Yoga on a Shoestring, Kefalonia
Easy going yoga holiday in self-catering apartments with stunning ocean views
Those who like their freedom – to eat what and when they choose, and to strike out independently by hire car, mountain bike or on foot
Those who like everything done for them. You will need to be a bit of a self starter if you want to do more than read and swim between yoga classes
Yoga on a Shoestring’s yoga holidays on the magical Greek island of Kefalonia run for nine weeks a year at the clifftop, family-run Vigla Village overlooking Spartia beach in the undeveloped south of the island. You stay in welcoming and friendly small apartments run with love by Anna and Angelos Liossatos, where you can salute the sun, the sea, the sky and the trees without boundary and without spending a fortune. Apartments are self catering, with a five minute stroll to the beach you’ll find authentic Greek fare at nearby tavernas.
The panoramic views, the beautiful beaches and the laid-back atmosphere – helped along on our visit by yoga teacher Dory Walker’s fun, approachable teaching style, and owner Anna’s cheerful, chatty friendliness.
The apartments are basic and only offer once-a-week cleaning. If you’re here alone, go for one of the five single roomed apartments if you don’t like the idea of sharing a kitchen, balcony and shower room with a stranger.
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Mix yoga twice a day with time out swimming, walking, biking or enjoying the beach. This is very much a yoga holiday rather than a retreat, where you get to devise your own itinerary.
Yoga takes place from 8 to 9.45 in the morning, and again from 5.30 – 7 in the evenings. The majority of the class is asana-based, with a few minutes devoted to chanting, pranayama and/or meditation at the beginning and end of the class, depending on the teacher leading the class. All levels are welcome and catered for, but intermediates will probably get the most out of it – this is possibly not the best retreat for either the complete beginner, nor for the very advanced.
Yoga on a Shoestring holidays on Kefalonia are taught by a variety of experienced teachers, many of whom have been working with YOAS for many years. They vary in their lineage – from ashtanga through to Scaravelli – but share a spiritual dimension that offers more than just asana. Two popular teachers, who between them demonstrate the range of styles available, are Tania Brown, who offers vinyasa, restorative and yin practices, and Jess Horn, who offers ayurveda-inspired ISHTA and flow yoga.
We experienced our week with Dory Walker, a Bristol-based yoga teacher with a varied background of Sivananda, Iyengar and Krishanamacharya lineages who runs yoga holidays here each June and September. Dory is a personable, warm and friendly teacher who offers kind and clear explanations, varied classes, and a no-nonsense delivery which she combines with snippets of Vedic philosophy alongside a gentle introduction to basic mudras, mantras, chants and some easily accessible pranayama. Her calm, containing style of balancing effort with surrender makes everyone feel completely safe yet challenged.
Between yoga sessions many people choose to hang out on the sun loungers and hammocks dotted around the venue, all of which have wonderful views, swim and sunbathe on the beach or go for the less zen but equally pleasurable option to sip frappucinos outside the beach taverna.
A local masseuse by the name of Chrissie will come to the resort when summoned, unfurl her massage table under the pine trees with a view out to sea, and melt your muscles with her intensely relaxing deep tissue massage. But be warned, deep means deep. She needs to be booked on arrival and paid in euros, so bring cash.
You can swim either in the 14m pool, cleaned daily – or in the sea, where there is also beautiful snorkelling to be done from any of the three gorgeous beaches within walking distance. All are lovely, yet each has its own character – small and private, public and jolly, or long and deserted. Strong swimmers could even make it from the first to the third by swimming round the rocks separating each – the shallowness of the bays means you are never far from sand or a rock to rest on.
Apartments: Delightful local couple Anna and Angelos Liossatos own this rather unusual clifftop venue which is made up of 11 small, air conditioned apartments alongside Anna’s always-open, always-welcoming reception area and a pool and terrace area.
Apartments are dotted along a clifftop and are mainly one storey with a couple of two storey buildings. Each provides either 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms along with a shared shower room, kitchen and balcony. Buildings and their interiors are clean, but functional and basic rather than retreat-like – all have amazing sea views.
