October, they are hired out by the owner Ourania to retreat companies – including mindfulness holiday company Retreats and yoga teachers who run holidays such as Gina Hardy. The venue is also used for weddings, honeymoons and various private gatherings including cookery and art lessons.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who would appreciate watching the sun rise over the sea gazing out towards the other-wordly silhouettes of Ithaca, Kefalonia and other tiny islands in complete silence except for the birds singing in the surrounding lush, wooded hills. If you would prefer to be in the thick of things then this is not for you. This venue is isolated (no other buildings at all) and utterly peaceful. It is perfect for both and yoga and meditation retreats as there is a purpose built shala near the villas, fully equipped with mats, cushions and props, and with the most astonishing view over the sea. We were there for a yoga holiday with Gina Hardy, but other yoga teachers also run breaks here as do mindfulness holiday company Retreats.
What you can do: First and foremost, relax. Each villa has a good-sized swimming pool and large terraces for sunbathing so swimming, reading and dozing were the order of the day. With Gina Hardy Yoga, we had an hour and half yoga in the morning and another hour and a half in late afternoon. Meals were prepared and eaten in one of the villas where everyone gathered at a long table outside on the terrace (but sheltered from the strong sun). Gina and her partner Joel also offered massage and other treatments.
Walking is a popular option and you can walk into the nearest town Vasiliki which takes around 45 minutes (5km). Vasiliki is well known as a surfing centre and there are beaches, plenty of shops and restaurants, and boat trips. Ferries from other islands arrive in the picturesque harbour every day. When we were there the road to Vasiliki was closed for road building but this should be open again next season. For the brave and nimble, there is a very steep track down the hillside to a tiny private cove with a sandy beach by the sea. It takes around 45 minutes to climb up again though! Some of Greece’s most stunning beaches are only 10-20 minutes’ drive away. The closest, Porto Katsiki, is lovely but gets busy in summer.
Where you stay: Each of the recently built villas has its own pool and is self-catering. They are cleverly set sufficiently apart in the landscape so each one has total privacy and uninterrupted views over the Ionian sea and hillside. They are all very stylish with wood floors, painted wooden ceilings, cream walls and contemporary furnishings and art. There are three spacious double rooms each with its own ensuite bathroom boasting either a whirlpool bath or power shower, infinity basin and hairdryer. The effect is Shaker style, light and airy. The beds are comfortable (mine was a King-size), and there is a large sofa and armchairs to snuggle in at night in the sitting room/kitchen area. If it gets cold, there is also a wood-burning stove. The kitchen is fully equipped with a dishwasher and washing machine and staff clean the villa every day. Wifi is available. Overall, everything is high-end and the result is the kind of blissful luxury that feels quite un-retreat like but is extremely welcome. From the UK the best route is to fly by Easyjet to Aktion airport in Preveza on the mainland side of the causeway which links Lefkas to the rest of Greece. The drive time is about 1 hour, 20 minutes (65 km), much of which is up steep winding roads leading to a final, unmade track which necessitates a four wheel drive vehicle. It’s worth it when you get there as the views are simply breathtaking.
How was it for us: I was bowled over, first of all, by the verdant, wooded island of Lefkada (as the Greeks call it) with its incredible miles of sandy beaches and unspoilt, natural environment. Then, arriving after a slightly stomach-churning drive at Urania Villas, nestled among oak and olive trees and with the most incredible views was truly emotional. The sheer beauty and tranquility of the place is overwhelming. Ourania additionally offers the villas as a venue for weddings, honeymoons and various private gatherings including cookery and art lessons, and I can see why, but its dream-like quality makes it a completely perfect spot for yoga and meditation and the rejuvenation of mind, body and soul.
On our day off from yoga during the week, we took a wonderful boat trip on an open rig from Vasiliki, putting in at fabulous hidden coves for a swim in the turquoise water and then sailing round the cliffs at the tip of the island where there is now a lighthouse. This was the spot where legend has it the poet Sappho leapt to her death (over love natch) and was also the place (as the boatman explained with relish) where in ancient times prisoners were taken and flung over into the sea. Any that survived (extremely unlikely) were given their freedom.
What we took home: A conviction that being in an especially beautiful place, connecting with nature and practicing yoga is the most de-stressing, mood-lifting, life-affirming combination in the world.
Would we go back: Like a shot.
People watch: The experience you have here will depend on what you do – Gina Hardy was a delightful, nurturing yoga teacher who intends to use this location every year. In love with Greece, in love with yoga, loving towards everyone else, Gina, whose speciality is Yin and Restorative Yoga, is exactly the right teacher in exactly the right place.
Food watch: Whoever runs the retreat can organise which chefs to use and the type of diet. We had a local couple, Antonis and Daphne, who are experienced chefs, and their company, Food Path, promotes alternative and healthy food, using local and seasonal ingredients, avoiding refined sugars, dairy and white flour. ‘We incorporate modern food trends from raw, macro, and vegan diets’ they say. The week we were there, the food was largely macrobiotic – lots of different grains and legumes. Typical dishes were quinoa salad, kale garden salad with millet, buckwheat burgers with roasted vegetables, chickpea stew and lots of homemade breads. This was all a bit carb-heavy and it seemed a shame whilst in Greece not to be offered Greek salads, aubergine salad and lots of lovely tomatoes. I could have done with more dairy and protein too. That said, the puddings were delicious – raw avocado chocolate mousse, vegan cheesecake etc. and at breakfast some great smoothies. Mountain tea was a firm favourite and an adequate substitute for alcohol.
What’s queenly: The truly mind-blowing views. We can still see Ithaca shimmering in the utterly silent and hazy early morning – and the life-affirming feeling that accompanied this vision of loveliness.
What’s lowly: All we lacked on our visit was the ability to swim in the heavenly turquoise sea we could see hundreds of metres below us without taking a very long hike.
Insider tip: Urania villas are quite isolated and you need a four wheel vehicle to get around as the road leading to it is a stony track.
Reviewed by Carla McKay
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