Self-improvement isn’t just achieved in the office or the gym. Discover ways to expand your mind through the people you meet and the places you visit. Seek out enlightenment in a myriad of ways on the Greek islands of Crete and Corfu with their intoxicating mix of pastoral life, ancient secrets and talented craftspeople.
The Greek world was once home to the greatest minds in philosophy, from Plato and Socrates to Zeno of Citium and Epicurus. Their teachings were based around journeys of discovery – of themselves and the world around them. Thus, the Greek isles seem like a good place to start your own voyage of enlightenment. But it’s not simply enough to visit a destination; you need to learn new skills and improve your state of mind to truly reap the benefits of a new culture and scene.
Across the bright islands of Crete and Corfu – two places steeped in mythology and imbued with a peaceful purity – you can absorb new ways of living well in one of four Domes Resorts. The healing powers of natural waters and herbs, an education on local trade and new sensations will leave you feeling impassioned and inspired.
One ancient Greek philosopher who was wise to the curative powers of the world was Hippocrates. He was the first to document the benefits of the spa, saying that “the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day”.
The relaxing therapies at the on-site Soma Spa at Domes of Elounda in Crete follow this ethos by mixing ancient Greek methods and botanical extracts native to the island, such as chamomile and lavender, which reduce anxiety and sooth the nervous system.
Its programme includes a thermae experience inspired by the bathing rituals practised in the Bronze Age palaces of Crete. During the treatment you dip into a frigidarium (cold pool), a laconium (sauna) and a tepidarium (warm room) – the tingling sensation as your skin is exposed to various temperatures is life-enhancing, increasing blood circulation and reducing muscle tension.
Indulging in the wellness methods pioneered by the island’s royal ancestors is an inimitable way to connect with your surroundings, and the floor-to-ceiling windows offer a rare private glimpse to the rolling hills and calm waters on the horizon.
The Mediterranean-style architecture of the resort, from the terracotta suites to the private luxury villas, mirrors the architecture on the uninhabited fortress island of Spinalonga, which it overlooks. Its interiors are warm, bright and breezy, and feature flourishes such as basket chairs hanging dreamily from the ceiling for extended relaxation.
The island’s unmistakable ambience oozes from every corner of the resort, from the carefully chosen furnishings down to the new multifunctional lifestyle hub, The Core, which blends culture with gastronomy and hosts interactive installations such as the contemporary art exhibition ‘Greek Monsters’ by design group Beetroot.
One of the most intimate ways to connect with the island has to be through tasting its native crops. The best place to do this is in Kritsa, an ancient village built into the foothills of the Lassithi mountains, to join in a traditional pastry-making class.
Led by members of the local women’s cooperative you will learn about the processes of traditional Cretan pie- making with fresh ingredients, while gaining an insight into the lives of the bakers. Spending the day with these women makes for a humbling and heartwarming experience, from which you’ll not just take recipes, but stories and friendship.
Some of the best experiences come from local know-how, the kind of insight you can only get from actually living in a place. A visit to the Vassilakis Estate, home to the rare mouratolia olive, takes you beyond the shops and museums and into real Cretan life.
Olive oil has been made here by the same family for four generations and they know all the secrets behind the extraction process – starting from the moment the fruit is plucked from the tree, and finishing with a tasting of the golden elixir that runs through the veins of the nation’s cuisine.
Not only will a visit here benefit the local economy and support local farmers, it will boost your health. The fruit – which is prepared using a time-honoured family recipe that includes sea salt, pure rainwater, local red wine vinegar, bay laurel and rosemary – is loaded with powerful antioxidants, proven to reduce heart disease and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Elounda’s younger sister, Domes Noruz Chania, basks in the sunny north-west of the island. The adults-only retreat is bedecked with sleek, ottoman-style furnishings and natural hues that inspire feelings of calm throughout, while lavender scented walkways, expert wellness workshops and functional training areas with the latest equipment make it practically impossible to feel stressed out. Before you get too comfortable though, leave some time to take in the local sites. Improve your mood and your fitness with a hiking trip through the epic Samariá Gorge National Park surrounded by the rocky limestone ravines of the White Mountains to feel the magnitude of nature, even in this small part of the world.
