Artful Retreats, Crete
Exceptional art therapy retreats on a private olive grove estate
Best for: Anyone with stressful lifestyles who wants to live more in the present moment
Not for: The over-shy not ready to share
Takes up to 10 guests
Experience your creativity free of judgment and reconnect with your inner self on these marvellous art therapy retreats a 10 minute walk from the heritage village of Gavalochori. The creation of engaging Cretian art therapist Penelope Orfanoudaki, they are held at her gorgeous private olive grove estate Bleverde, and mix art therapy principles with yoga, walking, gourmet food and visits to local artists to help you be mindful, express yourself and rediscover your inner needs. You don’t have to be ‘good at’ art to come, and you won’t learn to paint or draw here. Instead, expect an exciting creative space inside which you can get inspired.
This inventive creative holiday cuts through all the stuff you might have been told since you were a child about your art making abilities, from the school teacher who told you your painting wasn’t very good, to the parent who said being an artist wasn’t a suitable career, to your own mind, which whispered, ‘unless it’s perfect, you won’t do it’. Instead, the clever team help you embrace your creativity and find true contentment inside it.
You will need to share openly in communal discussion if you’re to get the most out of this retreat, which might not suit everyone. You’ll be fully supported though, and you can book a private chat during the retreat if you need to.
Read our expert review
Caroline Sylger Jones reviews this art therapy retreat on Crete and discovers that ‘mark making’ is a refreshingly different, creative way to be mindful and reconnect with what’s important in your life.
You’ll have a consultation before the retreat to establish what you want to achieve. Then on retreat, the day starts with either a swim, yoga session in the gardens or a mild hike, followed by breakfast. The day is made up of five to six hours of art related activities, punctuated by lunch and rest time. It closes with supper, either in-house or at a local taverna.
Art therapy uses the process of art making to help you be in the present moment, access your inner thoughts and feelings, express yourself and subsequently change and grow in whatever way you might need. It is not about learning how to paint or draw. The activities mix fun and insightful creativity exercises and tasks which can be flexibly interpreted to suit you, and include inspiring visits to see local artists and architecture.
Being part of a supportive, engaged group is a key part of the experience, and each day ends with a small exhibition and debrief of the groups’ artwork and an engaging sharing session supported by art guides. You only need share the thoughts and feelings you feel comfortable sharing, but doing so helps facilitate bigger changes if you need to make them.
The lead therapist is Penelope Orfanoudaki, who completed her MA in Art Therapy in Singapore after an 18 year corporate career, an INSEAD business degree and a Bsc in Technology. As an art therapist she has worked in homes for children in Singapore and in the school for the blind in Hong Kong, and led artful groups for adults at Folkuniversitetet in Stockholm.
Penelope’s team includes a clutch of her classmates from Singapore, including Romny Vandoros from Sydney and Huma Durrani from Singapore, both highly qualified art guides with extensive art therapy group experience. Maria, Penelope’s sister, an architecture student and talented ceramist who lives in Crete, offers a memorable ceramic session as a guest art guide too.
The creative tasks draw inspiration from the local Cretian landsapes, architecture and artists. They include a visit to renowned local ceramist and naïve painter, Manousos Chalkiadakis in Paidochori, who lives a 30 minute drive away through small picturesque villages – you’ll hear him speak about his art in his exceptional restoration 14th century Cretan home and art studio. You also visit Chania’s venetian harbour, about 18 km away, which Penelope describes as ‘a warm palette of terracotta-coloured centuries-old buildings surrounding the blue of the sea’.
As the focus of art therapy is enabling you to be in the present moment and achieve mindfulness, this is a great creative holiday on which to entirely digitally detox, laying aside for the duration of the week your smart phones and tablets. You’re likely to find it easy to disconnect as the art and nature take place of other needs or distractions, however, don’t come if you’re addicted to social media, or have an important work issue to deal with during the week. That said, there is a wifi you can connect to should you so wish. Each morning, to gently wake you up and aid the mindfulness process, there’s a yoga class at 8.30 am, led by a local teacher and accessible to all levels.
The area of Crete where you stay, Apokoronas, is often called the ‘Tuscany of Crete’ because of its tranquil wide open views, olive groves and picturesque small villages, and it makes a wonderful place for walking, as well as being instant inspiration for art. There’ll be a few activities during the retreat that combine art with a walk – for example to a small fishing village, 4kms away, which has a sandy beach and cafe ( you can take a car here if you prefer). Contact with the sea is also an important element of the week, and the island has some really beautiful beaches of which you’ll sample two or three during your stay.
The estate is only a 10 minute walk from the centre of Gavalochori, a heritage protected village with stone made houses, tavernas, a bakery and grocery stores. You’ll walk through the village the first morning as part of an art activity; this also acts as an orientation exercise. Then, depending on weather and group needs, you’ll walk into the village at least couple more times, including once for dinner.
The experienced in-house chef, Neil Ciano, who cooks all your retreat meals, will happily talk to anyone interested about the food as he prepares it. One day you’ll visit the city of Chania, and have the option of walking with Neil in the central market to learn about local spices, healthy nutrition and local recipes. More formal cooking classes can be arranged at the nearby organic farm, where Artfulness sources the food you eat on the retreat.
Yoga mats, bathroom toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and beach towels are all provided. The dress code is casual all day and into the evening. Art supplies for all activities are included and you’ll also get a personal starter art kit with a sketchbook and portable watercolours to take home with you.
Fancy taking a little piece of Crete home with you? You can buy some local honey, olive oil or pick some herbs from Bleverde’s gardens.
When to Go
Early summer or late autumn are the best times to visit Crete when the weather is still mild and the light is great for painting and picture taking. In May the estate is very green and many flowers are in bloom, whereas October offers beautiful light and at times spectacular cloudy skies.
May has great conditions for hiking but the pool and sea water is still fresh, so if you want to swim go in October.
Most meals are eaten al fresco, weather permitting, on Villa Levanda’s pool terrace with expansive countryside views. Dishes are prepared by the local taverna or a private chef, and feature Mediterranean dishes cooked with love.
Ingredients are organic wherever possible, and special diets can be catered for. One or two glasses of wine are served with dinner. Stay hydrated on water, tea and coffee throughout the day – there might also be some local cookies left in the studio for a little boost between meals.
The economic and political crisis in Greece really took its toll on local artists, so Artfulness have made it their mission to support them by exhibiting their work both for retreaters to see, both on Crete and at retreats held in other countries.
The company also supports under privileged children in Crete by donating a percentage of each guest’s payment to The Smile of the Child, a non-profit organisation with the most credible reputation for child support in Greece.
The villas have energy saving air conditioning units, and solar power for hot water. Plastics and paper are gathered and sent off site to be recycled. Herbs are taken from the estate garden, and food is sourced at the local market and farms near the estate.
Bleverde estate Gavalochori, Chania, Crete
Transfer Time: 45 mins