Fun-filled activity-based holistic holidays on a Greek isle
Best for: Anyone wanting an inspirational kick start. There’s usually a family-friendly month in August. Atsitsa Bay tends to attract a younger age group than The Skyros Centre, but age tends to be fairly immaterial but with a bias towards women than men. The age range is 35 to 65 but everyone is welcome, and many people come alone.
Not for: Anyone requiring luxury (and wifi) and who is allergic to sharing in a group.
Set under cerulean skies and surrounded by crystal clear sea, holidays on the island of Skyros are a chance to escape, connect, learn, relax or heal. With a smorgasbord of creative, sporty or healing activities offered from two different locations, guests can bespoke their own inspirational break in a supportive community environment with pebble beaches close by. Healthy food, fun and freedom are at the heart of this creative and potentially transformational adventure.
Anyone of any age at any stage in life can begin the process of re-connecting to their creative, physical or emotional self here, in a beautiful setting, and often with well-known course leaders who are all experienced in their respective fields.
The abundance of activities and the focus on sharing through the oekos groups can leave people with frail boundaries overwhelmed. Keep in mind it is your holiday and no one will call the police if you skip a class because you need time out.
The Skyros Centre in Skyros town offers three programmes: The Skyros Writers’ Lab and The Health & Wellbeing Programme, which are three-hour courses for five days designed as a deep dive into various facets of writing and around personal development, respectively. Additionally, there is morning yoga and late afternoon music and arts activities that are open to all. Whatever courses you choose, being at Skyros is very much about community and connecting with others, so expect dancing, laughter, lazy, late-night drinks and dinners and a sociable, tolerant vibe throughout. You are invited to volunteer for a few chores, which helps strong connections form quickly, and there’s a ‘demos’ (a Greek word meaning people’s assembly) at both centres at breakfast, where leaders share the news of the day and you have the chance to voice any concerns and worries or express appreciation if you want to. Also on offer is optional co-listening, where you pair up with someone and meet regularly, taking it in turns to talk and listen to the other person without interruption. Genius!
Atsitsa Bay, close to a number of beaches, offers eight different activities mixing creative, sporting and mind/body options. Each week, there are different teachers so the details of the courses differ, but there is always yoga, windsurfing, singing, performance art and writing. Participants can pick two two-hour activities each day as well as additional classes, such as yoga, before breakfast, and are encouraged to pick them on arrival to avoid disappointment if choices clash.
These personal development sessions are designed to help you deal with life questions about career and relationship changes, issues of health and sexuality or family life and financial pressures, and importantly recharge your passion and go for what really matters to you. The programme does not try to provide magical answers but rather give you all the encouragement you need to leave behind life’s limitations, recharge your passion and go for what really matters to you.
Fully supported by experienced facilitators, other like-minded participants and the warm, relaxed environment, you can use this time to reach new insights and make breakthroughs in your life, whether personal or professional. Courses include Visioning Your New Life with Skyros co-founder Dina Glouberman and Discover Your Life Calling and Transform Your Life with Julian Russell.
The Writers’ Lab offers writers, thinkers and dabblers the opportunity to learn from distinguished writers, share the joys and struggles of the creative process, discover their strengths and polish their skills. Courses are open to novices with a secret passion for writing as much as to writers who already have a book under their belt. The tutors enjoy helping people at any stage of development so go with work in progress or just an empty page. Courses include Shaping Your Story (WK1) and Telling Your Story (WK2) with Graeme Simsion, and Starting Your Novel (WK1) and Completing Your Novel (WK2) with Marina Lewycka.
The Music and Arts programme runs in the late afternoon four afternoons per week. Relaxed, fun and enjoyable, the sessions bring everyone from the Writers’ Lab and Health and Wellbeing courses together as one group. Think singing, art and movement, and sharing experiences, views and ideas with both the group and facilitators. Courses include Life is a Cabaret with Kate Daniels and Playtime for Grownups with Alison Goldie.
The creating writing courses at Atsitsa Bay are perfect for the novice writer as well as the professional writer that wants to experiment with different forms or re-connect to their own creative voice. Each week different and very experienced writers such as Stephen Clarke, author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French and at least 10 other books, share their knowledge and writing tips and techniques to encourage participants to start on the writer’s journey confident that finding and using their own unique voice is half of the battle.
Everyone can sing, says Claire Healy. Singing is a core offering in the Atsitsa Bay programme and every week a different teacher brings out the voices of participants, many of which start out convinced that they are not able to sing. Join Scritti Politti’s drummer, Tom Morley for Music & Singing, or if you go when Mister Meredith, a cabaret entertainer is there, there is bound to be a little piano music too.
These courses are based around performance, screenwriting and comedy improvisation, and are accessible whether or not you already write or just want to get started. Course titles include The Joy of Singing with Sarah Warwick and Comedy Improvisation with Dave Bourn. Hate the stage or public speaking, you will be amazed to see how much your confidence grows in just a week with improvisation. Side splitting laughter thanks to the newly inspired improvisation students is a feature of the end of the week cabaret.
