hearing myself through silence

Following a bit of a lull in my posting, I’m back to write about the Silent Retreat I recently attended. 

Welcome to Noosfera! Our keys and welcome notes


So here I was, on a Friday evening, beholding the dazzlingly white full moon, surrounded by the black silhouettes of vast mountains, caressed by an icy alpine breeze, with an orange cat called Paprika curled in my lap, hearing the sound of… howling wolves?! At first I thought it might be a tribe of inebriated youngsters possessed by the lunatic spirit at a nearby village, but later it was confirmed to me that jackals roam free on the mountaintops. I had just finished a gentle, grounding and refreshingly awakening evening yoga class, the first of several to take place during a weekend retreat organised by Athens-based yoga teacher Tina Myntz Zymaraki. Only minutes before I had embarked on my journey into a silence that was to last until Sunday afternoon. We had each selected an Osho card from a pack that was to act as a message to set our awareness on, and before delving into non-talking we went around the circle saying our name and one intent we had during the weekend. Mine was Kindness, but by the end, I got Gratitude instead.

Other participants walked by beaming “good evening!” smiles on their way to the dining hall in the super-elegant Noosfera main house, and feeling a rumble in my tummy I decided to follow suit. Decorated in a neo-traditional English country style that soothes both eye and spirit, the living room/dining room area was imbued by silence, and all I could hear was the sound of the flames dancing in the fireplace and cutlery delicately clanging on plates. A woman in her 50s who was clearly there with her bestie was cracking up so much she ran out of the room with her hands over her mouth to stifle her giggles as her friend cried (silently of course) with laughter into her soup. This would take some getting used to.

As we feasted on creamy pumpkin soup and crunchy croutons followed by a mountain of quinoa, lentil, orange and fresh herb salad and toasted wholewheat pitta bread with hummus, my fellow silence-vowers and I avoided eye contact with each other, as Tina had encouraged us to. The Silent Retreat aims to encourage actually immersing yourself deeper into your being by disengaging from the outside world, she told us, not simply zipping your mouth and throwing away the key. Being a slightly anxious mother I carried my phone with me but not for an instant was I tempted to enter the world of the internet – in fact, the mere idea of social medialising even as a voyeur revolted me.

On the scene as a yoga teacher for around 17 years, Tina is only one of two individuals in Greece who organizes silent retreats, and was inspired by her own experiences at the Ananda Ashram in New York, where she lived for a while: “The idea was very attractive to me, especially as I interact with others a lot,” she said, “so as of 2010 I started introducing small periods of silence in my weekend retreats. Over time, those periods were extended, and I started to organize semi-silent retreats. Students always told me how valuable the experience proved for them, so over the past three years I’ve been indulging them in silence more and more.” (See the end of this article to find out about Tina’s upcoming retreat).
Let me set the scene of where I was before telling you how my own journey into silence unfolded. Noosfera Centre, built especially for wellness and holistic retreat workshops of all varieties, is located in the Peloponnesian mountains, near Xylokastro. Arriving in the dark, I couldn’t yet see the magnificent views that delighted me the following morning – mountains carpeted in thick greenery, smoky valleys, patches of traditional villages here and there, a gleaming snowy peak and a relieving (for us sea aficionados) strip of blue in the distance.

Give me a window unto nature so I may witness myself

Noosfera is a new generation holistic hideaway, lovingly created five years ago by journalist-turned-author (of six books, including the bestseller Mystic Odyssey) and therapist Ioulia Pitsouli and psychologist/psychotherapist Maria Xifara, who live here for half a week throughout the year, as holistic wellness and psychology seminars of all varieties take place. The main house and accommodations are all built in low wooden cottages decorated in a rustic yet modern style, with accessories like fluffy Guy Laroche towels and flocculent duvets. The choice of space for this particular retreat was a very carefully made one on Tina’s part, as she felt it was important for participants to enjoy creature comforts while making sense of silence – many silent retreats around the world are held in far more monastic, daunting circumstances in order to strip away distractions.

I’d longed to try a silent retreat for many years, so I jumped at the chance to do so when this workshop came up. The concept was to spend two days doing our best at staying schtum and combining that with soothing yet not undemanding yogic practice. On the morning of the second day, we participated in a more energetic class aimed at connecting us to our core. As I have been facing some challenging personal issues lately, halfway through the class I retreated into child’s pose when I started feeling it was getting too demanding for me. Something in me was pissed off and simply refused to carry on. As I curled up on my mat I felt a wave of sadness rise up from the depths of my heart, and pour out through my eyes in tears. I was about to do my usual stoical routine, to tell myself to put the ‘self-pity’ aside and get on with the practice, when I remembered that this was not that kind of class, nor was that kind of class that I need in my life. If I had been in a different state of mind I would have cherished the upbeat challenge, but at that moment I couldn’t find it in me to push myself any further when I’ve felt I’ve been squeezed enough in other areas of my existence. So I got up and walked out, feeling fully supported in doing so. 

