WITHIN just over two hours drive from Athens, we zip past the seaside town of Akrata and start ascending the curvy mountain roads, past villages that it takes just minutes to drive in and out of. The landscape is breathtaking, with a massive, imposing mountain wall on one side, cobalt blue sea on another, and lush vegetation growing all around. With our windows rolled down on this gloriously warm, early May day, the sweet smells of grass and leaves wet by flowing spring water, bright aromatic flowers and pungent herbs, pour through our windows in an intoxicating wave.
As we reach the 3000 year-old village of Seliana, we follow detailed directions until we come to a picturesque old church with a large plain tree and swings next to it, then spotting Re-Green’s unassuming entrance – a stone-built, square Mycenaean-style archway (a reference to the finds excavated on the land there). As we park we are greeted by Flery Fotiadou, who runs the place with her partner Christos Alexiou, and who waves us in with a dazzling smile. “Are you hungry?” she calls out, “we’ve just started lunch!” Now that’s what I call perfect timing. We join Flery and Christos and their two benches-full of guests in the outdoor “hangout” eating area, immediately feeling as though we are among friends – a feeling that doesn’t change throughout our stay.
I first heard about Re-Green from Jonni-Lyn Friel, who’s a partner and yoga teacher at Swaha Yoga Center in Acropolis, as she came back beaming and overjoyed from teaching a course there. “It’s a truly stunning place, run by two amazing people” she said, “and like nowhere else I’ve seen in Greece. We had a fantastic time on the course, everything was really well organised and the atmosphere was fun!” My curiosity was instantly piqued and I made it my mission to visit the place and see for myself.
In their website, Flery and Christos write: “Re-Green stands for everything… re-use and re-cycle things, reduce waste, refuse in the first place, repair, re-think our actions, re-write the rules, re-view, re-model, re-design, re-invent Life! Re-Green means to take responsibility and to simplify. Re-Green is Permaculture, Sustainable Living, Energy Saving, Self-Sufficiency, Nutrition with Real Food. Re-Green extends to Meditation, Elevation, Compassion and Unconditional Love to all living beings in the Planet.”
The pair, Athenians worn down by a toxic urban lifestyle, who packed it all in for life in the country, felt it urgent to create for themselves – and eventually for others too – a more meaningful quality of life. Guests come and go, but the pair sticks it out at the remote spot throughout the year, facing extreme weather in winter and working hard to tend the land and keep everything running smoothly. They studied permaculture to learn how to make the best of what they already had – some trees and plants – creating a guesthouse, a food garden, and several naturally built structures such as an outdoor jacuzzi, kitchen (pictured below), and steam room.
Throughout my years of travelling around Greece exploring as a travel writer for Fodor’s and other publications, as well as to satiate my appetite for discovery of my country’s innumerable facets, and, harbouring an intense interest in holistic living and wellbeing, I am always seeking out quality locations and centres offering visitors meaningful and rewarding experiences – without a catch (scratchy or dirty accommodations, odd proprietors, badly organised courses, aesthetics that may have looked worth Pinning but were actually more pin there, I’m done with that).
Over the last few years, a handful of new places have indeed appeared on the map based on holistic and ecological living, the most well-known being the Telaithron Project on the island of Evia, all of which I intend to write about in due time.
The emergence of many such places can be said to be rooted in the brutal financial crisis, which seems to have led to a new breed of Greeks- people in their 20’s to 40s who, since the crisis began in earnest some six years ago, have seriously reassessed their lifestyles. With unemployment reaching sky-high levels, and living conditions drastically deteriorating, many were forced – or at best, inspired, to dig deep into every pocket of their experience and seek which other personal abilities they could make use of, and eventually, live from.
The good news is that some people who once lived a comfortable life but worked long, empty hours at the office suddenly discovered that, although less financially affluent, they felt far more rewarded by doing something creative, meaningful, or hands-on, by using skills and talents that before lay latent.
The number of entrepreneurs sprung up tenfold around the country, with Greeks being rated as the third best entrepreneurs in Europe in 2014. Discomfort brought brainstorming, and consequently, new concepts, projects and ideas emerged, leading to exciting new businesses. Another aspect of the financial crisis was the awesome creative drive it sparked up in artists, generating a powerful new perspective on life, society and existence overall – the Athens art scene is today compared, and some say superior to – that of Berlin.
Neo-Hellene philosophising has taken on a new dimension also in the sense that many Greeks recognised the hard way that spending money and living “securely” is not what it’s all about – indeed, a multitude of citizen’s groups emerged to help others survive, and achieve a better quality of life at the darkest hour of need.
