I lay on my back in a darkened room, eyes closed, only a yoga mat between me and the wooden floor. A very slow progression of deep-toned, drawn-out rolling notes washed over me. The sounds reverberated – different tones, each one fading slowly away before the next began. I heard the others in the room breathing, one occasionally coughing. And I wondered what the hell I was doing here.
By the time my “sound bath” was over – an hour, I think, later – I still wasn’t sure. I have to admit it did achieve something: I relaxed. Before this session, I hadn’t slept comfortably on a hard floor since naptime in nursery school.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you spend money through an affiliate link, I will earn a small commission.
Another disclosure: I stayed at Euphoria as part of a short press trip. This means that I did not pay for my room, meals or any activities I enjoyed at the spa. Nevertheless, I have endeavored to keep this review as objective and honest as I can.
Euphoria Retreat in Mystras, Greece
I’ve been to spas before. A local one, where I sometimes go to soak in the mineral waters and enjoy a proper massage in the Swedish style. In places like Baden-Baden and Bad Ems, I’ve had similar experiences but with the added enjoyment of a historical setting.
The spa I visited recently, Euphoria Retreat in Mystras, Greece, was nothing like these: it’s a destination spa. It’s far outside my usual price range, but I’ll get to pricing later. And I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, despite my general skepticism about some of its precepts – more on that later too.
Euphoria Retreat is a “holistic wellbeing destination spa.” The intention is that guests spend at least a week there, enrolling in an individually-tailored program or a retreat package. Nevertheless, many come here just for a few days – it’s a luxurious place to stay while visiting nearby sights like the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mystras, the city of Sparta, or the breathtaking Parori gorge.
This place, with only 45 rooms, offers over-the-top luxury. While I didn’t stay the recommended week, I did sample a number of their offerings. In many ways, it’s a typical five-star hotel, with all the expected quality of rooms, dining and facilities, accompanied by excellent service. Yet this is unlike any other five-star I’ve ever seen or heard of.
We’ll start with the basics: the room and the food.
The rooms at Euphoria resort
My room at the resort was truly five-star quality. For one thing, it was quite big, and the bed was downright huge. It was, in fact, two double beds pushed together. The luxurious bedding was comfortable, and the resort had sent a pillow menu ahead of my stay for me to select from.
The night tables on either side each had a lamp and individual controls for the room’s well-designed lighting. Besides the huge bed, there was a long counter which included a desk as well as room for a coffee maker and tea kettle, with a mini-bar underneath. A full-size sofa, a large wardrobe and a coat rack completed the fittings. Sockets were plentiful: on both sides of the bed as well as on the desk.
A large private balcony faced, in one direction, the resort’s own acres of private forest. In the other direction it offered a wide view of Evrotas (Eurotas) valley below with its olive groves, citrus orchards and the village of Mystras, as well as the scenic Parnon mountain range on the far side of the valley.
Style-wise, the room was simple yet elegant in earth tones: light wooden floors underfoot, dark wood beams above, and no artwork save for a simple rendering of the resort’s logo. The bathroom was similarly simple and elegant: small square tiles in a stone color, a plain bath, and a sink in elegant marble, all very understated. Water pressure was excellent and so were the included toiletries.
My colleagues and I spent two nights and three days at the resort, leaving for sightseeing excursions, but coming back for every meal in the resort’s only restaurant: Gaia, which means “earth.” Gaia restaurant is intended to support whatever programs or retreats its guests are following.
The restaurant offers a range of dishes loosely based on a Mediterranean diet, using the same menus for lunch and dinner, or rather, two menus: a regular one and a “healthy menu.” It seemed to me that, while the “healthy menu” did indeed include many healthy items, so did the regular menu. The separate dessert menu: not so much. As much as possible, the ingredients are organic and locally grown: some in the restaurant’s own garden. Starters on the regular menu range from a garden salad at €11 to grilled octopus at €23. Main dish prices range from €18-€36. The healthy menu is cheaper, ranging from €12 for boiled greens and vegetables to €30 for grilled seabream fillet.
We ate seven lunches and dinners in total in the restaurant, and the food was excellent. Portions were small, so we generally ordered both a starter and a main. My favorite dish was a goat cheese salad which had bits of figs and a delicious honey-mustard-balsamic vinegar dressing. The unusual open lamb pie was pretty great too, and the chocolate souffle for dessert was “to die for.” I may dream about that souffle.