Bedrooms have bare white walls, two single beds, a wardrobe and a small desk. A few have their own access on to the shared balcony. For the most space and storage, it’s worth paying for a room to yourself.
The shower room is small, without any toiletries or much shelf space, so be prepared to keep what you need in your room. The water is hot and the pressure is fine – it’s functional rather than indulgent, but perfectly adequate. As in most places in Greece, toilet paper cannot go down the toilet but must go in a bin, which the cleaners only empty once during the week, so be prepared to change the bin yourself once or twice.
Other spaces to be: Sharing with two or three others means that you may sometimes get your balcony to yourself, but you can’t guarantee it. There are chairs, sun loungers and hammocks in a small wooded garden area overlooking the sea where one can be relatively alone, and there is space enough on the nearby beaches not to have to talk to anyone if you want some time out. The yoga shala is always available for extra meditating.
Take things you know you like or need to eat so you can stock up your little kitchen, and your own herbal or other tea bags, because the local shop is a little bit of a walk and may not have what you want. You will also need to bring your own toiletries, as none are provided.
Take a driving licence if you want to hire a car, as there is only one bus a day, taxis can get expensive and you will be a bit stuck on the day off otherwise. The owner’s owner, Anna, keeps a selection of beach umbrellas in her office that have been left behind by previous guests – it’s well worth asking for one.
When to Go
Yoga on a Shoestring yoga holidays on Kefalonia run between May and September, which are glorious months on the island outside the busy tourist season, when days are sunny and bright and the beaches are not at all crowded. The water is easily warm enough to swim in June, and in September it is even warmer.
Only breakfast is provided, served buffet-style after the morning yoga class at a long outdoor table by the swimming pool. You can expect plenty of fresh fruit, Greek yoghurt, muesli, bread, feta cheese, boiled eggs, olives, and salad all served, alongside tea and coffee.
Rice milk and rice cakes are there for those with intolerances but, like the venue itself, food is traditional Greek holiday style rather than retreat-style and you won’t have many ‘free-from’ options, though a small range of dairy and gluten free products are available at the local shop.
You will need to be happy to clear away your own plates – you don’t need to wash them, but this is a small family-run place and they do appreciate you helping out. This doesn’t feel at all onerous, but if you want to be waited on this is not the place for you.
For lunch and dinner you have the option to self cater or eat out at the local tavernas. The kitchens in the apartment have small hobs for simple meals, and some guests save some bread, cheese and eggs from breakfast and put them in the fridge for lunch. There’s a local supermarket a 15 minute walk away for more options, and the team can deliver basics if you don’t fancy the walk.
Local tavernas are rather lovely. Three are within 5 minutes walk – two down on the beach and one right opposite the retreat’s gate. The food is traditional Greek fare so there’s lots of fresh fish and shellfish (most locally sourced, but ask your waiter to confirm), and the lamb specialties they are known for, but there’s also a wide range of vegetarian mezze, such as stuffed vine leaves, stuffed peppers, tzatiziki and fava bean dips.
Isolos, the one closest to the gate, is rather exceptional and run by an Australian Greek whose father in law is the local fisherman – not only does he provide the fish for the restaurant, but he also offers fishing trips for those that would like. Further afield, a 15-minute walk to the local village or a taxi ride brings more choices. Twice during the week an optional group outing to a further-flung restaurant is arranged.
By eating this way, you may lose the communal feel of a retreat and not get a dedicated chef with a good knowledge of healthy, inventive food, but you gain a greater personal choice over what and where you eat, get to contribute to the local economy and have the chance to really feel that you are in Greece proper, which the more hermetically sealed retreats can’t do.
Yoga on a Shoestring support local businesses by using local family-run venues such as this one and encouraging guests to eat locally helps contribute to and sustain the local Greek economy. Sustainability isn’t a priority at the venue itself.
Vigla Village, Spartia, Kefalonia, Greece
Transfer time: 15 minutes