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collage of photos from Santorini fitness retreat

I'm not exaggerating when I say a wellness retreat changed my life

I visited Santorini with Travelgems for a life-changing wellness retreat – here's what happened

Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
June 6, 2024
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I've always been nervous when it comes to travel.

I missed the hen do of one of my best friends because I was too anxious to travel to Spain, I never went on weekends away with my pals and I missed countless work opportunities, all because travel created a sense of dread in me.

I hated that I was fretting so much about something everyone else seemed to look forward to, and last year I vowed to overcome my travel anxiety. I put in the work, talking to therapists and life coaches, and all of my efforts resulted in me booking a fitness retreat at Vedema Resort in Santorini last month.

Out of my comfort zone

I pushed myself far, far out of my comfort zone as I boarded my flight to Greece, alone, set to spend five days with a group of strangers, sharing meals and experiences on a luxury retreat organised by Travelgems.

What I discovered, is that retreats are the perfect holiday for nervous travellers. From the moment I was booked onto the trip, I was in touch with the Travelgems team. We had Zoom calls so I knew what to expect, and regular check-ins via email and WhatsApp to ensure I was ready for my adventure.

Anyone who suffers from any kind of anxiety will know that uncertainty is a huge issue, but Travelgems' friendly contact helped soothe this worry.

Being taken care of

Ahead of my retreat, I was introduced to Fay from Travelgems, who would be with the group on the trip. She sent over my itinerary ahead of the journey (two daily exercise sessions, breathwork, a boat trip, a wine tasting and a hike – dreamy!), along with meal times, locations and a packing list.

Two women smiling in front of the sea
Me with Fay, who helped us all feel looked after

Despite giving us a clear itinerary, Fay still messaged us on WhatsApp 10 minutes before each activity to remind us where to be and what to bring. Having someone hold my hand like this put me and my fellow retreaters at ease. It was like having a parent there, sorting everything for us, so we could truly relax and enjoy the experience, free from any logistics.

As an adult, it's so rare to feel completely taken care of, and it was a huge weight off my shoulders that for five days, I was totally looked after, cocooned and comforted.

Travelgems went above and beyond to ensure we were looked after – on an amazing boat trip around Santorini, Fay sat with my retreat-mates who felt unwell, reassuring us and making sure we felt cared for. As an anxious traveller, I have never felt more reassured that someone was looking out for me.

READ: I went on an intense mental health retreat to overcome exhaustion - here’s what happened 

My retreat friends

A worry that has plagued me my entire life is not knowing people on a trip, and feeling isolated. This couldn't have been further from the truth on my Travelgems retreat.

group of people posing in Greece
I feel forever bonded to my retreat-mates

Retreaters can travel with a friend or partner, or book alone, as I did. Some retreaters opted to share rooms with strangers in order to save money, and they were introduced via email ahead of the trip so they could get to know each other.

Even though I travelled alone, I never felt lonely. On the first day my retreat-mates invited me to explore the island with them, and we were rarely apart after that, joining one another for swims in the sea, trips into town and for lengthy, multiple-course breakfasts.

group of women posing in Santorini
On my first day my retreat-mates invited me on a day out with them

Everyone on the retreat had their own reason for joining; several women were working through difficult divorces, others were navigating heartbreak and loss, yet we were all united in a shared passion for health and wellness, and gelled together quickly, despite being from different parts of the world.

I was worried who I’d be sharing the experience with, but as we joined in tasting wine and sailing the sea together, I felt our friendship blossoming - and now I feel bonded to them all for life.

group of women smiling at a vineyard
We went wine tasting one day

Why a retreat?

Coming away from my time in Santorini, I'm not sure retreat is the right word for the experience. For me, retreat has negative connotations, as if you're hiding from something. I'd call my trip restorative, reviving, rejuvenating and reconnecting, rather than a retreat.

This particular trip was hosted by fitness professional Amoila Cesar, with my fellow attendees being big fans of him and his style of training, which you can try on the Bodi app.

man and woman posing in front of the sea
Amoila made time for everyone on the retreat

He coached us through daily workouts (HIIT, primal movement, mobility and more), joined us on day trips and shared dinner with us each evening.

He made time for everyone on the trip and valued everyone's individual stories. After a particularly emotional breathwork session, which saw many attendees in tears, I saw Amoila lead one lady by the hand outside when she was feeling vulnerable. That's the attention to detail you get on a Travelgems retreat, and once more, I felt reassured I was in safe hands.

group of people working out on a fitness retreat
Amoila worked us hard

Amoila made time to journal with us all, to help us work on our intentions and what we wanted to get out of the trip, and made sure we were all supported.

Make no mistake, he certainly put us through our paces fitness-wise so we got the most from our workouts, yet also ensured we were supported and never overstretched.

Group of people in child's pose
We worked and relaxed together

Breathwork sessions

As mentioned, the retreat involved breathwork as well as fitness, for an holistic approach to wellness.

People lying down in a cave
Breathwork was a moving experience

We had just one breathwork session on the itinerary, but we loved it so much that a second was added – showing that Travelgems and Amoila listened to feedback as we went along, taking on suggestions.

That said, one attendee found the breathwork too intense and opted to skip the second session – which was no issue whatsoever, and I found this reassuring.

Our breathwork sessions were hosted by Andrea Somer, and it was a testament to her character and skillset that she created a space where we all felt comfortable letting ourselves go in a room full of people who were strangers just three days before.

Waiting for a change

Not to be too deep, but my whole life I feel like I've been waiting for a wake-up call, like we see people have in films or read about in romance novels. I'd always imagined having a eureka moment and changing my whole life – and while I'm not feeling that dramatic, I do feel changed after my trip. That's exactly what Travelgems' founder Niki Smirni hopes people will get from her retreats.

Working out in front of the sea
Amoila was the perfect retreat host

She told me she wants her trips to create a lasting impact on the attendees, to give us something we can take away with us and use in our lives going forward – and that's exactly how I feel, as I plan to build the habits I learned on my retreat into my daily life.

Not only am I trying a new Amoila-approved workout routine, my retreat-mates and I created a WhatsApp group where we hold each other accountable, checking in when we've done our daily workout and motivating each other when we're not feeling it.

I'm not being hyperbolic when I say my retreat experience changed my life, and I can't wait for the next one. 

For a peek into our retreat, watch the video below...

WATCH: Inside Travel Gem's Santorini retreat

Travelgems's next retreat with Amoila takes place in Portugal in May 2025. October sees Travelgems' Wine & Philosophy Retreat take place in  Peloponnese, Greece.

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