Yoga teacher Tina Myntz Zymaraki

Later in the day, we got to enjoy a different kind of class based on restorative asanas and self-care, an aspect of yoga practice that Tina has dedicated many years to develop. As a former Ashtanga devotee, she has over the years realized the vital significance of listening to her own changing body and treating it with love and respect, rather than forcing it through a sequence that has caused her several injuries along the way, despite how much discipline and caution she applied to following the rules. “For the last 150 years, yoga practices have been centred on young male students, but in the west, the average class is made up of women, many of them in their early to late middle age,” she notes.


“For several years I have focused on studying and practising bio-mechanics and human anatomy, aiming to help my students work from the inside out to enhance strength and suppleness by listening to their own unique needs,” Tina explained. “I take on a more innovative approach that is not strictly bound to classic prototypes but instead can be adapted by students so that they reap all the benefits of yoga without straying from their sense of self. As my favourite teacher, Richard Freeman says, ‘yoga begins with listening” – listening to your own needs. It’s your body, your time, your choice, your yoga. Yogis have always been anarchists and revolutionaries so why should you go to a class and obey what you are told if it feels wrong to you or causes you pain?” she points out. The Self-Care class was my absolute favourite because that was exactly what I needed in combination with the inner and outer quiet. First, we were shown how to use a tennis ball to massage our feet, necks, shoulders and back in the most blissful tension-releasing tennis fun I could ever conceive of. Next, we lay down (but were asked to make every effort to stay awake) for a mesmerising Yoga Nidra session in which Tina guided our awareness across every inch of our body with her softly spoken words. When at some point she said “and now move your awareness to your fifth finger,” I anticipated she would next guide us to our sixth; that’s when I realized how incredibly relaxed I was.

The location and the practice of silence offered us all the golden opportunity to take time for ourselves while feeling warmly united in a rare experience. I relished the chance to stretch and breathe as well as read inspiring books (one day I read half a book lying by the fire – it might be a decade since the last time I did that!), go for nature walks overlooking spanning views of natural landscapes, play with an overenthusiastic spaniel who had an endless supply of cones to be chased, and to write, write, write (my child-like sense for writing was reignited and I wrote throughout my time there. On actual paper. Using a pen.). And then there was the deep sleep that highly oxygenated alpine air bequeaths.

My favourite spot at Noosfera

On the first night, I experienced an amusing moment when I realized how useless it was to try communicating at all. After cuddling Paprika the cat I realized my jacket was pretty stinky; she’s adorable but I’d assumed that as she belongs to such a pristine place she’d be sweet-smelling, perhaps with a fragrance like the rooms we stayed in, named lavender, spearmint, pomegranate, or would have a natural Liberty’s fragrance. But no such luck, so I decided to air my jacket on the terrace in the room I was sharing with two girls, who were sitting there at the time. For some reason I bravely ventured to wordlessly re-enact why I was hanging it out to air- first I pretended to be Paprika, with the catwalk, swooshing tail (my arm), pointy ears and alert eyes, then re-enacted myself cuddling her, then smelling my malodorous jacket and looking shocked thus needing to air it. They looked at me and laughed, and I had no idea whether they thought they were rooming with a madwoman or had understood even a tad from my charades. It was at that moment that I resolutely decided that as amusing as it could be (especially for others!) it was probably best to do away with voiceless social banter.

Colouring INwards

The second and final night, there was another moment of hilarity when the waitress walked ceremoniously across the room holding a tray with a single collonaded glass of rose wine that one of the participants had ordered, with everyone turning to stare, many of us feeling a mixed emotion between empathy (silence brings stuff up, wine might help), confusion (wine is fun when you’re talking) and envy (why didn’t I think of that?), much to the embarrassment of the participant who had ordered it. After dinner many of us selected a mandala design to colour in and sat around the fire on the floor for hours bringing them to life – I hadn’t felt that way since I was seven, at school, hearing only the incessant sound of colouring pencils on paper.

Our silence was broken on Sunday afternoon, with a sharing circle during which we each related our experiences. There were tears. There was laughter. This was followed by a conversation-friendly lunch, after which we all posed for a few photographs together (below) and went our separate ways.

As Bjork once said, “It’s Oh So Quiet!” Shhhhh

I felt reinvigorated, rested, and subtly yet profoundly changed as a result, like I had learned a secret that had been in me all along. More and more research is being done on the benefits of silence, and a recent Finnish study revealed that it actively enhances brain and emotional health: “The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.”

I was also relieved that the nightmare scenario I had self-deprecatingly envisioned before going there, that my cheeky monkey brain would take over and I’d be constantly trying to shut out my restless mental chatter, didn’t happen even for an instant. In fact, I found myself observing and feeling everything more intensely; I savoured food with greater pleasure (I did notice I was eating more than usual, perhaps to fill the ‘gap’ of not using my mouth to spout out conversational gems), became more aware of my body and movement – from ease and flexibility to tightness and restriction, rested in the enhanced clarity and calm of my head. “Silence offers us a different kind of quality in our thought processes and how we relate to others,” Tina said. “It offers us the opportunity to respond rather than react. So I see it as a natural extension of the yoga practice.” There were uncomfortable moments too, at some point I felt as though I was at an airport with a delayed flight hanging around and waiting. Not wanting my young son to feel I’d fallen off the face of the earth, I spoke to him on the phone for a few brief moments as I sat on the park bench facing the mountains and sea. “I love you, I love you, I love you!” he squeaked. And after I put my phone away I felt literally engulfed by the silence of the mountains in a way I’d never experienced before. I yearned for him, worried for him as if he lived in another world. Then I looked at the sea yearned to fly across the valleys to it like the birds swooping around. I wanted to lie in the grass. I was dreamy and tranquil yet felt vulnerable, detached and alone at once.

