Balancing our elements at Euphoria Retreat, Greece
Caroline Sylger Jones reviews a week long Physical and Emotional Transformation Retreat at this luxury holistic retreat on the Peloponnese and finds intelligence, beauty and a magnificently feminine spa.
I wake on my first morning at Euphoria Retreat in Greece to sip tea on my room terrace and watch a gentle sun coming up over the plains of Sparta and distant mountains beyond. I swim in the serene outdoor pool before a breakfast of Peloponnese omelette with cheese and olives, which I eat watching the terracotta roofed village of Mystras come to life. The bright and friendly Greek waitress suggests I try a pot of the local Mountain Tea – it’s herbal and delicious, and becomes my hot drink of the week.
Then it’s time to head to the magnificent, circular-shaped and feminine spa, the hub of Euphoria, where I have an 8.30 a.m. blood test with personable nutritionist Antonia to test my anti-oxidant levels and advise the chef what type of mid morning smoothie and mid afternoon snack I’m going to have each day. She tells me if I stop drinking wine altogether for a few weeks I’d feel like a new woman. I agree entirely, and resolve to do just that as I make my way to my first workshop at 11 a.m., held in a serene wooden floor room flooded with natural light and looking out over a forest of pine and cypress trees and the sky beyond.
I’m here for the week to experience Euphoria’s 7 day Signature Emotional and Physical Transformation group retreat, which pivots on the theory of the Five Elements found in both Greek and Chinese philosophy. Through talk and meditation, we are taught about the physical and emotional aspects of a different element each day, and what happens when they are out of balance, covering Water (I dream), Wood (I think), Fire (I know), Earth (I do) and Metal (I feel). Personalised massage and energy work each afternoon helps to balance the element of the day in our own bodies.
I share the retreat with two others – a retired professional British woman in her 50s looking for a new direction, and a Greek student from Oxford University doing a PHD in Chinese Philosophy. Sat on colourful woven mats, boulsters and cushions created by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola (and typical of the gorgeous design touches that abound at Euphoria), we are taught and guided by kindly mentors, who include therapists Katerina and Mary, and the formidable creator of Euphoria Marina Efraimoglou, an inspired Greek banker turned energy therapist who has battled with cancer. We are never forced to share – this is subtle transformation on a personal level – but feel very comfortable with each other after the first session.
My afternoon treatments of acupuncture and other energy work are carried out by Katarina, a gentle, understanding soul with lovely hands with whom I experience some powerful emotional shifts in a short space of time. I’m usually in the hands of strong, capable Russian therapist Natalia for my massages, which vary each day according to the element they seek to tackle – strong, rapid strokes to stoke my fire (with an amazing orange, black pepper and spearmint oil), or soft flowing strokes to balance my kidney energy, which is associated with water.
Intellectually inspired and emotionally and physically soothed by the Five Elements focus, my days slip into a rhythmn. I swim and sauna before breakfast, then sunbathe and read on the spa terrace until the morning workshop. After that it’s lunch, more sunbathing before my massages or energy work, followed by time in the sphere-shaped, womb-like spa pool for thinking and hydrotherapy, before supper and early to bed. I love the hikes, especially the Sunday morning two hour uphill mountain trek with personal trainer Vasilis, who takes us on ancient stone tracks through fragrant forest to a spring of mountain water at the top.
The Five Elements workshops are information-heavy but fascinating, and my favourite times are when we’re asked to personally engage in a task or meditation. I love the exercise during the Earth workshop on day four when, to connect with Earth’s associated emotion of generosity, we’re asked to imagine what gift we would like to give to each other and to note the intention behind it – because ‘intention is everything’. We swap gift ideas such as ‘a large cushion (to comfort you)’; ‘tickets to a Mozart concert in Vienna (so you can enjoy your music)’, ‘a joke (to celebrate your obvious sense of humour)’. It’s joyous and fun, and I make a mental note to do the same with my family once back home.
On Fire day we have an intriguing chakra dancing session, spending eight minutes dancing to different pieces of music selected to help celebrate and balance each chakra, guided by Nadia Al Huqail, a vibrant Saudi Arabian Greek girl clad in a black jumpsuit. On Fire day I also get the piece of advice that resonates most with me, when we learn about the importance of Completion – totally enjoying the success of a given project before moving onto the next thing.
I feel mortally tired during the first few days, but when I’m not falling asleep during them, the meditations guided by Mary are always serene and often powerful. My favourite is during the Metal workshop on day five, when a magical visualisation helps us connect to and work through Metal’s associated emotion of grief – during it I imagine my lungs filling with dozens of fragrant white roses and feel truly contented. After the session, I go onto the spa terrace and slip into a long deep sleep. I awake totally refreshed, watching the lavender plants dance in the light breeze. It’s the pivotal point of my retreat, from which my energy starts to rise.
Near the end of the week, we sit wrapped in towels in the giant marbled hammam together and share stories, discussing the elements they represent – a lovely touch that reflects the ancient Byzantine practice of bathing and gossip. I feel connected to each of the elements in some way each day, but on the last day we find out what our personality type is through a simple but searching quiz. Turns out I’m Wood, eager for growth, expansion and creativity, able to share with abundance when in balance, but angry and frustrated when off kilter. A private session with Mary helps me understand it all personally, and talk through how to deal with any negatives in my life using meditation, visualisation and the qualities of other elements.
During my week meals are a simple, tasty selection of Mediterranean-inspired dishes prepared without sugar or salt, eaten on the terrace of Gaia restaurant under the shade of an umbrella. In the evenings inside, the restaurant feels rather harshly lit and I crave a large infusion of flowers, herbs and soft candlelight. Breakfasts included gorgeous fresh orange juice, sheeps yoghurt with fruits and scrambled tofu or omelettes, while lunches and suppers range from gazpacho followed by herbed mushrooms with zea-flour pasta to sardines with olive tapenade followed by turkey burgers and steamed vegetables. I adore the guilt-free chocolate mousse and the watermelon gazpacho is to die for, but I’m offered the same menu to choose from for lunch and supper each day and by the end of the week I crave something entirely new and surprising.
On my final day I have a light breakfast of Bircher muesli and Mountain Tea in my room before heading early to the UNESCO ancient site of Mystras, an inspirational set of medieval ruins strewn across a hillside a five minute taxi ride away. I have it all to myself, and enjoy a fabulous walk from the top to the bottom, alone with my thoughts and the stories of the old stones. I dwell on its beauty back at Euphoria for a last treatment to send me on my way – a blissful session with Greek therapist Kyriaki of reflexology and Rejuvance, a natural face lifting treatment. It’s calming, mellow and deep, and just what I need. I leave at peace and full of gratitude.