A safari (yes, in Crete!) takes you to the places and people few have the privilege of encountering; you’ll be chauffeured by a knowledgeable local guide and embark on a vineyard tour and wine tasting, before a traditional Cretan lunch with locals up in the mountains. The highlight of this exhilarating expedition takes you further into the wild, where shepherds live and work for nine months of the year. What better way to take stock of your own pace of life and comprehend the island’s identity than to meet those still living in its most remote areas?
Be one of the first to experience the intimate hideaway of Domes Zeen Chania, which opened less than a year ago and is located even closer to the centre of Chania than Noruz. Named after the Greek concept of ‘ef zeen’ (which means the art of living well), it nestles so harmoniously between the bushy hills and sandy beaches that it almost looks like it has sprung up of its own accord. It is decorated with rich wood, wicker furnishings and long communal tables, and is home to the Jungle Spa, an open-air temple of wellness and beauty. Its village feel and natural resources create a feeling of being at one with the lush Grecian surroundings.
With lavish villas and spacious bungalows, it’s all about family here. You can use the range of cars, scooters and bicycles to your heart’s content and ride out to the ancient city of Chania, home to stories and secrets yet to be discovered. Children have just as much to look forward to, with the kids’ club offering sleepovers in a teepee – a rare chance to shake off the excesses of modern life and have a good old-fashioned adventure. Such proximity to the natural world will open up your children’s eyes to its wonders and give them a taste of bucolic freedom.
Within this, they will be taught hands-on about conservation and be introduced to local endangered species for an education that will last a lifetime. They can also get their hands dirty with a private workshop on the ancient art of ceramics, an afternoon of simple clay-filled fun.
This adults-only retreat was formerly owned by the Onassis family,and was frequented in the sixties by Jackie O and the jet set – its decor still flirts with the swinging era that will forever remain a colourful part of its past. The resort encourages you to immerse yourself in the isle’s enchanting culture. Within an area full of burgeoning family-run businesses, getting to know the locals on a stay here can teach you lessons you’ll be unable to find in a classroom.
Wander around the Patounis Soap Factory with Mr Patounis himself, the fifth generation of the family, whose welcoming and friendly disposition will provide a truly special insight into this listed monument of industrial heritage. The family has been producing soap from olive products in this charming old workshop since 1850 with tools and equipment dating as far back as 1891. Watch as the soap is marked, stamped and cut by hand, and walk away with a little keepsake that will leave your skin feeling cleansed, soothed and moisturised. Broadening your horizons and your awareness of other cultures brings acceptance and understanding – plus, you can also pick up some bars for the laundry too, with a few insider tips from the family on how to achieve the best results.
Awaken your senses some more with the unique menu at the Ambelonas Estate vineyard – owner and avid cook Vasiliki Karounou does an outstanding job of reflecting Greek culture and food in her restaurant. Prosciutto is cured locally and provides a deep, smokey taste you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Goats cheese is coupled with spicy figs; sweet orange salad is seasoned with hot paprika and sea salt; and chicken is cooked with wild greens, mallow and sorrel. Under Karounou’s expert guidance you can learn how to rustle up these succulent dishes yourself, surrounded by epic panoramic views of the island.
Domes Resorts has created a powerful sense of place in each of its hotels by entwining the history of the islands and their artisans with its exceptional hospitality. Zeno of Citium also declared that ‘happiness is a good flow of life’, and nowhere does this resonate more strongly than at a Domes Resort. Feel invigorated by the people you meet, their secrets and family recipes; absorb the benefits of nature through local ingredients and wild herbs; and take in the healing powers of ancient traditions.