The author settling into Warrior II with a view

I returned to the endless fracas of Athens renewed, feeling as if I’d connected with a new awareness in myself, one that comes from even 24 full hours of silent observation. Being surrounded by others who also don’t talk was divine because I realised that every word you hear around you instantly registers as a thought or emotion in the mind, even if it has nothing to do with you. So I have vowed to stay away from other people’s conversations if I’m craving peace. Like most of the others, I felt I could have stayed a little longer, and was a little rough to have to return to reality. Yet fortunately, silence is free and can be found everywhere, especially within. All you need to do is commit to it, tune in, and hey presto, you’re there.

 

TINA’s UPCOMING SILENT RETREAT (21 & 22 April)

Mountain Refuge Silent Yoga
A little before summer seduces us to her shores, join Tina for two days combining a few of her favourite things: yoga, cooking, silence and nature. Experience the joy and stillness which emerge effortlessly when we spend time on the mountain and its stunning vistas… (click for more info)

ikaria’s new age appeal

What was a resilient but relatively unknown corner of Greece has over the past few years flourished into a holistic wellness destination. Yoga retreats, wellness workshops, energy-healing therapies, organic food and natural cosmetics have now become increasingly accessible island-wide.

Various spaces, such as the Agriolykos Pension in Therma, are also planning more such retreats and workshops to be held next year, and say that there is definitely a growing interest from outside the island. Meanwhile, Ikaria has also caught the eye of a few celebrities – such as Jamie Oliver and Marcus Pearce – who have been filming their shows on the island. Watch this space for Ikaria’s New Age!

THE EGG CAME FIRST

Once a crumbling nightclub, The Egg, Ikaria’s first and only multi-space for dance and wellness classes, was completely renovated in 2013 by German art director Katrin Gerner. Open from May to September to local and international teachers and therapists, it is a creatively decorated, airy and tranquil space, facing the sea. “Something very strong drew me here” Gerner says, “and I’ve realized that apart from the many gifts of the island itself and its people, individuals come here with the same target – to connect with their inner peace”.

VEDANTA ASPIOTI: ANCIENT MEETS THE NEW

Vedanta Aspioti, who is considered “an institution” in Ikaria’s healing community, is a trained therapist, medium, and self-help author who for 30 years has been leading the Power of Light retreats at Artemis Studios.

The location, right above Nas beach (a stunning, nudist-friendly beach with bright blue waters), by a beautiful lake and near the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, is not coincidental. “In recent years we are witnessing the harmonious marriage of the local’s archaic traditional way of life with New-Age inspired practices,” she says.

ROBYN WHATLEY KAHN: HEAR YOUR BODY
She once performed on stage alongside Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, in the Gold Digger group. Now, Robyn Whatley Kahn, who settled on Ikaria a decade ago, teaches classes using the Body Talk System, Reiki and Deep Tissue Massage.

“Locals know I do therapia, and it has helped many here, so they send people to me,” she says. The American, known as Ourania (her middle name is Skye, and Greek for sky is ouranos), recently paid tribute to the island in her photography book, ‘Eyes on Ikaria’ – available on Amazon.


JOEY BROWN: RELEASE WRITER’S BLOCK

Also based on Ikaria, Belgian motivational writing coach Joey Brown combines meditation with writing summer workshops at various venues across Ikaria, helping writers to ‘unblock’, and feel inspired. “Most of my clients are foreigners, living stressful lifestyles,” she tells me. “Ikariotes are already so connected to the land, the sea, the elements – maybe they don’t have such needs.”

VICKY LAZOU: CHILD’s PLAY with clay
Vicky Lazou, a ceramic artist and teacher based in Athens – where she runs ‘To Ergastiri tou Pilou’ for children – travels to Ikaria every summer with her son and her husband (who hails from Ikaria). She has developed a technique which combines meditation with clay-molding, and it’s designed to help one’s “inner child” come out to play. She teaches group and one-to-one sessions to locals and visitors a few times each summer, announcing classes on Facebook. “The response has been very positive and encouraging,” she says. “Ikariotes love to express their creativity”.

 

 

Article By Alexia Amvrazi, as first published in Greece Is (www.greece-is.com).

 

taking the andros route

Just two breezy hours by ferry boat from Athens’ Rafina port, Andros, the “island of the sea captains” is the greenest and northernmost of the Cycladic group and has only recently begun to gain recognition from the wider world. Vogue nominated it as one of the three “under-the-radar Greek islands” (the other two were Syros and Tinos) in 2016 and The Guardian published a feature singing the island’s praises as one of Greece’s best walking destinations. They were both definitely onto something, as this non-touristic island, once known as Ydroussa for its rich water sources, has much to offer that few know about – and I’m not just talking only about beaches.

