If, like me, you have a fascination with both ancient civilisations and exercising in the great outdoors, then you’ll immediately understand why I was so excited to head to the Peloponnese peninsula for a week of training like a Spartan warrior at the Euphoria spa resort in the sleepy village of Mystras, Greece. After all, this new offering from Euphoria makes perfect sense as ancient Sparta was home to some legendary heroes including Achilles, Odysseus and King Leonidas, famously played by Gerard Butler and his abs in the film “300”. It was also home to the legendary beauty, Helen of Troy before she started the Trojan War by running off with Paris, when she was known as, well, just Helen. In short, I was here to train like a Spartan warrior then relax like a Spartan Queen!
Chances are you may have already heard of Euphoria because, in the world of luxury wellness, it is very much seen as the new kid on the holistic retreat block. It is making its mark with both guests and press alike and on first impressions, it was not hard to see why. Aside from the carefully considered guest journey which boasts an incredible list of wellness programs, outstanding food, and attentive staff who pirouette around you with subtle precision, the idyllic location lends a sense of history that careful planning alone could not possibly have been responsible for. Or can it? As it turns out Euphoria’s placement in Mystras is no accident. Situated in a valley between two mountain ranges and in the shadow of neighbouring spirits in the Byzantium hilltop castle, it has a vibe that transports you back to a time before mobile phones, social media, industrialised farming and 24-hour news channels. It was this intangible feeling that first attracted the hotel’s owner Marina Efraimoglou, who has her own inspirational and life-changing journey to share, because after a successful battle with cancer felt compelled to share the magic of the region. The result was a harmonious 5-star retreat that is shaped and enhances the surrounding landscape rather than a hotel that clumsily tramples on all that came before.
And I am so glad she chose this circular path to development. Once I’d settled in, it was so easy to disconnect from 21st-century life and reconnect with nature. Not only because of the sights and sounds but also the smells. During the day, there is a distinct flavour of ripe oranges in citrus groves, hanging low on surrounding trees, waiting to be rescued and enjoyed. By evening these scents have given way to roses, jasmine, honeysuckle and wild chamomile. More than just a general air of freshness, it was the aromatic manifestation of serenity itself.
Once I had been suitably stripped of modern distractions, it was time to get physical, Spartan style. The aim of the Spartan fitness programme is tone up under the same skies that Greek warriors once did. Although Euphoria has a state of the art gym, all the training takes place outdoors and utilises the region in a way that is both enjoyable, fascinating and seriously challenging. The workouts hail from a time when there were no such things as dumbbells, squat racks or treadmills – Spartans had nothing except their body weight and nature to train them. Today, we call it HIIT, fartlek, or interval training and they were living proof that it works because Spartan warriors were true physical specimens praised for both their military prowess, their steadfast focus and their ability to reach maximum physical and mental strength. That was how I wanted this program to make me feel by the end of the week, and it did not disappoint. For those expecting a walk in the park, be warned, this is a serious workout and not for the faint of heart.
DAY 1: Getting back to nature
Our trainer Vassilus started the week off by taking us hiking in the majestic forest that envelopes Euphoria, all the while incorporating functional exercise, sprints, wall step-ups, and bench push-ups. We finished the session off with circuits on the roof of the hotel which overlooks the valley. Thankfully, when training like a warrior, recovery is key and no better place to do that than the hotel’s unique concept spa. Grand archways mimic the tomb of Atreus and it is apparent that the hotel’s architects have spent time and thought re-creating the surrounding history. The spa is focused on physical and mental health, weaving the 5 elements – earth, fire, wood, water, and metal into the layout and treatments. A tepidarium hosts a number of hot options, as the name would suggest, including a giant-sized hammam where you get the full Mediterranean experience of being scrubbed, pummelled and soaked. If you can bear it, a few minutes in the icy plunge pool is sure to ease any aches and pains and if the idea of that fills you with dread, just think back to how Spartans felt when bathing in the local rivers.
DAY 2: Are you not entertained?