Art courses include making mosaics, drawing and sketching, watercolor painting and landscape art. The courses use various spots around the bay as inspiration and facilitators are highly qualified, offering support both within the group and individually. Whether it is making your first mosaic, or drawing and painting, you will produce something that will remind you what you can achieve and keep you inspired when you get back.
The facilitator of the photography course, David Babsky, used to be Technical Editor of Practical Photography magazine, so you can bet he knows a thing or two. He’ll show you how to get the best from any camera, whether it’s a pocket point-and-shoot or a professional SLR.
Personal growth is part of the Skyros Holiday fabric because of co-founder Dina Glouberman’s background as a psychotherapist, and so there are always personal development options. The life coaching courses include New Beginnings, Love What You Do, Passionate Living and Your Best Year Ever. Skyros Holiday courses are all aimed at encouraging you to leave behind the limitations and the feeling of being stuck, to recharge your passion and go for what really matters to you. Fully supported by the experienced Skyros facilitators and other like-minded participants, you can use the time to step back, gain new insights, make some breakthroughs, and create a vision for your life.
Try your hand at 5 Rhythms, a simple dance practice that gets you out of your head space and into your body and feet, Explore Aerial Cocoon, a mix of yoga and circus performing or take a course in Alexander Technique Movement with Judy Hammond or learn the basics of massage and reflexology with Virginia Evangelou. You can also do a course in Bodywork with Silke Ziehl, a body psychotherapist whose group sessions include self-development and body-awareness as well as the act of giving massage.
Go abseiling around the bay with Berny Woodward, who has a UK Mountain Instructors Certificate and a history in outdoor sports from working in the RAF as an Outdoor Adventure Instructor for over 20 years. You can choose to do a basic, beginners abseil, or more advanced experiences tackling sea cliffs, mineshafts and even abseiling directly into the sea. This is a group activity open to all levels of experience that adds adventure, camaraderie and a way to overcome your fears, both actual and analogous.
There are two levels of windsurfing course available and taught each week for the entire season by Mark Gunston. The beginners’ course is aimed at complete novices and covers the basic skills you need to get out on the water, where of course most of your time is spent. The course aims to challenge you in an enjoyable way, you’ll also be encouraged to take intelligent risks and develop an awareness of your environment. The improvers course is a series of drop-in classes suitable for those with previous experience; you need to be able to sail away from the beach, turn around and sail back to prove this.
Whichever location and courses you choose, the community-based structure of Skyros holidays, which includes communal dishwashing in the open air, lends itself to a natural camaraderie and making friends without effort. Participants are encouraged to do a ‘homeopathic’ amount of work each day, which can include sweeping, chopping vegetables and tidying of the communal areas, simply to build connection. And each morning after breakfast there is demos (Greek word for people’s assembly), the daily community announcements platform, where a participant volunteers to lead it and walk through the agenda for the day and ask teachers and staff if they need to give out information. They also contribute their own quote of the day. It is the time to voice concerns and worries and express gratitude.
Skyros Holidays are not boot camps, so there is always laughter and often impromptu dancing, late-night drinks and group activities such as pub quizzes. At the end of each week there is often a cabaret and an exhibition of the art students have made. The vibe is inclusive and sociable, although each intake of both teachers and participant will have a different vibe. The Skyros structure is ideal for freelance or home workers, particularly if they also live alone, who want to re-connect with a community, as well as couples or friends that come together who simply want more than a beach holiday.
Some first timers do come to Skyros to recover from something, so the optional 45-minute daily oekos gatherings, where people in small groups take a couple of minutes to share what’s on their mind, are part of the supportive community structure. Also optional is co-listening, where two people pair up and meet regularly, taking it in turns to talk and listen to the other person without interruption, judgement or advice.
You can do yoga at both centres, with some classes including pranayama and meditation depending on the teacher. At the Skyros Centre, yoga is a morning drop in for one hour before breakfast five mornings per week. Classes take place on an outdoor terrace looking down over the hills to the sea and are taught by visiting teachers such as Katrina Love Senn, who’s Healing Hatha Yoga style is her own signature blend of yoga, breathing, stretching, visualising, intention and personal enquiry.
In Atsitsa, yoga is a morning drop-in for an hour before breakfast. There’s also a two-hour yoga course later in the day that runs for four days and enables participants to progress. Courses take place in specially created circles outdoors in Atsitsa’s gardens with views to the sea. Teachers change every few weeks and include hatha teachers Marina Sossi, Maya Fiennes, Ken Eyerman, Kenneth Ryan and Sevanti, teaching a range of classes in vinyasa, yoga with awareness and Yoga for Everybody, which offers simple ways to incorporate physical practise and yoga philosophy into everyday life. Michael Eales and Steve Smith offer mindfulness courses.