The lush and varied landscape – flower-strewn valleys, impressive waterfalls such as those at Pithara, quaint old stone bridges at Aladinou and Stichiomeni, rugged mountains, an abundance of gushing fresh water springs to stop and sip from and crystalline streams – make for a perfect backdrop for mountain biking, yoga and nature walks too. If you are a water baby at heart, you can rent a boat and discover the island’s pristine beaches, or just sail into the sunset.

Andros has become a hiking haven for visitors from around the world. Credit: Trekking Andros

The credit for this goes chiefly to Andros Routes, a non-profit organization who with the help of local as well as foreign volunteers have labored to make the trails accessible again.

Arianna Masselou, who runs Trekking Andros, another

Walk on the wild side

Two local hiking organisations have put Andros on the world map – Andros Routes and Trekking Andros, the latter also organising a host of other activities besides trekking, such as yoga, Tai Chi, Brazilian dance and even food-themed movie events. 

There are a choice of 15 newly signposted trails to hike along the kalderimia, old tracks that connected the villages before concrete roads were laid out, flanked by dry stone walls. Over 150km of pathways have been made accessible to trekkers and the choices are gratifyingly broad – from short, easy walks ideal for children or the elderly such as one from Chora to Apikia (where the Sariza springs & water factory are located) to much more demanding hikes into the mountains, such as one from Arni to that of Vourkoti.

Apart from exploring vibrant nature and other features, from verdant valleys to parched hills and spanning sea views in between, the hikes are also an ideal way to discover the island’s history and culture, as you traipse through villages such as medieval Sineti or Aidonia that are perched onto rugged slopes, or Chora with its elegant neoclassical homes belonging to wealthy shipowners are stacked up overlooking the Tourlitis lighthouse.

Chora is a great stop for a cosmopolitan evening in the main Iroon square where the island’s chi chi crowd gathers in high season. Visit the current exhibition presenting the works of Greek painter and poet Nikos Engonopoulos at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art before dining at Endochora restaurant in the main agora strip and sipping a cocktail at Neo, a former slaughterhouse turned trendy bar. The clothes shopping here is luxurious and gratifying too, especially at Waikiki boutique while melt-in-your-mouth amygdalota almond sweets can be found at Galanos or Lygizos.

Andros Routes: androsroutes.gr/
Trekking Andros: trekkingandros.gr/

Although there are many wonderful trails to choose from, we have selected three exemplary hikes that present very rewarding aspects of walking in Andros:

Apikia – Chora (6km, easy to moderate): The verdant route passes through the most important seafaring and rural settlements, walking along the Pytharia ravine. Remarkable scenery and a wealth of monuments, picturesque villages with natural springs and noteworthy churches, the arched bridges of Apikia and Leondas, the Agadakis and Bisti towers, the Empeirikos watermill (Fabrika), Yialia beach and wetland, are just some of the points of interest.

A sunset view of the Tourliotis lighthouse and the mediaeval castle in Chora. Credit: AA Photos

Chora – Korthi (11km, moderate): One of the island’s most important routes, this path is most suitable for experienced hikers because of its length. It goes past the famous valley of Dipotamata with its numerous watermills -an open-air eco-museum of water power, the arched bridge, Faneromeni Castle and scenic Kochylou village to name but a few spots. The well-preserved cobbled path commences from coastal Paraporti in Chora.

Upper Aprovato- Pitrofos (9km, moderate): One of the most important and oldest trails, a medieval track that is impressively almost intact in many parts. Connecting eastern and western Andros, it starts from the village of Ano Aprovato, with panoramic views of the west coast and the sunken ancient harbour, and heads toward the Paleopolis waterfalls. The magical landscape is studded with impressive stone walls, massive boulders and rich vegetation. The paved trail leads past springs, stone cisterns and old farmhouses, heading northeast toward the watermills of Melida. The route goes toward Ano Pitrofo with a stop at the renovated olive press at the Olive Museum.

Niborio Chora Andros sailing
Swans, yachts and sailboats at Niborio beach near the Andros Nautical Club of Chora. Photo by Alexia Amvrazi.

Sail away
Andros is known for its hefty meltemi winds, which make it an ideal destination for sailing and surfing (indeed, Olympic champions Nikos Kaklamanis and Giorgos Fragos are locals). In the southeast, seaside Korthi (where the windsurfing World Championships took place in 2007), draws windsurfers from around the world. Kypri beach, where you can also learn to scuba dive at an accredited school, is also popular for those who are still learning to surf as the winds there are less overwhelming. You can also rent a boat and head to the north side of the island, where you’ll find pristine beaches to enjoy alone, while also doing some bird watching.

