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Travel: Dancing away on a holistic holiday; BESS MANSON FINDS UNEXPECTED JOYS IN GREEK HAVEN.

WIRLING around in the warmAegean Sea, I can hear the coo-cooing words from dance teacher Marita Sanguinetti, the closest thing to the tooth fairy I've ever come across.

"Close your eyes. Feeeeel the warm sun on your face," she says in her Italian accent. "Leeesten to the sound of the sea."

Minutes before, she had me dancing to the wind on a rock at the edge of the sea in my bikini. Three days before I'd have been mortifyingly embarrassed. But it's amazing what 72 hours on a Skyros Holistic Holiday can do for you. I was only doing what my editor had suggested. The two-week holiday at Atsitsa on the Greek island of Skyros sounded a little on the navel-gazing side, she observed, adding from the safety of her desk: "You'll just have to submit."

Indeed, the literature informs me that the activities and conversations at Skyros will "open up my heart, expand my mind, recharge my body and inspire my imagination". My cynical voice is telling me to pack books, lots of them. But on arrival, Atsitsa looks to be nothing short of perfection.

It sits nestled in a lush part of the somewhat craggy island of Skyros - one of the Sporades Islands in the Aegean. Our small but comfortable bamboo huts dot the hillside.

The showers were not great or even good, but there are plans to improve them before the 2007 season.

As far as activities go there was plenty on offer during my September session: painting, yoga, windsurfing, sailing, voice work and singing and various forms of meditation.

Life's a Journey - a self-help sort of trip taught by a lovely Australian man called Ernie Woolf - was a popular choice. Though Ernie's journey looked a bit intense for me, it seemed to work miracles for those who were at a crossroads in their lives.

Biodanza - a dance form from South America aimed at educating people to "understand their bodies, movements and lives" - may have sounded completely bonkers, but was a hit with those who took the course.

I opted for tai chi in the morning, sailing in the afternoon and singing and voice work in the early evening. Morning classes are followed by breakfast - a veritable feast of fruit, muesli, local honey, eggs and freshly baked bread. The coffee, or lack of any decent stuff, was a bone of contention with a mostly city crowd. Hearts were definitely not opening up on this front.

Skyros Holistic Holidays was established in 1979 by American psychologist Dr Dina Glouberman and Greek journalist Dr Yannis Andricopoulos. Part of the strategy is to build a community during the holiday and in this they are very successful.

We were encouraged, not forced - nothing is obligatory here - to help out in some way for half an hour each day. I chose the relatively sedate chopping and peeling option.

After that, we would head off to meet in discussion groups where a gaggle of us would share our thoughts. Each person has the floor for three minutes to talk about anything.

To start with, these 'Oekos' groups, as they are called, had me running for the hills. But I confess, I did submit - and was rather glad about it.

Afternoons were the stuff of dreams: more chats, a few laughs, a snooze and a dip in the sea. Perfection.

At five it was time for singing and voice work.

Most people who go on a Skyros holiday usually go on their own and because of this they are much more approachable and willing to meet other people. In fact, what made this such a special holiday were the people. The idyllic setting and activities were just an added bonus.All the courses seemed to be holistic in some way. As one of my fellow Skyros holidaymakers put it, they could make a wallpapering course holistic here: there'll be a few bumps but you'll find a way to smooth them out.

The evenings were spent sipping cold beers, dancing in the Magic Circle, storytelling, stargazing or just sitting quietly under the moon, savouring the day you have just had and looking forward to the next. By the end my heart was well and truly opened, my body recharged and my mind inspired beyond imagination.

Books I had packed so enthusiastically were packed away again at the end of one of the best holidays I have ever had. Unread.

TRAVEL INFORMATION

Bess Manson flew Olympic Airlines to Athens, where Skyros meets certain flight and arranges transfer to either its Atsits a bay or Skyros village centres. Courses at Atsitsa Bay in summer2007start atpounds 485for one week, pounds 685 for two, while Skyros Village Centre costs pounds 495and pounds 745 respectively. Package includes three meals a day

Skyros Holidays reservations:02072674424 or online atwww.skyros.com

Olympic Airlines' returns to Athens in summer2007start atpounds 14 5-average pricepounds 275. For reservations call 0870 6060460

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Yoga on Atsitsa bay and (inset) a bamboo hut built for comfort
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 13, 2007
Words:831
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