Dark disillusionment in corrupt and inept politicians and the status quo played a huge role in this, as people woke up in a cold sweat realising that it’s up to them, not the state, to create the world they prefer to live in. With lands full of incredible potential on the mainland and the thousands of islands, many Greeks also decided to return to nature, to start growing things instead of destroying or greedily consuming them, living life in a more natural, ecologically and socially ethical, and, very importantly too, self-sufficient way.
The philosophy behind Re-Green very much fits the latter group, something that is palpable both in the functional aspects of how it’s run and the calm, enriching way of being it promotes; weeks after my brief visit I still feel the ebullient, invigorating and bountiful energy of the place and its people. Flery and Christos work with what their land can yield, and the food they serve their guests is always a combination of their own produce with local and seasonal. The diet is healthy, balanced and flavourful vegetarian / vegan, and although there are professional cooks who come and go, volunteers and the owners also help out in the kitchen.
During our stay the meals were prepared by George Cassimatis – whom I was startled to discover during a tour of the place on our first day, working away behind large pots in the kitchen, and whom I had last seen over a decade ago when I’d visited his then new yoga centre at Triopetra on Crete. Years later he embarked on a culinary career as well a holistic one, opening a vegan/vegetarian restaurant in Hania, but his presence at Re-Green as the chef was an accidental one- he had gone there for a course a few weeks earlier, and when he overheard Flery saying that their designated chef for the next course would be unable to make it, he kindly offered to stay on and fill in as temporary cook. George made us energizing salads with fruits and flowers picked from the garden, roast vegetables like caramelised sweet potatoes, a lemony lentil soup with mushrooms, and other light, nutritious and tasty dishes.
In such a familial atmosphere it was easy to become acquainted with the other guests – a group of French women of various ages and their three teachers: Claire Bosse (pictured below, R), who came from France to teach the group vocal expression and polyphonic singing, land art instructor Yiannis Psalidakos (pictured below, L), and his partner, French yoga teacher Laureanne Felicite. Yiannis and Laurianne live on the Argosaronic island of Aegina and run L’art de Semer Association, organising a variety of courses on Aegina, Athens and around Greece.
Claire invited me to take part in one of her classes, held in the stunning Maloka (pictured above, R), an octagonal building with a domed roof, a skylight and large windows looking out to the lush green, made with cob (subsoil, stones and straw). The Maloka, a word for “house” used by Colombian aborigines and in some areas of Peru, is the main building where Re-Green’s courses take place – yoga, dance, singing, theoretical classes, and more.
For two hours we played singing ‘games’, warming our vocal chords, exploring our voices and the sounds they can make, and then we learned two African polyphonic songs, one of which still plays in my mind’s soundtrack.
Apart from learning new skills, at Re-Green one is inspired to venture out on long walks to explore, visit the many animals raised there (a fluffy brown donkey called Maya, who has her own cob abode, ducks, chickens, and dogs), and take in the views of the sea, or walk down to the river, sit at a park bench near a cliff overlooking the valleys and mountains, watch the skyline changing colours at different hours of the day, and explore the many herbs, berries and flowers growing among the abundant nature.
Flery and I sat down for a chat in the outdoor “living room”, a mish-mash of old furniture parked under a tree by the eating area.
As Flery says in our interview, keeping the 6000 square metre land in good shape requires ongoing effort and help, which makes it an ideal place for volunteers to stop at for a few weeks, and for some, even up to a year. Finding Re-Green through websites such as Workaway, volunteers who were there when we visited came from as far and wide as Canada, New Zealand, and Mexico. They were all young people with a thirst for travel adventures and a love of nature and learning, many of whom spend years exploring the world and volunteering from place to place, fortifying their knowledge and skills in permaculture, farming, building, hospitality and more.
Another impressive aspect of staying at Re-Green was the top quality accommodation we enjoyed in the Guesthouse – with cool, stone interiors, tasteful and eclectic decor, mainly done using natural materials from the land and surrounding area, soft, comfortable beds with fresh cotton bedding, fireplaces, modern bathrooms and relaxing sofas. Some may love the idea of going to stay in the countryside and pitching up a tent, or sleeping under the stars, but I’m definitely not one of those people – I find there’s nothing lovelier than being out in wild nature all day and then going back to a lovely accommodation for a hot shower and sleep on a soft, comfy bed.
Then again, guests are welcome to stay in tents if they wish to, so if that’s your thing, rest assured that it’s possible. A Full Certified Permaculture Design Course coming up on June 18th-29th (led by Dr. Rod Everett assisted by Mill Millichap) will be hosting guests on the land as well as in the guesthouse.