You don’t think of Greece without dreaming of the deep blue Aegean, Mediterranean, or Ionian seas and their white-sand beaches, but drive two and a half hours outside of Athens to the Peloponnese and you will discover a very different kind of Greek immersion, an ancient one. In the mountains above the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mystras, a mythical village near Sparta, is Euphoria Retreat (euphoriaretreat.com), a holistic well-being destination spa at the base of a witches’ forest.
“Wellness is an empty word,” says owner and founder Marina Efraimoglou, “but well-being is living well, having values, having morality. It’s ‘well’ at all levels.” According to Efraimoglou, “euphoria” in Greek means that which brings wealth, which in turn translates to happiness. “It’s not the same as in the English translation of being in a euphoric state,” she explains. Yet intense excitement and happiness are among the many feelings guests experience when visiting this magical property surrounded by pine trees and olive groves, having connected that much more to their spiritual side.
There is an energy to the place that’s not New Age or woo-woo. Even the decor doesn’t scream it; you won’t find a Buddha or Ganesha statue anywhere on the property. “I wanted to create a place that would allow things to just happen,” says Efraimoglou. “For some, it won’t. But for the huge majority, it does. We are located at the foothills of Mount Taygetus, which was once a natural healing place. On morning energy walks it can get very intense in the forest. It’s the ancient women healers—they’re very much attuned to the earth and when we appear they start healing.”
Whether or not you believe in ancient mysticism, Euphoria does offer a unique blend of East meets West, Hellenic medicine with traditional Chinese practices, and science with naturalism. Yoga sessions, for example, are based on the five elements of nature assigned to a day of the week: Monday is water; Tuesday, wood; Wednesday, fire; Thursday, earth; Friday, metal. Body movements during yoga follow the day’s particular element, which appear in various activities, such as the Five Element Dance, a class guests can take on its own or as part of a three-day retreat program.
Retreats at Euphoria vary in focus and intensity. “Most retreats include workshops that take many months to prepare,” says Efraimoglou, “but I love doing them.” Efraimoglou personally conducts certain retreats, as she did for years prior to opening Euphoria, when she also worked as a banker. “For me, as Marina, a lot of my days are spent in business, but I love my other side. I am more centered doing the retreats. I also grow from them.”
The retreats she conducts with her spiritual guide and dear friend, Mary, are more advanced and offered at different levels of intensity for deeper work. There are also fitness retreats like the Spartan Spirit of Adventure, conducted by Euphoria’s trainers. “Those take guests outdoors to an amphitheater that used to be the mythical home of King Menelaus of Sparta and Helen of Troy. We train them like the ancient Spartans, but with bikes, TRX, HIIT, a multitude of things. It’s fun,” says Efraimoglou. “The retreats Mary and I do are emotional and spiritual,” the most popular being Feel Alive Again, which was inspired by the experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. “People were too much in lockdown and hesitant to go back to living,” she says. “There was so much embedded fear.” The retreat begins by exploring fear, then sadness and loss, through meditation and journaling, and also wearing masks that represent anxiety and any other emotion being felt.
“On the second day, we totally shift energies and start the morning with the Five Elements Dance to get in lots of movement in different ways,” she explains. “We have a treasure hunt, exploring our inner child. And then we start creating a mandala vision board to really start planning our lives, but also including the uncertainty in our lives. By the last day, the energy has really picked up. That’s why we call it ‘Feel Alive.’” Next, Efraimoglou is creating a retreat about the archetypes of ancient gods, combining mythology and the five elements with modern psychology. “It’s very exciting,” she says, smiling. Each retreat has a maximum of eight participants to keep the experience small and effective.
Retreats, of course, are a small part of everything Euphoria has to offer, from its indoor sphere pool with a Byzantine dome and soothing marine sounds to its nutrition counseling program offering personalized meal plans to all the amenities that one could want in a four-floor spa facility. So, although the beach is a 40-minute drive away and the hotel car will take you there by request for a day excursion, “we took it out of the official program,” says Efraimoglou. “Guests don’t want to leave once they arrive. People know what they’re coming here for.”