When Marina Efraimoglou first caught site of the land where her Euphoria Retreat now sits in the Greek Peloponnese, she knew she’d discovered a place where real transformations could happen.
Opened in July 2018, the 45-room spa retreat also marks the culmination of a personal journey of discovery for Efraimoglou, who quit her high profile career in Greek investment banking in 2001 to travel, experience and learn about the world’s best healing modalities.
Her creation, Euphoria Retreat, now nestles in the foothills of Mt Taygetus, overlooking an unspoiled valley of pine forests, citrus trees and olive groves, close to the renowned city of Sparta, the Byzantine town of Mistras (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and a 40-minute drive to the sea.
Efraimoglou says: “I’d been searching for the perfect place to build my retreat and when I discovered this place 11 years ago I immediately felt its magical energy.
“A builder had started to develop the ancient mansion on the land but had become frustrated with the strict Greek regulations related to sites of historical significance.”
Efraimoglou bought the land and, once through the lengthy bureaucratic process, renovation of the existing structure and the new spa build took just 20 months. The total investment of E20m has come from Efraimoglou’s personal resources.
The finished site includes a 15-treatment room spa, 45 bedrooms (including 14 suites), two impressive yoga spaces, indoor and outdoor swimming pool, salt room, Byzantine hammam, infrared sauna, gym and TRX studio, and extensive mountainside gardens.
The mansion has six bedrooms, including two luxury suites, private dining room and library – and can be rented separately.
“For environmental reasons, we had to sink the new building deep into the mountainside - but it’s also in keeping with our philosophy. The closer you get to the earth the more healing can take place. You can’t experience healing if you’re on the 21st floor of a skyscraper!” says Efraimoglou.
“We went through four applications just to get permission for a pool because there wouldn’t have been one here in Byzantine Greece, but I knew we had to have one,” she says.
The original Greek meaning of Euphoria is a state of happiness and bliss – a continuous balance between body, mind and spirit – and this is exactly what Efraimoglou wants to help guests to achieve at her ‘transformational retreat’.
She confesses that during the many years she spent experiencing spas around the world they “frequently lacked joy…and a soul. The European spas, in particular, can be quite austere and medical.”
The architectural design for Euphoria has been conceived around the guest’s personal physical and emotional journey.
For this important task Efraimoglou recruited her architect sister Natalia, and award-winning Greek architectural firm Decca.
“My sister brought the female energy, and Decca brought the male energy to the project – yin and yang,” she says. “We’ve used local cultural and historic references. The design incorporates many vaulted ceilings and arches to reflect the nearby churches. We’ve also used rich Byzantine colours like red, blue and yellow, but only as accents. Where we’ve used gold, it’s a matt gold. For the bathrooms, we’ve used Greek marble and onyx.”
The overall feel is calm and zen-like, with whites and greys that represent the cooling metal element, she says.
Efraimoglou is particularly proud of the much fought-for pool structure, inspired by the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul, which runs four metres deep and has a spherical base. She says: “When you dive in and experience the sound waves it creates, with the sun overhead, you really feel like you’re returning to the womb and experiencing a rebirth. Nothing like this exists anywhere else in the world.”
It seems that symbolism has been built into every part of the new spa, which houses 15 treatment rooms and currently employs a team of 10 therapists. Efraimoglou says: “The four-storey spa is built around a well, with a 25m empty cylinder rising up from the base. This represents the light and the emptiness at the core of us all. Guests go on a journey from the bottom, and the dark, up towards the light. It’s like the Greek concept of catharsis – a kind of purging or purification.
“They start with water therapies like Kniepp on the ground level and move up through the pool, the tepidarium, the treatment rooms and onto the cocoon-like relaxation areas.”
It’s clear the ex-banker has left no stone unturned – and she admits it’s been a long, sometimes difficult journey, to get here.
“When I was in my early 20s I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and given a 20-25 per cent survival rate. I went to New York for experimental chemotherapy treatment. It’s there that I first made the connection between mind and body.
“Every time I vomited I imagined the cancer cells leaving my body. People around me were dying but I managed to sail through treatment relatively unscathed. It left me with some big life questions - why did I get sick, but more importantly why did I heal?”
She returned to Greece knowing that she could no longer work for someone else. She founded her own investment bank and become the first female banking CEO in Greece – scooping the award for business person of the year in 1999.
But around this time she was also burning out. She sold the bank in 2001 and embarked on a journey of self discovery that led her to study the Chinese Five Elements in Asia and numerous modalities in the US under such leading lights as Deepak Chopra.
While the opening of Euphoria Retreat might feel like a culmination of a lifelong journey for Efraimoglou, it’s also just a beginning. She says: “We want to establish a mode of healing that can be replicated around the world.”