I’m mad for… Yoga and sandy-toed seclusion on Silver Island, Greece.
I’m upside down, with the silver-blue Gulf of Volos framed between my legs; Evia Island looming above my bum. Despite this inverted perspective (sea is sky and sky is sea), it’s a view that should be taking my breath away. Unfortunately, I don’t have much left after a series of punishing contortions, culminating in a shoulder stand. “Breathe,” our tattooed yogi, David Sye, reminds us, as he effortlessly holds a similarly pretzel-like pose on the clifftop yoga podium. “Let yourself experience unreasonable happiness.”
Unreasonable happiness: David’s yogic call to action asks you to let go, love and be in the moment — which also sums up my response to Greece. I’ve a deep, long-held weakness for the country. It began when I was a teen, on the pine-clad coastline of Salonika, where I was so seduced by the barefoot, penniless, sun-drenched lifestyle I’d slipped into over a summer, I almost jacked in university to live on the rooftop of a half-built apartment and work in a bar run by a grumpy Albanian. Subsequent summers of backpacking resulted in me picking up a passable use of the language and a man, whom I later married — although those two don’t go hand-in-hand: he’s Italian, not Greek.
Even if I haven’t married into the country, it’s fair to say that, to Greece and its thousands of islands, islets and rocky outcrops, I’m wed. And Silver Island — a 60-acre, olive-forested haven off the coast of Evia — is no exception. As I step off Silver Island Yoga’s little speedboat, The heady scent of wild flowers, grasses, brine and pine greets me — the signature scent of Greece. I smile up at a sunny, sandy track that leads into the interior, kick off my shoes, and I know I’m sold.
Set up in the 1960s as a ritzy private-island resort, Silver Island has lately been given a clean, green new lease of life. A one-time bolthole for actors, royals and shipping magnates, it’s been transformed into a rustic, luxury, eco-friendly yoga retreat by Lissa Christie, husband Corne and Lissa’s two sisters. This visionary Greek-South African team inherited the dilapidated island from the sisters’ father in 2006, and with help from friends, an army of volunteers and, it seems, blessings from the gods, renovated the run-down whitewash buildings, grounds, beaches and olive groves, where the girls had spent childhood summers.
The retreat opened this spring, and simple, childish pleasures are what it delivers best: a kayak trip to secret coves or in search of the resident seal; a hike to the lighthouse-crowned promontory; or a search for shells on a deserted beach. Sun-baked and sandy toed, guests pad back to the main house for meals three times a day. The sumptuous, sun-ripened veggie cuisine is served by Lissa, a former art teacher with an aesthete’s eye and a Greek mama’s flair for cooking.
Add yoga to this mix — twice a day, with a new visiting yogi each week — and you’ve the recipe for unreasonable happiness, guaranteed. Words: Sarah Barrell
More info: A six-night retreat at Silver Island Yoga costs from £950 per person, including yoga classes, full-board accommodation based on two sharing, and transfers from Evia. The nearest airport is Athens or Volos, both served by public buses to Evia. www.silverislandyoga.com
I’m mad for… Tel Aviv
There can’t be many city beaches better than Tel Aviv’s. The seafront is lively, the weather reliable, the locals are beautiful and the sea is warm, clear and, thanks to some handily placed wave-breakers, wonderfully calm. On top of this, you can walk along the coast all the way to the old port of Jaffa. Words: Glen Mutel
I’m mad for… the underground beat of Tisno, Croatia
Lazing under the pines of the rocky peninsula; ice-cold beer in hand; watching a still-scorching sun sink slowly into the gin-clear waters as blissful Balearic beats reverberate along the beach. I could be forgiven for feeling a little smug. And I’m not alone; a sea of grinning faces surround me; some with arms in the air, joyously saluting the moment, while others, heads down, shuffle their feet to a pulsating disco soundtrack.
We’re all here thanks to Manchester DJ duo Unabombers’ decision in 2008 to bring their Electric Chair club nights to a close and transfer their brand of house music from the city’s Northern Quarter to the idyllic sunshine of Croatia.
If it had seemed a rash decision at the time to their diehard fans, five years down the line they’ve been more than vindicated. With jaw-dropping sunsets, a chilled-out village vibe and some of the biggest names in electronic music, their five-day Electric Elephant (EE) festival in July attracts a devoted crowd (several hundred ‘heads’ return year-after-year) to have it semi-large on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. It’s not total debauchery by any means, with the glorious setting key to the festival’s appeal.
EE started life in the sleepy, 900-year-old fishing village of Petr?ane, which quickly became an unlikely epicentre for cutting-edge music — an Ibiza-esque hideaway, hosting a string of boutique music festivals. EE has moved a little further up the coast to the slightly larger town of Tisno, but all the founding elements are intact: relentless sunshine on a sandy bay, an exceptional roster of DJs and live acts, scenic outdoor dancefloors, raucous boat parties and, perhaps more importantly, a charming Croatian community, peppered with boats, restaurants, bars and beaches.
Nestled on a secluded bay outside the main town, the festival never feels like it’s imposing itself too much on the locals, and when it’s time to break from the partying, it’s merely a short stroll into town for some relaxed beers and an al fresco meal of grilled fish, octopus salad or Dalmatian steak — or even the lethal morning ritual of coffee and rakija (fruit brandy).
Because Tisno is situated between Zadar and Spilt, many of Croatia’s standout sights are nearby, including the waterfalls of Krka National Park, and the 150 Kornati islands. The latter archipelago’s islets and reefs make for an ideal post-festival, island-hopping day trip, with picnics and secluded sunbathing.
But the festival’s resounding highlight is the daily boat parties, which see a couple of hundred revellers setting sail for afternoons and evenings of relentless partying on the Adriatic. Voyages aboard the Argonaughty capture the essence of the festival — like-minded souls sharing a love of music and good times in a sun-soaked Mediterranean paradise. Words: Chris Peacock
More info: www.electricelephant.co.uk
Read more in the Jul/Aug 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)