Boat (and room) rental: androslocation.com/boats-scoters/
Andros Yachting: androsyachting.com/

Biking on Andros Constantine Malpas
Mountainous, hilly Andros is not the easiest island to navigate by bike, but can offer a rewarding chalenge. Photo by Costantine Malpas

Biking It
Although challenging and only suitable for fit bikers, Andros’ hilly and mountainous landscape can be very rewarding to explore by bike, especially if you combine your off-road escapades with a refreshing dip in the sea or a stop for some coffee and glyko koutaliou (spoon sweet) in one of the villages. You can choose from a variety of routes of varying levels of difficulty – one hour routes (such as from Chora, through Messaria and then to Menites) or more challenging rides such as the three hour cycle from Chora to Stavropeda and then Batsi. Whatever you do, make sure you are heading out very early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat.
Andros By Bike: androsbybike.gr/Kalos_erthate.html

Piso Yialia beach from above. Photo by Alexia Amvrazi.


Life’s a Beach
Unless you are visiting on August 15th, where anywhere in Greece is packed – Andros’ beaches are lapped by clear, cool, reviving waters. Achla beach, considered the fairest of them all, was unreachable by car until less than a decade ago and thus formerly a hangout for the yachtilicious crowd only. It still has an enchanted air because of a) it’s rugged natural gorgeousness and b) the popular Onar Hotel (where various holistic workshops run) along the river behind it.

On the western side, Chryssi Ammos and Aghios Petros close to Batsi are also great for kids, as is Niborio in Chora, where you can swim with the swans, and there are places to eat and drink near each of these. Chalkolimionas and Apothikes in Stavropeda is great for very windy days as it’s sheltered.

On the eastern side Sineti and Tis Grias To Pidima (famous for its rock stack emerging from the sea) are both beautiful, especially off season when you can have practically them to yourself. Korthi is great for kids as there is a shaded bay with shallow waters and there are plenty of fish restaurants to enjoy lunch at. Pebbly Gialia, near Chora, is family-friendly because it has a wetland connected it where kids love to spot dragonflies, frogs, ducks and some days swans and there is a bridge that offers the perfect shade, while over it is a taverna serving great food. Trendy Piso Gialia just a little further on can be accessed by a 15 minute, uphill trek along stairs and has a beach bar with an all-day power-beat.

By Alexia Amvrazi. As also published in Greek City Times.

top greek spas right now

More and more spa fans are travelling to Greece every year to relish a plenitude of excellent spa facilities and treatments on offer across the land, as wellness is now officially a leading travel trend.  Here we direct you to some of the most alluring wintertime options for you to try (or simply fantasize about) on your next trip.

In Athens:

Electra Metropolis Hotel
At the spanking new spa, which even has a glass floor revealing the ruins of the Themistoclean wall, you can let go with aromatherapy, deep tissue and lymphatic massages as well as beautifying flash treatments. Try the signature Cretan massage, in which warm raki (60% alcohol) is vigorously rubbed on the body to relax the muscles and clear the respiratory system. Next, gently heated olive oil is used for a (very) deep tissue massage to loosen every knot of tension throughout the entire body.
INFO
15
Mitropoleos, Syntagma.
Tel: 214 1006200


GB Spa

By far the city’s most luxurious spa, and right on Syntagma Square. Spend at least 5-15 minutes in the steam rooms such as the Amethystos Grotto, followed by a dip in the ozone-rich pool. To re-balance after the holidays, try a two hour Ayurvedic therapy, which encourages a profound rebalancing and regeneration of the mind and emotions using sensual, floral and exotic oils massaged on the marma points (mini chakras as defined in ancient Indian medicine).
INFO
Grande Bretagne Hotel, Syntagma Square.
Tel: 210 3330799 / 772.

lux101sp-157233_grande_breatagne
GB Spa at Hotel Grande Bretagne

Hiltonia
The Hiltonia Spa (http://www.hiltonia.gr/spa.html) has a progressive treatment menu, with treatments such as the Cleopatra Sperience Jacuzzi Therapy, which includes milk proteins and seaweed collagen, a Vit C+ facial that is based on pure vitamin C combined with extract of Ume, an anti-ageing Japanese plum, Diamond Noir facial exfoliation, and Golden Sensation body sea weed wrap. Try the Exceptional Anti-Wrinkle Therapy and Lift Facial Therapy to start the year as a fresh-faced, bedazzling you.
INFO:
Athens Hilton, 46 Vas. Sofias Ave.
Tel: 210 7281812 / 210 7281801.

Hammam Baths
Hammam is inspired by the baths of ancient Greece and Rome and more recently Constantinople. Start with a steam session in the circular, marble-benched bathing room, letting your skin, muscles and lungs ‘open up’, as you occasionally pour cool water on yourself from brass bowls and lather yourself with soap. Follow this with a deep tissue, exfoliating or beautifying massage in which therapists use Savon noir  black soap made with olive oil paste, Dead Sea black mud, and loofahs and silk Ketsea ‘brushes’ for scrubbing the body and face.
INFO:
17 Agion Asomaton Str. & 1 Melidoni Str. Thissio.
Tel. 210 3231073.

ath_therapies_gonglove_ancient_massage_02
Hammam Baths in Thisseio

Le Hammam, Kifissia
A pampering escape in the verdant northern suburb of Kifissia, Le Hammam (http://www.lehammam.gr/) is inspired by therapies and products from the world’s most exotic destinations, such as Bali, Polynesia, Morocco, Hawaii, the Himalayas and Thailand. Try the Queen Nefertiti, in which Balinese jasmine, lotus flowers and 18 karat gold powder are used to activate the feminine energy, or Shirodhara, an Ayrvedic therapy in which a mixture of essential oils is poured slowly on the forehead to clear the third eye and induce deep tranquility.
INFO:
8 Aghiou Trifonos, Kifisia.
Tel: 210 623 3143.

