Tuesday 25 October 2016

Turkey: Yachts & yoga

Adventures on the Aegean

Nadia El Ferdaoussi

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Sail away: The Aegean Sea is the perfect place to shake off the stresses of the real world
Sail away: The Aegean Sea is the perfect place to shake off the stresses of the real world
Yoga on the boat
A turkish gulet
Behind the wheel
Cleopatra beach

Nadia El Ferdaoussi takes to the Aegean Sea for seven days of sailing, yoga and sensational shore excursions.

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I'm looking out of a sea-view window, wondering where the sun is.

There's a thick fog looming over the water, giving the bay in Akyaka a mysterious air. The only sounds are struck by a worker setting up for the day in a local café bar, and a couple of women taking an early morning dip.

My room isn't alone with its view. I'm in a cabin on board a 99-foot wooden gulet yacht floating on the Aegean Sea off Turkey. I'm not worried about the weather, either. It's only 6.30am, which explains the lack of blazing sunlight. But that will come. For now, I add an extra layer to my yoga attire and head up to the deck, grabbing a mat and a couple of foam blocks on the way.

At first, I had some reservations about how the week's retreat would unfold. Yoga twice a day and very little time on land? But I needn't have worried. After a few sun-salutations, our small group begins its first two-hour yoga practice, and we're soon peeling off the layers. By the time the session comes to an end, the mist has lifted and the clouds have parted, tempting bathers into sunshine and the sea.

Yoga mats at the ready...

But first, food. After two hours of yoga, my rumbling belly is given priority. I settle down to a feast of fresh and dried fruit, yoghurt, nuts, bread, cheese, honey, eggs and olives. Turkish breakfasts lay on an interesting combination of flavours, but trust me, they work. The coffee, however... that's another story. I'm offered a traditional Turkish brew and give it a try to be polite, but my expression quickly gives the game away.

I switch back to instant… perhaps it's an acquired taste!

Waving goodbye to our first port of call, our yacht sets sail for Cleopatra Island. As the legend goes, Antony shipped perfectly spherical sand over from Egypt to create a private beach for Cleopatra on their love island here. Today, visitors are forbidden from walking on the beach as the government has sealed it off for fear that they'll walk away with the precious sand between their toes. For a small fee of 15TL (about €5), however, you can visit the island and its amphitheatre ruins.

Our captain, Eyüp, knows it's best to bring us early in the morning before the influx of up to 5,000 day-trippers arrive. We have the place pretty much to ourselves, bar a few snakes we're told to watch out for. By now, I'm getting the hang of walking the gang-plank - the thin walkway used to get on and off the gulet. Climbing off Cleopatra's Island, it's back on board for another short sail before anchoring down just off Akbük, where the dinghy and captain-in-training, Ferhat, sit waiting to ferry us onshore. With the waters crystal clear and the temperatures rising, however, it makes more sense to swim across. A refreshing transfer!

A traditional Turkish gulet

Our tour organisers seem to have friends everywhere, and here we're invited into the home of a local architect whose wife serves up home-made ayran, a Turkish drink made from yoghurt and water with added salt. The salty taste takes a bit of getting used to, (I think I've been spoiled by Western sweetened smoothies!), but the stop-off is a dream. We're even sent away with bags of green chillies, courgettes and aubergines picked fresh from the greenhouse, as well as a supply of still-warm flatbread with cheese and parsley that we eat with lunch back on the boat.

Our group is starting to get to know each other now, and I confide in Yorkshire-born Alison about my worries regarding the lack of meat and alcohol on the itinerary. We've both noticed the bar and are pleased to find out that it's actually encouraged to open a tab, but I'm torn, with my conscience telling me this isn't a "normal" holiday. But then I swing to thinking that even if I do indulge, I'll most likely return home a healthier version of myself, and when we're told it's cheaper to buy wine by the bottle, our arms are easily twisted.

Sailing the Aegean Sea doesn't take long to shake off the stresses of the real world, and later, I doze off in the early evening sun. The crew, ever attentive, drape a blanket over me when we enter the shade.

Waking up to coffee and cake, I find the boat docked again, and it's time for the second yoga class of the day - which is much more restorative and relaxing than our earlier practice. Soft stretching while gently swaying to the movement of the boat and watching the sun set, I can see how I'll adjust easily into the tempo of the week. The thought is reinforced when I'm rocked to sleep like a baby and out cold by 10pm that night.

Behind the wheel...

The following morning, I wake once again in my cabin to that beautiful sea view. The 7am wake-up call on day two is easier. The morning sun dances around on tiny waves and there's a warm, gentle breeze as we begin our yoga practice. Cooling off afterwards with a quick dip before breakfast, it's difficult not to notice that - except a few boats dotting the nearby coastline - there's not another soul in the sea around me. I ask Annick, our instructor, where's next on the agenda. "Does it make any difference?" she replies.

She's right. Each place is as idyllic as the next. My worries about a week-long yoga retreat and seven days at sea drift away.

What to pack

Most boats don't allow shoes on deck, so bring a pair of slippers or some grippy socks. Lots of swimwear, light yoga clothes, a beach towel and plenty of SPF are essentials. Polarised sunglasses help prevent glare from the water when sailing too - they're well worth the investment.

Getting there

Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) flies to Dalaman and Bodrum airports from Dublin via Istanbul. You can book yoga cruises from €1,250pp with yoganicmoves.com and yogacruising.com through BookYogaRetreats.com. Trips are available on a range of dates, with transfers from either airport to Akyaka included in the price.

Where to stay

Traditional Turkish gulets are big enough to ensure you don't feel too much motion in calm waters - no one was seasick on our trip. Rooms are double and twins with ensuites, which are spacious enough for two people. Take a class before you go at The Yoga Hub studio in Dublin (theyogahub.ie), or learn for free with a YouTube tutorial on doyouyoga.com.

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