Solo in Skyros - How to start your novel on a sun holiday
Holidays in Europe
A creative writing retreat on a Greek island is just the ticket for Deirdre Mullins, who takes in sun, activities and inspiration.
Set the mood
We all have a book in us, it's said. But do we really?
I headed off to the Greek island of Skyros to find out. A 'Starting Your Novel' course by Skyros Holidays promised a creative kick-start in Atsitsa Bay, set in a pine forest on a stunning horseshoe-shaped pebble cove.
Artistic, questioning and mostly solo travellers have been coming to this stunning location since the 70s, and not just budding writers. Yogis, singers, painters, windsurfers and dancers are all to be found at the 'holistic holiday resort', where I learned not only how to craft a novel, but took classes in the ukulele, belly dancing and windsurfing.
It's a great holiday for what I call 'singular togetherness': solo travellers who want to share their experiences with other, independently-minded people. There's a big emphasis on community, which makes it easy for even the shyest to meet others.
Our creative writing retreat offered one day off, during which the Atsitsa Bay centre organised a 12km hike across the island to Skyros town. It's a good way to get to know the other participants and to feast your eyes on the island's mesmerising views and remote traditional villages.
The wildlife is interesting too - my group nicknamed our hike 'The Tortoise Way' because we came across a family of tortoises in a field. Hot and sweaty, our efforts were rewarded with a cool dip in the sea at Magazia Beach, followed by a cocktail on one of Skyros town's rooftop bars. Not a bad interlude on any type of holiday!
Workshops and tuition are included at Atsitsa Bay writing courses, but there are other ways to splash out on site. The deep tissue massage from Radka, the resident therapist, is well worth €60 per hour. Radka works from a comfortable bamboo hut set in the pine forest, where you can hear wood pigeons call and the sea lap up against the shore. Mixing massage and energy work, she put me into a catatonic state. I woke pleasantly confused with drool dripping from my mouth - a sure sign of a good treatment.
Get to Agios Fokas Beach in a remote part of the west side of Skyros. It's a pretty stretch of sand surrounded by pine trees and crystal-clear blue waters. The beach is often empty, except for the women who run a small tavern on the strand.
Dead Goat Beach is a small, pebbled beach in the centre of Atsitsa. Once the resort bar closes, a few stragglers go for a midnight swim in various states of dress here. It's a lovely place for a dip and there's nothing like night swimming to give you that 'I'm on holiday' feeling. That moment is made even more special when the water starts to sparkle like stars with the luminous algae.
Most of the accommodation is in basic bamboo huts. If sharing a space with little creatures presents a problem, you're best booking a room in the house. I loved hut-living, but ear plugs are essential - bamboo walls aren't a good sound barrier for your neighbour's snoring...
Get me there
I travelled to Greece with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), which operates a three times weekly service from Dublin to Athens until September 29.
Aegean Air (aegeanair.com) does a 30-minute flight from Athens to Skyros; or the transfer can be done by bus and ferry.
A week-long 'Starting Your Novel' course at Atsitsa Bay starts from £595 (€715 approx), including accommodation, food and three classes per day.
To book your holiday and transfer, visit skyros.com.