Beehive Spa
Obeying the Hippocratic philosophy of holistic wellness and making the best of Greece’s purest bee products (honey, pollen, royal jelly), Apivita’s Beehive Spa offers a sumptuous series of face and body treatments and two types of massage. Try the Queen Bee Firming Treatment, a luxurious anti-ageing therapy inspired by the bee dance that helps firm and lift the skin while increasing elasticity and glow.
INFO:
Apivita Experience Store, 6 Solonos & Kanari, Kolonaki.
Tel: 210 3640560.

Cocoon Urban Spa
A unique mix of therapies here, such as Chavutti, an ancient southern Indian massage performed in a rhythmical motion by the therapist’s…feet! Try also the Spice Market Hammam, which starts with a deep scrub in the marble steam room, after which you will be lathered up with savon noir and then slathered in rassoul clay while your face drinks up a royal jelly mask. That’s only the begining, as after that comes a full body massage using rose, pomegranate and sandalwood oils.
INFO:
9 Souliou & Eryfilis, Ag. Paraskevi.
Tel. 210 6561975.

hammam004__aldermar

Greece-wide:

Thermea Sylla, Evia
A luxurious accommodation complex offering a highly sophisticated, in some cases high-tech range of curative, aesthetic and soul-blissing treatments. Most of the therapies revolve around and make the very most out of the famous benefits of Edipsos’ thermal waters. Try the Oriental Rasul experience with a partner: in a herbal steam sauna, you can slather each other using different kinds of Rugen island mud, and then have it all washed away by warm rain that falls from a ceiling vaulted with LED stars.
INFO
2 Posidonos Str., Edipsos, Evia.
Tel: 22260 60 100.

Anazoe Spa, Costa Navarino
Discover the wisdom of ancient Greek healing philosophies and techniques that soothingly enfold guests in a curative, restorative and relaxing experience enhanced by calming music, a form of sound healing that’s based on ancient Greek modes and scales at Anazoe. Try any of the Oleotherapy® Signature Treatments, which, intriguingly, are based on local practices inscribed on clay tablets that were discovered at the nearby Palace of Nestor. As their name suggests, they are based on the use of pure, virgin olive oil, but also include ingredients and application techniques inspired by modern science.
INFO:
Navarino Dunes, Messinia, Costa Navarino.
Tel: +272 309 6000.

anazoe-spa-1
Anazoe Spa at Costa Navarino

Imaret
At Imaret, housed in a Koranic school founded in 1813 by Mohamed Ali Pasha, escape to the “hidden” Hammam that offers therapies derived from traditional eastern rituals, using ingredients like curative muds, exotic oils, herbs, flowers, honey and milk. Try the Harem Massage, a deeply pacifying  therapy in which aromatic poultices filled with fresh chamomile and mint that are dipped into warm essential oils of myrrh and applied to relieve tired muscles, nourishing the skin and boosting circulation.
INFO
30-32 Th. Poulidou, Kavala.
Tel: 2510 620151.

Mikro Papingo 1700 Hotel & Spa
This eco-friendly gem of a boutique hotel, restored from 1700, is actually within the lush Vikos gorge. It’s Spa menu is not long and fancy, but its treatments are top quality and it uses fresh mineral water sourced from the nearby mountains. After a long day exploring the 20km gorge, try the energizing and muscle-relaxing Deep Trail Hiker’s Stretch Massage, while if you need to clear out from your urban lifestyle try the aromatic Mountain Massage.
INFO
Zagori, Epirus.
Tel: 2653 041179.

Asian Spa Ayurvedic & City Retreat
Eastern sensuality reigns supreme at the Asian Spa with treatments that celebrate the touch, smell and sight involved in relishing inventive treatments like Apricots and Cream or Chocolatier, the latter being a romantic ‘flowers & chocolate’ couple’s massage involving an antioxidant cacao scrub and choco-massage, followed by a blissful soak in an aromatic floral bath. Then there’s Glittering Prize, in which the therapist applies a gold scrub and mask, followed by gold dust powders. Several sophisticated Ayurvedic treatments are also available.
INFO
Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki, 13 kilometres Thessaloniki-Perea.
Tel: +211 40 40 115.

Polis Hammam
Modelled on the traditional Turkish Hamam, this boutiquey haven of peace, cleansing and restorative therapies bang in the heart of Thessaloniki encourages you to lie back in the marble sauna, where you can bathe and then enjoy a re-energising and purifying signature massage such as the Aritma Polis massage, which thoroughly works on the entire body and includes the application of brushes and essential oils with stimulating fragrances.
INFO
40 Karamanli St., Kalamaria
Tel: 2310488216.

