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Finding bliss on a Greek island > Skyros September 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.

The games people play on the Greek island of Skyros have nothing to do with fitness, stamina or winning medals. Instead, they’re all about conquering your fears, freeing your spirit and having the sort of fun you probably haven’t enjoyed since you were a small kid.

Skyros is a tiny dot in the Aegean sea. Bypassed by most backpackers on the island hopping route, it retains a kind of gentle, old-fashioned charm which is a definite drawcard. But that’s not why some people come here. Every two weeks over the summer months, and now also in winter, scores of people come searching for something far more potent: the secret of how to enjoy life.

Skyros contains Europe’s oldest holistic holiday centre. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the sea, the Skyros Centre celebrates its 27th birthday this year. Speaking as one who’s been to the Skyros centres in Greece, I think they should come with a caution: “Warning! This holiday could seriously change your life.” It’s serious fun. Uplifting, joyful, raucous fun. The sort that makes you want to kiss waiters, dance on tables, run naked into the sea.

I balked at the naked swimming, but there was plenty of dancing, and even a spot of very nice kissing. I also rolled down a hillside, plunging through scraggy gorse bushes and smelly goat droppings, laughing hysterically alongside Marina, an English lawyer in her 30s. When we reached the bottom, we both wanted to rush back up and do it again.

It’s easy to see why people are tempted to go. The Skyros brochure is crammed with courses run by experienced and sometimes famous tutors. Creative options like poetry, film-making, or short story writing fill up quickly, especially when names like Margaret Drabble, Steven Berkoff and Louis de Berniere run them. You can strut your stuff at a salsa class, try your hand at wood carving, practise clowning, jewellery making, singing and cooking.

The next day I’m horrified to find myself putting my initials firmly next to the Understanding Relationships course. The next two weeks are a revelation as I begin to shift old patterns and dump excess baggage that has weighed me down for years.

Our facilitator is an experienced family therapist who leads us towards greater self-awareness and self-acceptance. It’s powerful stuff (a box of tissues never lasts long) but we laugh as much as we cry and the friendships we forge are a source of lasting support.

The Singing For The Scared class has people harmonising like professionals; the phrase “sing to your heart’s content” suddenly makes perfect sense. I attend a couple of Greek classes, skip them when I’ve learnt how to order a glass of wine, and no-one minds. It’s up to you how much you want to join in.

This isn’t advertised as a singles holiday, but of the 26 of us there’s only one couple. Women outnumber men, and our ages range from early 20s to mid 60s. There’s a wonderful assumption at Skyros that anyone can do anything.

Accommodation is shared (unless you pay a single supplement) and it turns out to be better than expected. As for food, think yourself lucky if all you gain is 5kg. It’s freshly prepared, and there’s lots of it. Breakfast and lunch are taken in the courtyard, seated beneath the shade of an old pomegranate tree, with sweeping views towards the ocean. At night we all get together for a meal in one of the local tavernas, and we’re hard-pressed to spend more than $20 each, no matter how much we eat or drink.

We all discover we have hidden talents, and they’re evident on the last night when people sing, dance, read poetry and perform in a light-hearted cabaret that marks the end of an astonishing two weeks.

One of the last things we’re encouraged to do is write a letter to ourselves, which the staff promise to post six weeks later. Mine is sitting in front of me as I write. “Dear Me,” it says. “I never knew therapy could be so much fun.”

Where to stay: Overnight in Athens on Friday night is at the Dorian Inn Hotel. Travel to the island next day by coach and ferry. Accommodation on Skyros is pre-allocated and shared with one other. Contact: www.skyros.com for details.

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