On our second day, we get an early warrior wake up call and jump on our bikes for a 5km cycle through the surrounding countryside to a nearby Amphitheatre – constructed in the classical style – for an intense HIIT session. Needless to say, stairs were the order of the day, and once the sun had risen to its highest point, it was time to retreat once again to the sanctity of the spa for another afternoon of recuperation. In addition to the treatments laid out as part of the programme, there was ample opportunity to explore this haven where body, mind, and soul are able to recover in a variety of inventive ways including an infrared sauna, a Himalayan salt room, an experiential shower and a truly unique swimming pool where whale sounds echo under the water.
DAY 3: This rocks!
The rugged surroundings of the Peloponnese region are laden with towering mountains with steep faces, so on day three, climbing them was our fear to confront. As we approached the rocky incline, the realisation of what was about to unfold hit me like a ton of bricks. Ervin the instructor held his magic bag full of climbing paraphernalia and my first question was “How long have you been climbing?”. His reply “since the age of 14” put me at ease and I realised that trust was implicit if this day was to be enjoyable. And trust in him I did. His steady hands and calm voice of experience helped me to manoeuvre the intricacies of the imposing rock face. Even though I was completely shivering in my climbing shoes, I imagined the soldiers of old scampering up, rope-free, with no other choice but to survive it – with core strength being key. This was a true workout both physically and mentally leaving me with strong abs and an even stronger mind.
DAY 4: A day at the beach
By day four, my warrior butt was understandably worn out, but Spartan soldiers are made of sterner stuff and so without delay, we were once again on the march. The day’s battleground was a private beach in the beautiful seaside town of Gytheio, an ancient Roman trading port. However, beach lazing was not a soldier’s pastime and the team had strategically laid out a plethora of equipment along the golden sand for an intense hour-long circuit session. Beach sprints, fitness balls, ladder runs and push-ups, with a view of the Ionian sea, were the order of the morning before taking shelter under the gazebo for an aerial yoga session. For the uninitiated, aerial yoga utilises a suspended cloth hammock that allows for a unique and playful workout that combines gymnastics, gravity, and guffaws. Stretching had never felt so fun as I found myself upside down and inside out.
DAY 5: Mountaintop temple
There was a switch on the final day of exercise with a pre-breakfast hike up to the Byzantium-era castle, followed by one-on-one mediation and then a late afternoon trip to a hilltop temple dedicated to the ancient Greek King Menelaus for a circuits session. The sunset was spectacular, more so because of the dust that kicked up from a tough workout which included: sprints, tyre flipping, TRX, resistance band-work and bodyweight circuits that pushed me to my limit. My clothes were filthy but my head felt clear and I was truly grateful for the chance to reconnect with nature. As with the excursions and training sessions, the location felt unerringly appropriate… King Menelaus had after all once started a war to win back his wife, the aforementioned Helen, and by the time the sun finally set on my adventure week I also felt in conquering spirits.
DAY 6: Aaaaaaand relax…
My final day at Euphoria was spent lounging by the pool, enjoying the food and recovering at the spa. At the spa’s core is a Rapunzel-esque tower that starts at the bottom with a Kneipp pool, complete with a moon reflection for added inspiration. The idea being that each flight of stairs represents entering a new stage of calm through the 5 elements. By the time you get to the top you should have left your worries behind. And that is exactly what I did. Somehow being immersed in the true spirit of fitness, surrounded by nature, breathing clean air infused with a citrus grove aroma – I felt victorious about life, my soul had lifted and I was even a few pounds lighter. No matter where you go in the world to train, you will never have the authenticity of a Spartan adventure, than in Sparta! Like a true Spartan warrior, I felt invincible.
Reasons to go: If you enjoy fitness and have a love for nature, history, Greek mythology and outdoor activities like hiking, interval training, cycling, rock climbing, and swimming and if you want to gain the core strength of King Leonidas, all the while being immersed in unspoiled surroundings. Euphoria has utilised the locality with a unique and fun way to get fit.
Photos by: Julian Okines
For more information about Euphoria click here