On a week-long holiday you will have Friday off to relax or explore the local area, and on a two-week holiday you have Friday and Saturday off as the ‘weekend’. Use this time to go off walking or book from range of excursions, including a pleasure boat trip and around the island tour.During the two to three-hour siesta after lunch, people go to the many beaches nearby and further afield, including the closest Dead Goats beach. Rock shoes are required as protection from the sea urchins, but the centre has some to lend.
To help you relax between classes, there are therapeutic and beauty treatments on offer at both centres (at an extra cost). Treatments at the Skyros Centre take place in one of the rooms at the centre, and in Atsitsa, treatments take place in a dedicated hut in the gardens.
There are no locks on the doors at Atsitsa Bay, so pack minimally, forget the straighteners but bring ample mosquito spray. The huts do not have brilliant lighting so if you like to read at night a head torch is useful. Bring your own towels.
There are two ways of getting to the island: a five to six-hour group transfer involving coaches and two ferries or a flight direct to Skyros from London Heathrow, changing at Athens. For the overland route pack sickness tablets, if you suffer, the roads are windy.
The most important thing to pack is a flexible and open mind, for even if you go on a Skyros Holiday for a relaxing beach holiday, it is almost guaranteed that something will happen to make you see things in a different way. For maximum adventure, at Atsitsa Bay try two courses that you would not normally do back home. But be warned: some come away inspired to change their lives completely.
There is free Wi-Fi at the Skyros Centre and it is also available in numerous tavernas and coffee houses in the village. Naturally remote, the phone signal and internet are limited at Atsitsa Bay in particular, so the perfect place for a digital detox. There are two laptops with internet connection available during bar opening hours but no Wi-Fi. There is Wi-Fi at Cook Nara restaurant on the hill and 4G is stronger at The Sunset Café.
When to Go
Blue skies and warm weather with the odd thunder storm are the hallmark of a Greek island holiday throughout the summer season. Families stay at Atsitsa Bay during the family-month of August. During the school holidays from 22 July to 1 September childcare is provided and holiday places for children between 5 and 15 are half price. The best time to go to take advantage of the gardens, have child free time and the raw enthusiasm of the first-time work scholars is at the start of the season.
Mediterranean meals are healthy, freshly-prepared meat, fish and vegetarian dishes with copious amounts salads and vegetables all using locally-sourced produce. Lunch tends to be vegetarian with meat or fish served in the evenings. Special diets are catered for, with advance notice.
Atsitsa Bay there are long wooden refectory tables in the outdoor dining area under the pergola. All meals are included but for those that want to leave the site, there are tavernas on the beach. Takis, who has been working with Skyros for at least two decades, is the chef. Participants are encouraged to help with chopping vegetables as part of the optional community duties. Atsitsa legend has it is that a few romances have started in the kitchen.
Lunch might include vegetarian stuffed aubergines, tuna with green beans, Spanish omelet, spinach or cheese pie, risotto, copious amounts of salads adorned with different things and always dressed with a secret recipe dill vinaigrette. Fresh watermelon is the usual lunchtime dessert. Dinner is typically when meat is served and there might be pork chops, chicken, meatballs or a Moussaka with potatoes (local lamb or vegetarian). As well as salad there are always cooked vegetables. Each night there is a cake for dessert, with a favorite being Loukoumades, the Greek honey balls. Bread, butter and filtered water is available at every meal. Free tea and coffee are available all day and soft drinks and alcohol can be purchased at the bar, which has an efficient bar tab system going that can catch you out at the end of your stay if you are not careful.
At The Skyros Centre food is served buffet style on a large terrace with a panoramic view over the sea, and you eat at large group tables. The Centre is half board (usually breakfast and lunch but sometimes dinner instead). Vasso is the chef here and makes wonderful traditional stews: peas and carrots; butter beans; potato, tomato and onion; spinach with chickpeas, and excellent taramasalata and hummus. Think hearty salads of mixed tomatoes with feta and cucumber chunks. For breakfast, there’s porridge, muesli, yogurt, fruit salad and maybe custard-filled pastries. In the evenings there are plenty of options to choose from in the village, from traditional tavernas to sophisticated restaurants serving modern Greek cuisine.
There are other places to eat on the island. Throughout the day, participants frequently walk across the road to Marianna’s Sunset Café, which serves food, hot and cold drinks, including alcohol and fresh juices, either to get better 4G reception or simply to have a different view of the sea. The orange cake is worth a taste. For Wi-Fi and a longer walk, many trek up the hill in the direction of Skyros town for 20 or so minutes to Cook Nara restaurant.
The Skyros Island Support Fund, set up on 2013, has contributed towards the purchase of computers for a Skyros school, new medical equipment for its health centre, the refurbishment of the school theatre and the protection of the island’s forest. Skyros also supports the welfare of the Skyrian horses, dogs and cats, and the heating of all the island’s schools and the health centre in winter. Skyros also has solar panels heating up the shower water with a booster generator.
Skyros Island, Greece
45 minutes to the Skyros Centre; 20 minutes to Atsitsa Bay.