A new spa retreat in the foothills of Greece’s Taygetos Mountains blends Hellenic and Chinese healing philosophies to transform mind, body and soul.
In Ancient Greece, ailing and weary pilgrims would flock to therapeutic healing centres, or Asclepeions, in search of spiritual and physical rejuvenation. Often found in areas of awe-inspiring natural beauty, the temples – built to honour the god of medicine – centred around purification, with treatment involving a series of cleansing baths and a detoxifying diet before recuperation in a dream chamber, where a visit from the Divine Physician himself would cure the affliction. The belief that wellbeing not only concerns physical health but that of the mind, body and soul was surely ahead of its time, and it’s this holistic approach that is at the heart of Euphoria Retreat.
Nestled in the foothills of the Taygetos Mountains amongst dense plantations of pine and cypress, the destination spa is located in the Byzantine village of Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its imposing medieval castle. It is the vision of Marina Efraimoglou, an ex-banker whose battle with cancer compelled her to reassess her life.
“Euphoria Retreat represents my personal journey of transformation,” she explains. “I wanted to create a place where people with similar needs could feel at home, and be nurtured and guided on their own personal journey to a more holistic, socially aware and spiritually satisfying way of life.”
Having retrained in Chinese medicine and developed a fascination with the Five Elements, Efraimoglou made the leap and dedicated her life to the practice. “As well as beginning my work in transformational healing by leading workshops and retreats, I visited many healing places and spas around the world. Each time I was filled with ideas and inspiration, but also the feeling that something was missing, not so much in the amenities and treatments, but in the soul of the place,” she continues. “I discovered that the answer lay in my Greek heritage. Ancient Greek philosophers viewed life as joyful, sensual and full of exciting potential for growth and discovery.”
It took a decade for Efraimoglou to find the right site for her project, and a huge investment in time and resource to bring it to life. The result however is standout, combining world-class design, facilities and programming for a truly transformational experience.
“Euphoria uniquely blends ancient Hellenic and Chinese healing philosophies and practices, allowing you to reconnect with your inner self and achieve meaningful life change at every level – physical, emotional and spiritual,” Efraimoglou explains. “Ultimately, to become your own healer.”
The idea of self-guided transformation is central to the concept, as evidenced by the retreat’s tagline – ‘Your Life, Your Journey’. An email prior to arrival outlines spa etiquette – an alcohol-free stay is recommended, herbal teas replace coffee, and refreshingly, no mobile phones are permitted in the spa or restaurant – however Efraimoglou notes that the programme is not about sacrifice and denial, rather it encourages guests to make better decisions for their own wellbeing.
The journey begins with the design concept, in which elegant curves, archways and domes combine with a soothing palette of colour and texture to create a tranquil, almost monastic ambiance. Part-conversion, part-newbuild, the scheme has been devised by Deca Architecture – an Athens-based studio with a focus on sensory experience – and Natalia Efraimoglou & Partners, headed up by the sister of Euphoria Retreat’s founder.
In keeping with the project’s philosophy, the teams worked together to bring both Ancient Greek and Chinese elements to the mix. From the Far East, feng shui uses energy to create harmony with the surrounding environment, while yin and yang play with seeming opposite yet complementary forces, seen here in the constant interplay of light and shade. Byzantine elements have been incorporated too, with rounded arches and concentric circles making regular appearances, and colourways characteristic of the region’s rich iconography.
The scheme carries through to the lobby, library and restaurant, as well as the 45 guestrooms – some of which occupy a historic mansion dating back to the 1830s – though is at its best in the spa.
Partly below ground – owing to the belief that the body heals better when closer to the earth – the spa is spread across four levels, each with different facilities and representing a step in the transformational process. At the centre, a 25m water well with a cleansing foot bath at its base is encircled by a spiral staircase connecting the zones. The second floor houses a sauna, steam room, experience showers and an icy plunge pool, as well as a Byzantine hammam, marble tepidarium and speleotherapy salt room, while the rest of the treatment rooms are situated up on the third floor.
It’s the swimming pool however that’s the real showstopper. Inspired by Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia, widely regarded as the most spectacular example of Byzantine architecture, the dome-like sphere pool is a meditative experience that touches all the senses, with sound and light therapy extending both above and below the water’s surface, and hydro-therapy jets around the perimeter providing a deep tissue massage.
Up on the top floor of the spa, meanwhile, are two studios hosting private and group yoga classes, as well as meditation, lectures and workshops, and it’s here that guests emerge transformed having achieved physical, mental and emotional catharsis.
While some come to Euphoria Retreat for a spa break, the majority book in for a full body and mind health check, opting for one of the all-inclusive programmes that incorporate fitness, mindfulness, treatments and meal plans. There’s one for weight loss, another catering to the stresses of modern-day life, or there’s the all-encompassing seven-day Intelligent Mediterranean Metabolic Homeostasis Therapy, which sets you on the path of full physical, emotional and spiritual transformation. In addition to the signature therapies, this programme also offers the services of an on-site medical team, who carry out blood tests, body scans, nutritional analyses and biofeedback profiling to create a truly personalised experience.
Since opening, Euphoria Retreat has already scooped a handful of awards, and made the shortlist in the Spa category for AHEAD Europe, the results of which will be announced in the coming weeks. But as Efraimoglou points out, this isn’t a hotel with a spa, rather a spa retreat in which every aspect of health and wellbeing is considered; there’s little else like it.
Words: Catherine Martin
Images: Courtesy of Euphoria Retreat
This article originally ran in Sleeper 87.