Sarah Freeman discovers a holistic hideaway in rural Croatia where nature proves to be as healing as the asanas.
As the road carves through age-old vineyards, olive groves and hills smattered with fragrant lavender, I can’t help but wind down the window to take in another lung-full of the aromatic air – a heady cocktail of juniper, lavender and other scented plants which thrive in Hvar island’s fertile soils. Nestled in this idyllic, rural landscape (which has been populated since prehistoric times), a stone’s throw from the charming 12th Century hamlet of Dol, is a holistic hideaway where spirituality and simple Croatian life coexist. Ex-New Yorker and former Slovenian-based music performer, Evening Marie, and her native islander husband, Stipe, have been hosting yoga and holistic retreats at their beautiful Dalmatian-island farm cottage, for the past 13 years.
HOME SWEET HOME
What Suncokret (which translates as sunflower) lacks in ocean views, it more than makes up for in its coastal-inspired, vintage-style interiors. Its seven bedrooms (a combination of singles, doubles and suites) split across the semi-detached stone villas, have a homely, shabby-chic vibe. Whitewashed furniture, beachcombed finds, crisp white linens and floaty sheers billow gently in the cooling breeze. The property’s topsy-turvy layout is all part of its charm – with plenty of cosy nooks to channel your Zen, whether it be the sun-drenched roof-top terrace with sinkable sofas, to a hammock slung between fruit trees.
They say the kitchen is the heart of the home, and, as I discover on my first evening, this adage is most certainly true at Suncokret. The predominantly organic and wholly vegetarian fare is lovingly prepared by former-chef Stipe,
whose pride and joy is his garden. It yields the plumpest figs (a breakfast-table staple), healthy crops of olives, an array of veggies used in homemade soups and healthy homemade jams. And then there are the bounty of herbs, such as wild fennel and chamomile, that guests are encouraged to brew in their own herbal tea. Fresh farm eggs and local cheeses are also on the menu.
CHINA MEETS CROATIA
Fuelled by spirited conversation and a nourishing meal of roasted aubergines and polenta, our group (which consists of eight women, hailing from places as far flung as Australia) convene in Suncokret’s vast light-flooded yoga shala. As part of the open circle, we share our hopes and apprehensions with each other about the coming week, and yogini-turned- Zhineng-Qigong-teacher; Anita Ilicic, talks us through the ‘Zhineng Qigong & Yin Yoga’ retreat.
Created in the early 80s, this Chinese healing practice is said to marry the wisdom of ancient Qigong teachings and traditional Chinese medicine, with modern science and medicine. Often described as ‘moving meditation’, Qigong has been practiced for centuries by Chinese people. Anita, who spends a few months every year in China, explains how its gentle movements and breathing techniques can help you to calm down, relax on a deeper level and be more present in the moment.
Croatian-raised Anita (now based in Germany), is just one of a collective of teachers who hosts retreats at Suncokret – embracing Evening’s philosophy of engaging people with life-enhancing practices.
Birdsong and a resident rooster ensure that I am wide-awake for the 7am Yin yoga class, which gradually stretches out every limb from my sleeping fetal position. Despite not being “a morning person”, the restorative practice seems to put a spring in my step, and the absence of coffee at the alfresco breakfast table goes virtually unnoticed!
Multi-tasked Stipe – who wears many hats from cook to father, driver and guide, ushers us into his trusty minibus for our first excursion to Stari Grad – Croatia’s oldest town, which has been inhabited since the arrival of Greek colonizers in 384 BC. We are left to explore its beautiful waterfront promenade, which continues to a series of pebble coves and paved squares – perfect for taking a refreshing dip in its azure waters.
As part of the retreat itinerary, Suncokret arranges daily excursions to various locations on the island, which includes secluded coves and pine-cloaked islets, as well as picturesque harbor towns like Jelsa. Here you can devour some of the island’s best gelato under the shade of giant poplars and palms. Alternatively, you can find your own peaceful contemplation without stepping foot outside Suncokret’s secluded environs.
INTO THE BLUE
After another flowing morning hour-and-a-half class of Yin, the group is briefed for a day spent exploring and meditating in the great outdoors at Glavica Peninsula – a 15-minute drive from Suncokret. A gentle, 20-minute circular walk of the peninsula tip reveals breathtaking
views of Mount Biokovo on the south side, and gorgeous rocky slabs at Soline beach (perfect for practicing your downward dog) on the north side. But the highlight of the day is Anita’s healing sound chanting meditation amongst 100-year old pine trees, where a gentle breeze caresses not only our bodies, but our spirits too. For me, the connection with mother earth, allowed the Chi or ‘Qi’ to flow more freely, and I started to connect not only with my physical self, but emotional too. Anita describes the practice as “coming home to oneself”, which resonated with me.
GOING ON SAFARI
Five days of yin, swimming in sleepy coves and Croatian hospitality culminates in a yoga safari day, where we are whisked off to several secret locations for some final asanas. The day begins by setting up our yoga mats beside a beautiful chapel in an abandoned village en-route from Dol to Hvar Town. As part of the session we partner up for an hour of guided Thai yoga massage, followed by a picnic breakfast with stunning views across the valley. Energized by the rising sun we head to Hvar Town, otherwise known as the ‘Croatian Riviera’ – to explore its Gothic palaces, ancient stone houses and towering Spanish Fortress. The group decides to hop on a taxi boat, which leaves from the limestone-edged harbor, to car-free Palmižana island for one final soak in the crystalline blue Adriatic waters – said to be the cleanest in Europe. Here you can eat fresh-off-the-boat lobster and visit a quirky alfresco art gallery or botanical gardens. The island (part of the Pakleni archipelago) is a haven of flora and fauna.
The day culminates with a sunset Qigong session (at another undisclosed location) where we watch the sun literally sink into the sea. It’s a fitting setting where nature and spirituality unite – bringing a peaceful contemplation to the group. In Qigong they say, “where the mind goes, energy flows”. Well my mind is still meditating on top of Hvar’s cliffs, in its pine-cloaked forests and floating through its azure waters, despite my physical self being 3,000 miles away.
HOLISTIC THERAPIES AND WORKSHOPS
As well as being a holistic yoga therapist, Evening Marie is a lightworker in Reiki and Pure Bioenergy therapy, and her specialism is self-empowering individuals with her bespoke Life Map awakening journey.
A non-invasive, all-natural healing method that helps restore the immune system, benefitting a wide spectrum of health conditions.
Chakra Life Mapping
Mapping the seven sacred energy centres to help remove old blockages and rebalance our emotional wellbeing.
Life Map Awakening
A curated programme, which evolved organically from Evening’s own ‘life path awakening journey’ – this cleansing form of life coaching helps you to gain clarity on personal challenges and relationship patterns, to guide and awaken your spiritual growth path.
Reiki Level I + II
Awakening sessions and training workshops of this natural healing system that uses life force energy delivered through the hands, to heal on a mental, physical and spiritual level.
Consult website for prices www.suncokrethvar.wixsite.com
SUNKCOKRET BODY & SOUL RETREAT
+385 91 739 2526, firstname.lastname@example.org