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The Times feature Artful Retreats

The Retreats Guide 

Artful Retreats at Bleverde Villa Levanda breakfast
Artful Retreats at Bleverde Art studio deck
Artful Retreats at Bleverde Villa Elia view
Artful Retreats at Bleverde Villa Levanda master bedroom

In a nutshell
Great for anyone with a stressful lifestyle who wants to live more in the present moment, these art-therapy retreats are based at two luxurious villas on a private olive-grove estate a short walk from the Cretan heritage village Gavalochori, about a 45-minute drive from Chania airport. They are led by the art therapist Penelope Orfanoudaki and mix art-therapy principles with yoga, walks, tasty Mediterranean meals and visits to local artists.

You don’t have to be “good at art” to go, and you won’t learn to paint or draw. Instead, expect an exciting creative space to help you to be mindful, express yourself and rediscover your inner needs. Art supplies for all activities are included, and you’ll get a personal starter kit with a small sketchbook and watercolours to take home.

What’s it like?
You’ll have a consultation before the retreat to establish what you want to achieve. Then, on the retreat, each day starts with a swim, a yoga session in the gardens or a mild hike, followed by breakfast. There are then five to six hours of art-related activities, punctuated by lunch and rest time. Supper is either in-house or at a local taverna.

Most meals are eaten alfresco on Villa Levanda’s pool terrace

The creative tasks draw inspiration from the local Cretan landscapes, architecture and artists. Also included are visits to the ceramist and painter Manousos Chalkiadakis in Paidochori, a 30-minute drive through small picturesque villages, and to Chania’s picturesque Venetian harbour.

Most of the activities take place outside, in the gardens, round the pool of Villa Elia or in its cosy stone-walled art studio.

The therapy 
The lead therapist is the personable, warm and engaging Orfanoudaki, who completed her MA in Singapore after an 18-year corporate career. As an art therapist she has worked in homes for children in Singapore and in a school for the blind in Hong Kong, and led artful groups for adults at Folkuniversitetet in Stockholm. Art therapy helps people to access their inner thoughts and feelings, express themselves and change and grow in whatever way they wish.

The creative tasks draw inspiration from the local Cretan landscapes

It is not about learning how to paint or draw. Being in a supportive, engaged group is a key part of the experience, and each day ends with a small exhibition and debrief of the groups’ artwork and a sharing session supported by guides. You only need to share the thoughts and feelings that you are comfortable talking about, but doing so helps to facilitate bigger changes if you need to make them.

Who goes?
Men and women from all walks of life looking to reconnect with themselves or work through an issue. You will need to share openly in communal discussion if you’re to get the most out of this retreat, which may not suit everyone. Don’t come if you’re addicted to social media or have an important work issue to deal with during the week — it does require a digital detox.

All rooms are equipped with Swedish Duxiana or naturally made Coco-Mat beds

What are the rooms like?
Bedrooms are in two villas on the Bleverde estate: the original stone house Villa Elia and the more luxurious Villa Levanda. Each is filled with original paintings and photography from around the world, has its own (unheated) swimming pool and gardens with a stunning view over silver-green olive trees and to the distant sea.

Individually decorated, all rooms have en suite bathrooms and are equipped with Swedish Duxiana or naturally made Coco-Mat beds. The best are the Villa Levanda’s master suite (Luxury Private Room I), which occupies an entire floor and offers the most privacy, and Villa Elia’s master suite (Luxury Private Room II), which shares a floor with another room and has direct access to a big terrace overlooking the olive groves.

What’s the food like?
Most meals are eaten alfresco, weather permitting, on Villa Levanda’s pool terrace, with expansive countryside views, and are tasty Mediterranean dishes prepared by the local taverna, such as potato, feta and tomato pie with spinach and pomegranate salad. Breakfast is a simple affair with fruits, cereal and toast.

A few times during the retreat you eat out for lunch or supper; one evening, for example, we had moussaka and Greek salad in a charmingly ancient village. Everything — even wine — is included in the cost.

The lowdown
Three or four nights, including all meals, classes, activities and transfers, costs from €950pp (£850). The next available dates are May 15 to 20 and May 22 to 25. Retreats also run in Switzerland and Singapore



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