The dining room is simple and rather minimalistic. I preferred to eat out on the balcony, which offered stunning views of the valley and the mountains beyond. In the other direction, we could look up Mount Taygetus and see the castle of the Mystras UNESCO site looming above.
The philosophy of five elements
Its philosophy is where Euphoria Retreat diverges from the typical. The main event is the spa: the programs and retreats it offers.
Euphoria Retreat has developed its own philosophy it calls the Euphoria Methodos (Euphoria Way). The idea is that ancient healing practices – from Ancient Greek philosophy, traditional Chinese medicine and Indian spirituality – have commonalities, particularly their emphasis on nature and on achieving harmony.
The Euphoria ethos favors the Greek view, where living well is the priority, and harmony can be achieved by using a range of ancient healing practices. They’ve consolidated the different threads into a “theory of five elements,” namely water, wood, fire, earth and metal. “So by harnessing the primal energy of Water, the potential for growth of Wood, the completion power of Fire, the grounding qualities of Earth and the ability to let go and understand inherent in Metal … we have a system of spiritual and emotional wellbeing.” In their view, their retreats and treatments help guests to bring balance in their “elemental frequencies.”
There’s a lot more to this five-elements theory: the elements correspond to seasons of the year, parts of the body, and particular senses. The programs and retreats offer particular ways to “develop” whatever elements you need to work on.
But is it real?
I realize that these ideas are very real to many people, but I’m not one of them. I believe in science. Some of the techniques that are used in Euphoria’s programs have been scientifically proven to have beneficial effects: practices like meditation, which has been shown to relieve anxieties and stress. Yet belief in an explanation like this five-elements philosophy is not a prerequisite for benefiting from meditation. Labeling the music played during my five-elements massage as “wood” means nothing to me. It seemed to me like mere window-dressing for music that definitely had a soothing effect during the massage. Similarly, that session of “sound bathing” was indeed relaxing, but calling it “healing” seems a big leap to me.
Having said that, and putting aside the more “spiritual” claims, the spa offers a range of enjoyable and healthy treatments that would surely benefit, say, a person who was overstressed or overweight or unfit. I imagine, for example, that if I were to stay for a period of several weeks, I’d likely be able to lose weight and learn some new habits that would help me manage my weight. If I ever had the opportunity to go again, I’d sign up for their “Weight Metabolic Management Program,” for example. This plan bases a whole program of diet and treatments and exercise on the results of various blood, urine, respiratory and metabolic testing. I have no doubt such a program would help get me on a healthier path to weight loss and better health.
I guess what I’m saying is that what I saw would likely be more beneficial to me in terms of bodily health than mental health. A person who embraced the Five Elements theory in a way that I am not able to might get even more out of it – some spiritual benefit.
The facilities in the spa section of Euphoria Retreat are extensive and beautiful. The building’s design itself is meant to reflect the Five Elements Theory, particularly the cylindrical well around which it is built. Called the “Transformative Waterwell,” it is meant to represent the five elements – fire visible above in the sun or stars, water in the shallow pool below, wood in climbing the spiral staircase that encircles the Waterwell, metal in descending and returning to the fifth element, earth. The floors of the spa are organized so that the more physical activities – like the fitness room and the acupuncture treatment room – are lower down and moving upwards represents a moving up to more spiritually-centered activities.
While it is rich in these metaphors, the Waterwell is also simply beautiful. It’s rare that I like architecture in concrete, but this design succeeds, with its organic forms, elegant clean lines, soothing colors, and openness to the outdoors.
The indoor pool on the second floor continues these organic forms. Its centerpiece is a large half-dome, with round openings around its sides. Outside the dome the water is shallow at 1.2 meters (almost 4 feet). Inside, though, it’s a dark pool 3.5 meters deep (11.5 feet). Treading water in the dome, I enjoyed listening to the odd echoes the dome produces.
Around the dome are a range of alcoves, each with pushbutton jets either under the surface, providing a jacuzzi-like effect, or above the surface, pelting water out a spout. The pool connects to an outdoor pool. While the water temperature is a uniform warmish 34°C (93.2°F), the outside air can make that seem cooler. Presumably in the summer, the pool outside would seem warmer.
Other features of Euphoria spa
The spa has other water features as well: a whirlpool, a California hot tub, and a watsu pool (very salty water for floating in the dark, like being in the womb).
