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Skyros Blog

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Firstly, I must introduce myself. I am male, middle-aged, a scientist/engineer and a washed-up triathlete. On the face of it, not very exciting, and certainly not the 'usual suspect' for someone holidaying at Atsitsa. In fact, why am I even writing this account? Well, the honest reason is simply because I had such an unexpectedly good time that I feel compelled to share the experience and spread the word to other skeptics. I guess there is a danger that excessive publicity could damage this hidden gem, but I think it is worth the risk.

I found out about Atsitsa because I am married to an employee of the company, which may make this 'independent account' appear biased. However, the holiday was chosen voluntarily, paid for by myself and was approached with a highly skeptical mind. Prior to going, the typical comment from work colleagues was along the lines of: "wow, that's unlike you, sounds like a commune of hippies!” Well, 2016 has been a challenging year at work and I wondered whether these cynics were the best judges. Anyway, it was time to take the plunge into the crystal clear and sparkling waters of the Aegean and immerse myself in a Skyros holiday at Atsitsa.

The transfer to the island from Athens was by turboprop and only took about half an hour: the stunning views of the coast and lesser islands in the Sporades made the trip a pleasure. The transfer by coach to Atsitsa was of similar duration and was an opportunity to appreciate the remoteness of this island that sets itself apart from most traditional Greek holidays offered by mainstream tour operators. On arrival, my immediate impression was the beauty and tranquility of the setting. I have seen many beautiful places in my time and they do not get much better than this!

We were welcomed to Atsitsa with local wine and given a brief spiel by Mike, the centre manager, with the main introduction saved for the following morning when we were less tired. We were allocated our accommodation and then tucked into a hearty meal of traditional Greek food, with vegetarian and gluten free options. Marvelous!

The accommodation at Atsitsa is either in the main building, which resembles a taverna, or is in a single room construction located in the grounds, which is best described as a hut. I was staying in the latter. My initial reaction was mild alarm: it was basic and many people who are used to all-inclusive luxury (like me) may find this retreat to nature one-step too far. With hindsight, my advice is 'just go with it' - this accommodation actually enhances the Atsitsa experience. It breaks down barriers between strangers, creating a community spirit and immerses you in the natural world. This holiday is about escaping the trappings of your usual life and not about superficial material happiness.

After breakfast the following morning we gathered for our welcome introduction. With the threat of 'group games' in the 'Magic Circle' I began to fear the worst: perhaps my work colleagues were right and I was due to be indoctrinated into the commune. I need not have feared; the 'games' did not single people out and were just a mild way of putting people at ease, with the potential of kick-starting a few friendships. One striking observation was that that nearly everyone was there without a partner. I think this aspect of leaving your normal life behind for a week is what gives a Skyros holiday its unique feeling of liberation and relaxation. This is key to a great holiday, whether you are a high flying executive, or someone in need of briefly stepping off the bus of life to recover and repair.

The main purpose of the meeting was to introduce the 'facilitators', who gave five minute sales pitches on their courses. They were, without exception, all lovely people and were full of smiles, positivity and not the least bit judgmental. Being a scientist I found this very refreshing. I am quite reserved and most of the courses put me completely out of my depth and my comfort zone. Despite this, the facilitators left me feeling, 'Yeah, what the heck, I'll give it a go. What's the worst thing that can happen?!!' Many of the courses had 'dip in' options, which meant that you could try them casually, without committing to the full duration. This was a nice idea and encouraged first timers. I opted for yoga, massage and visual art, while also choosing swimming and windsurfing, for more familiar territory. Courses are all optional and there is absolutely no pressure to participate - but you would be crazy not to.

I found all of the courses fun and for all different reasons. The most 'scary' sessions ended up by being the most memorable and entirely for good reasons. Being male and an engineer the facilitators tended to find me a novelty member of each group and took it as a challenge and an obligation to make me feel relaxed, happy and fulfilled in whatever they taught me. I learned to windsurf in a methodical and safe way, in a stunning natural environment, and, despite swimming for many years, learnt that my leg kick was actually slowing me down. If you enjoy open water swimming in crystal clear safe water, or jogging through pine scented forests to bird song, then it does not get much better.

The evenings were also highly entertaining, with different themes each night, from star gazing to cabaret. Very soon I began to make friends and, by far, this is the best holiday I have ever been on for meeting a diverse range of interesting people. This alone, made the holiday special. Every time I met people around the site they were smiling. The hypnotic beauty and relaxation of Atsitsa is infectious.

I finished the week chilled, recharged and committed to re-evaluating the priorities in my life. Atsitsa is a very special place and I am already thinking about a return. Forget your usual bland holiday experience this year and try a Skyros holiday - I dare you!


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