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 As also published in Greece Is

relax & re-green!

In a mere two-hour drive from Athens, we zip past the sprawling seaside town of Akrata and start the steep ascent up curvy mountain roads, past resilient villages that take just minutes to drive through. The landscape is breathtaking, with a massive, imposing wall of mountain on one side, cobalt-blue sea on the other, and lush vegetation abounding.

As we reach the 3,000-year-old village of Seliana we follow directions until we come to a picturesque old church with a giant plane tree swaying beside it and then spot Re-Green’s unassuming entrance – a stone-built, square archway (a reference to the Mycenaean finds excavated on the land).  The place is run by Flery Fotiadou and her partner Christos Alexiou, Athenians worn down by the hard-core urban professional grind and who gladly packed it all in for a simpler life in the country.

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Guests come and go at Re-Green which is a kind of organic farm where people can stay while attending workshops on anything from yoga and botany to bush craft and eco-living but the pair sticks it out at the remote spot throughout the year, hit by extreme weather in winter, and never, ever slowing down on their land-tending mission and on keeping everything running smoothly. After finally finding the exact spot where they wanted to set up home, they studied permaculture to learn how to make the best of what they already had – a small variety of trees and plants – creating a beautiful stone guesthouse, a colorful food garden and several naturally built structures such as an outdoor Jacuzzi, kitchen and steam room.

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Of course studying skills like permaculture, organic and biodynamic faming, gardening and cob building are crucial for clueless city folk venturing to live the nature-based lifestyle, which is why Re-Green offers such courses encouraging others to follow in their steps.

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While briefly there I participated in a two hour singing class with French vocal artist and teacher Claire Bosse, whose group of French ladies of all ages warmly welcomed me to join in on vocal exercises and learning African polyphonic songs. I quickly got over my hot-faced awkwardness from making weird sounds and doing body-percussion on my (complete stranger) partner and plunged into the creative fun.

In their two weeks there the group was also studying Land Art with Aegina island-based teacher Yiannis Psalidakos and yoga with his French partner Laurieanne Felicite. The average day was made up of vegetarian (local, seasonal) communal meals, workshops and free time, the latter offering the chance to explore the rich landscape, visit numerous animals like Maya the fuzzy donkey, chickens, cats, ducks and dogs; spot medicinal herbs, edible flowers and juicy berries growing randomly; and walks down to the river or taking in stunning vistas of the sky changing colour while sitting on a park-bench at the edge of a cliff.

Relaxing in Re-Green’s accommodations is also easy, as the pair have done a great job with the interior decor, combining old traditional restored furnishings and decor items with natural ingredients creating an understated-luxury / country chic vibe, with large comfortable Queen size beds, fireplaces, modern bathrooms and comfy sofas added to the mix.
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Weeks after visiting Re-Green I still felt ebullient from the experience, perhaps because it’s more like a home than anything else, and definitely because its owners make it look so effortless but clearly work so hard to tend to every detail, making the experience really regenerating. The friendly, familial ambiance combined with creative and well-being oriented activities also makes this the kind of place that makes you want to go back, and I have promised myself, some time, I will.

why ikaria feels so good

Ikariotes – the locals of Ikaria – have always captured the imagination of the rest of the Greek population because of their ‘eccentricity’. They are famous for having their very own sense of time and space, and for their freedom-loving, convivial spirit.

An independent state for several months after releasing itself from the Ottoman grip in 1912 (with its own cobalt blue flag stamped with a thick white cross – still seen in numerous homes around the island today), Ikaria was baptized ‘the red rock’ when it became home to some 13,000 communist exiles during the Greek Civil War of 1946-49. These and other factors have led the idiosyncratic Cycladic island to develop a character that differentiates it from its neighbours on either side, Samos and Mykonos – and indeed every other Greek island.

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Sunset at Armenistis beach

Anarchically lush, hearteningly unpretentious, and only demanding that you let go of your set expectations in order to enter its mesmeric and intrinsic flow, the island started attracting ‘alternative’ travelers in the 80s, such as bohemians and artists, who rejected the touristic paradigm emerging in Greece at the time, and who preferred to pitch tents on the beach and integrate with local life. In 2012, however, came a great shift.

Dan Buettner wrote The Island Where People Forget to Die’ in the New York Times, sharing his groundbreaking Blue Zones research with the world. Since then, people have been flocking to Ikaria from every corner of the earth, thirsty to drink from the island’s legendary fountain of youth.

The locals – among whom you will find an impressive number of rosy-cheeked centenarians – haven’t got a clue what all the fuss is about, and frankly have grown a little weary of all the media and tourist attention. They are known for what visitors describe as a ‘Zen-like spirit’; they aspire to measured, Christian Orthodox ideals that keep them living in the present, and maintain an effusive attitude (that also prizes equality between the sexes). Ikariotes are also praised for their highly self-sufficient lifestyle, vibrant social life, healthy diet, and demanding physical routine of tending to land and livestock; and they are happy to stay exactly as they are.

