Soothing our soul on a Serenity Retreat meditation holiday on Lefkada

Jane Alexander reviews this superbly simple meditation and relaxation holiday in a friendly Greek village on the island of Lefkada and is charmed by the location and its teachers

Six of us are sitting on the beach by the rocks as the sun starts to sink. The Ionian waves splash desultorily against the shingle and our laughter rises into the soft evening air. Anyone watching would assume we were old friends, rather than six people who’d met just a few days earlier.

However my first impressions of the village of Nikiana were less idyllic. The village was hardly picture postcard beautiful and the little track down to the sea led past the backs of houses with that half-built feel so characteristic of Greece.

The track ended at the back of a small and distinctly unassuming apartment block. My heart sank. Had this been a mistake? I put my key in the door and peered into the apartment. It was simple yet spotlessly clean with kitchen area, bathroom, table and chairs and two single beds. A small vase of wild flowers and a bowl of fruit sat on the table alongside a hand written note welcoming me. And then I pulled the curtains and opened the double doors and a smile broke out over my face. In front of me lay a geranium-lined terrace with the beach immediately beyond. The turquoise water blinked invitingly and I fell in love in an instant.

As the days passed, I came to love my little apartment. It was simple to the point of Spartan but that felt just right for this pared back holiday. There was nothing to distract me from…myself. Serenity founder Kim Bennett is adamant that everyone (even friends) need their own space (which is why there are no single supplements at Serenity). If you’re engaging in personal growth work, you need a space where you can let it all hang out – not worrying that an outbreak of tears or hysterical laughter will discombobulate anyone else. Plus, to be honest, a shared bathroom is never (in my opinion) a good thing.

There were six of us the week I visited. Each and every one was lovely in a different way. I soon found myself being drawn out of my shell, in the nicest possible way. I had some conversations that just blew my mind and, equally, there were some evenings where we just cried with laughter.

‘I left Serenity with a deep sense of peace that my life would surely unfurl in the way it needs to, without any Sisyphean striving on my part’

I dipped in and out of the activities; joining early risers for morning stretching and meditation, and then taking the stretch deeper with a session of Thai yoga massage. There is a different on-site therapist each year but all are handpicked and excellent.

I also took a course with Jane Matthews, author of Have the Best Year of Your Life (O Books). Jane is a Louse Hay facilitator and also works with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and mindfulness. Our little group laughed and cried in probably equal amounts and ended up with a close, warm bond that really was priceless.

But mainly I spent hours on a beach lounger with my toes nearly touching the waves or perched on a rock just watching the waves, their moods shifting as often as my own. They became my personal meditation and, come night, the soft slap of the sea lulled me to sleep.

I left Serenity with a deep sense of peace that my life would surely unfurl in the way it needs to, without any Sisyphean striving on my part. I can’t put my finger on one thing that makes the retreat so special – maybe it’s the strange alchemy of people and place that casts a spell; that makes people shift. The chance conversations; the sudden instances of synchronicity; maybe a particular meditation or insight.

Nikiana is a special place and Kim is a very special hostess – a bit of a sorceress, I suspect, weaving a very delicious spell. I’m already planning my return. The waves are calling.