Hidden gems


Peloponnese, Greece


Words by Marta Ghelma*

Just a few kilometres from modern Sparta and nestled in the forests of Mount Taigeto on slopes  once inhabited by the ancient city of Mistra in the southern Peloponnese, the Euphoria Retreat is a refuge for body and soul.

I arrived from Athens airport after a car journey of only about two and a half hours, yet after just a few days I left with the sense that I had made a very long pilgrimage, both literally and within myself. Perhaps it was the fragrant scent of herbs that filled the spring air, the wild yet soft landscapes that are characteristic of the foothills of the Mani (the rugged central Peloponnese  peninsula), or for the totally unexpected existence of a place far removed from Athens yet so cosmopolitan. But from the first moment I set foot in Euphoria, I sensed that this timeless spot was unique.

Un giro tra interni ed esterni di Euphoria

Just like its creator. Marina Efraimoglou has a magnetic energy that seems to embody the archetypal powerful female figures of Greek mythology. Yet there is a gentleness in her eyes that immediately recalls the more traditional Hellenic sense of xenìa (hospitality). Listening to her story, you begin to understand why. The eldest of five children, in her previous life Marina was a hugely successful young entrepreneur with  a brilliant career in the banking sector; she was even named ‘Businessperson of the Year’ in 2000. The lightbulb moment came at the age of twenty-nine with   the sudden onset of painful illness followed by long, tough periods of treatment meaning that she had to start over: from high finance to well-being, two opposing universes and a dream realized through gratitude. Thanks to meeting her spiritual mentor Mary Vandaorou, and with the same determination that led her finally back to health, Marina Efraimiglou opened the doors to her Euphoria Retreat in 2018. It was the result of in-depth research and years of personal experience of  destinations dedicated to holistic wellbeing and therapies.

Un tuffo nelle piscine di Euphoria

In storied Mistra, this place with an almost magnetic power, Marina and Mary have developed their ‘methodos’ (‘the way’ in ancient Greek) to attain ‘euphoria’ (happiness or she or he who brings goodness, also in ancient Greek). They have drawn on a combination of philosophies and practices from Chinese, Indian and Ancient Greek medicines dating from the 6th and 5th centuries BC,  conceived by the exceptional minds of Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha,  and also through researching the texts of Ayurveda and the writings of Socrates, Plato and Hippocrates.

The Euphoria methodos, which pervades every activity and experience at the retreat (from massage treatments to yoga, from reiki to acupuncture and Qui Gong and also the healthy cuisine inspired by the 3Gl Plus therapy of nutrition guru George Leon), is based on rebalancing the five fundamental elements, each associated with the seasons and the clients’organs, functions and meridians – the Yin and Yang. The primordial energy of Water, the growth potential of Wood, the completion power of Fire, the rooted qualities of Earth and the ability to let go of Metal, the focus here is all on rebalancing. I, for example, had to work on the Wood element in particular, to regain physical and mental elasticity, and during my personalized programme, I had one of the most effective and energizing massages of my life from the skilled hands of therapist Athena. This signature treatment is called ‘Sanctuary for busy minds’ and as the name suggests, it is geared towards those of us who think too much. And once I came round from my dreamy massage, right there on that narrow bed, I promised myself that I would return to Euphoria for one of the many retreats that are programmed each year; maybe for the not-to-be-missed Odysseus Journey, an internal voyage leading participants to discover, through the five elements, his or her own Ithaca or, better still, the ultimate goal, the meaning of one’s own existence. But always with the adventures of Ulysses in mind of course!   

Aside from the indoor pool where you can hear the ‘singing’ of dolphins, or the scented garden filled with aromatic flowers and herbs, what struck me most forcefully was the peaceful, magical setting ideal for walks along paths that wind through the woods, both within and well beyond  the retreat. Last but not least, there is the enveloping comfort of the rooms and suites with their monastic feel and Byzantine-style furnishings; you will be hoping that this journey never ends.

And if, like me, you have made the effort to reach this remote corner of the Peloponnese, regardless of whether you are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth or Metal, you will be among those who understand  that Greece is not all about beautiful beaches. It is an ancient land rich in history and myth that can inspire us all to live better in the present in an on-going balance between Homeric wisdom, comedy and tragedy and Dionysian outbursts. It is precisely this that Marina Efraimoglou wanted to do at her retreat: share her adventure and accompany those of us who are taking their first steps down the road to Euphoria.

*Marta Ghelma, travel journalist. From a degree in Philosophy to travelling as a philosophy of life, for more than 20 years she has been travelling the world in search of stories and places to tell: countries near or far, backpacking or walking among the ‘stars’, there is always something to learn.

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