1. THE CELEBRATION

Panygiri of Aghios Giannis in Christos, Raches. Photo by Constantine Malpas.

If you’ve ever heard of Ikaria, then you must know the two things it’s most famous for: the longevity of its inhabitants, as announced to the world in 2012 by Blue Zones research, and its Panigyria, the all-day/all-night festivals celebrating local patron saints which attract hundreds to thousands of revelers from near and far. Wine flows free, boiled or baked goat is chomped on by the kilo, and dancers from all around the island – and even the world – link arms to dance the trance-like Ikariotikos for hours on end. Locals do love to party, but the chief objective of these events is to use the proceeds to build, renovate and mend roads, buildings, churches and schools. They take place throughout the year, but almost daily from May to October.

2. THE SPIRIT OF THE PEOPLE

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French tourists possessed by the local love of music. Photo by A. Amvrazi

One of the most appealing and special aspects of the Ikaria experience is getting to know its unique people. The islanders are often described as highly self-sufficient and physically disciplined, as they dedicate most of their day to tending their land and animals. Yet, at the same time they are bon viveurs who know how to live life to the full and completely in the present.

Although philosophically minded, creatively inclined (there is an especially resilient passion for music across the island) and definitely able to take a joke, they’re essentially simple people who are satisfied with the little they’ve got – a fruit and vegetable garden round the back of the house, a community bound by loyalty, individual independence, the ability to follow a daily rhythm that suits their reality, and long-honored equality between the sexes (a rare find in provincial Greece). They are not thirsty for money or fame, and despite being warm and welcoming to visitors, they feel no need to turn their island into a polished tourist destination that changes to accommodate other’s needs. And ironically, this characteristic only serves to make them more alluring.

3. THE FOOD AND WINE

Photo by Constantine Malpas

Authentic, pure, organic, seasonal and straight from the garden is how Ikarian cuisine can best be defined, as throughout the island locals grow fresh produce in great abundance, while the wild “rasko” goats roam free, feeding on wild greens. Goat meat, milk and cheese are all staple foods, while in the coastal areas such as Armenistis, Nas and Evdilos you can stop for a bite of seafood with a view. The capital, Aghios Kirykos, and the Fournoi islands across from it are best for lobster. There are three wineries producing quality, award-winning wines on the island.

All located in very scenic spots, they offer a great excuse for a relaxed wine-tasting tour, although at most places you stop to eat, and particularly at local festivals, you will most probably be sampling the potent (15 percent alcohol content) red hima (non-bottled, locally produced) wine. In recent years a handful of restaurants on Ikaria have started serving more modern and creative dishes, often with exciting results, but overall the food is traditional and simple.

Local specialties include soufiko, the pan-fried Ikarian rendition of briam (Greek ratatouille); spongy, white kathoura goat cheese and giant zucchini. Wild herbs are added to all dishes and brewed as tea (water mint or fliskouni being a popular choice), lashings of olive oil on everything and common use of excellent, medicinal honey (white heather, pine tree, thyme, strawberry tree).

4. THE NATURAL VARIETY AND ABUNDANCE
Mostly blanketed in thick, verdant foliage throughout the year, predominately mountainous Ikaria is a delight to explore on foot or by car. Mapped walks in Natura 2000 areas such as the 25km Ikaria on Foot circuit trail immerse you in the beauty of gorges such as Halaris, with emerald-green lakes, cool steams, lush forests, waterfalls and paved donkey paths.

There are also several organized botanical tours (Ikaria has 1,100 endemic plant species) and food-foraging walks along the island’s paths, led by experienced local guides. Ikaria has also been named an important bird area: keen birdwatchers can enjoy spotting the peregrine falcon, Bonelli’s eagle and, closer to the coast, the sea raven, among other species. The rare lizard species Lacerta oertzeni and Stellagama stellio (or korkofylas to the locals) can also be found here. For aquatic pleasures, beaches like Nas, Faros, Seychelles and Armenistis are the most popular due to their invigorating crystal waters and aesthetic allure.

5. THE CURATIVE SPRINGS

Ikaria’s eight hot springs, which are said to be among the most radioactive in the world (but all very safe), have since ancient times been lauded for their curative properties that help treat rheumatic, skin, gynecological, respiratory and neurological ailments. The springs at Therma, Aghios Kirykos, Lefkada and Aghia Kyriaki have attracted visitors for millennia. In ancient times the people of Therma were called Asclepians after the god of healing Asclepios, while near Therma some ruins of the ancient city can be explored underwater.

Modern health tourism based around the island’s radium-rich springs started blossoming in the 1920s and remains popular, with organized spas, hotels and hydrotherapy pools offering sessions in the water combined with massage and more. Talking of springs, Ikaria is also known for its “immortal water,” a cold spring near the village of Xylosyrtis that is thought to be beneficial for treating kidney ailments.

Article By Alexia Amvrazi, as first published in Kathimerini’s Taxidia magazine.

Goat herd gathering milk to make kathoura cheese, Ikaria’s mozarella-like staple.