Nearby is the “tepidarium,” an intermediate space where guest can warm up to 37°C-39°C (98.6°F-102.2°F) before going in the Finnish sauna or steam room next door. There’s also a cold plunge pool, an ice fountain, “experiential showers,” and a salt therapy room, which is a sauna of sorts but with salty air. These water features are mostly on the second and third floor of the spa.
The upper floors – workshop and yoga spaces – are considered to be where the more spiritual work gets done. I suppose it makes sense that I was much more enthusiastic about the physical than the spiritual levels.
The video below can give you a bit more idea of what the place looks like:
Euphoria retreat’s spa treatments
On this press trip, we were fortunate to receive two treatments: a hammam and a massage. The gym and the treatment rooms for things like acupuncture and other therapies are on the ground floor where “the Earth element – and its associated power of healing – are strongest.” Treatments like massages and the hammam are on the intermediate floors.
The hammam, right off the tepidarium, looked remarkably like some of the historical hammams I’ve visited in places like Spain and Lebanon, as well as elsewhere in Greece. It had a stone (perhaps marble?) platform in the center, a domed ceiling, and fountains around the side. It was hot and steamy, and our “Euphoria Byzantine Hammam Ritual” treatment took place with four of us lying on the central platform. The attendants massaged us, oiled us, scrubbed us, covered us in sudsy bubbles, and dumped a series of buckets of cold water over us. I’ve never had a hammam treatment before, but from what others were saying, this one was gentler than the norm. I loved it.
After a brief explanation from my masseuse about which of the five elements were in the oils she would use on me and what elements the music contained – all of which I listened to politely and promptly forgot – I lay face down on a table and got my massage, accompanied by the usual slow and soothing music that seems to be required for massages. And this was, beyond a doubt, the best massage I’ve ever had.
Euphoria offers lots more treatments. Besides a wide array of different massages designed to address particular issues like back problems, detox, stress and so on, they also offer things like reflexology, “bio-energetic testing,” “reconnective healing,” homeopathy, “energy and psychic channeling,” “theta healing,” “Chakra balancing treatment,” and something called “sanctuary for busy minds.” As you’ll guess by now, I’m far more enthusiastic about the massages than many of these treatments. My idea of heaven would be getting massages like this every single day.
The spa offers a full schedule of activities as well as treatments: things like yoga classes (Vinyasa, Yin, Therapeutic, traditional Indian Hatha, and something called Yogilates), fitness classes (total body workout, Wood Element Qigong, Fire Element Qigong, Circuit training, 5 Element dance, pilates and more), and outings to hiking trails. Each individual program is tailored to the individual and their particular goals, so each person’s program would include some of these activities.
We sampled a few of them:
- A yoga class: This was my first one ever, so I can’t really say anything about its quality. I can only say that it was far beyond my capabilities. At the same time, even in that one lesson I could see that regular yoga – at a complete beginner’s level – would be good for me.
- A breathing class: This didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. We were exhorted to breathe deeply, the teacher calling out how long to breathe in, how long to hold our breath, how long to breathe out, and how long to hold our lungs empty. It was never made clear to me what the point was.
- Sound healing meditation: As I pointed out above, at least it was relaxing.
The prices at Euphoria Retreat
This kind of rarified atmosphere does not come cheap. Rooms start at €410 a night, including breakfast. The one-hour massage I received costs €154. The one-hour hammam ritual costs €200. Even sitting in the salt room costs €50, though I think the steam room and sauna are included with any stay, as is the pool. So are the daily activities on offer. You can expect to spend at least €100 per day for meals and drinks as well.
The programs are essentially packages of various lengths, each including a list of treatments and sometimes including meals. They cost thousands of dollars on top of whatever you pay for the room. So do the retreats, but these are each built around a theme like “Spartan Spirit of Adventure” and are scheduled on particular dates. That means some of the treatments and activities happen in a group.
Should you visit Euphoria Retreat?
Given my general skepticism about Euphoria Retreat’s philosophy, would I recommend it? Absolutely … if you can afford it.
Euphoria spa delivers just what it claims. Even if you don’t go there for a wellness retreat – you just want a high-quality place to stay that’s near Mystras – this would be the perfect place. It’s a beautiful and restful hotel where you can spend a few days in the lap of luxury.
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For a person who wants to work on something – you’re overweight or overstressed or processing trauma or suffering physical pain – a week or more at Euphoria Retreat could certainly be restorative or at least restful, with or without a belief in the underlying philosophy. The place simply radiates relaxation and calm, even for this skeptic. It was waking up on the floor after the sound bathing that showed me that.
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