In 2009 Ingrid Gottschalk bought a stretch of land that was nothing more than craggy boulders and wild oak trees. A year later Greece’s economy imploded. Against this challenging backdrop Ingrid created Itha108, completing it in just eighteen months – but for anyone who knows Ingrid this isn’t in the slightest bit surprising. This Swiss-German is one determined, indefatigable woman – she has manned a City team, raised three girls and climbed Mont Blanc.
The two yoga shalas – one outdoors and one indoors – ground the space. The fifty foot wooden platform, tucked away to the side of the house, immerses all of your senses in nature. In front of you lies the silvery Ionian sea, behind you the rocks and boulders of the mountain, and above you the rustling leaves of wild oak trees. Listen to the gentle bells of grazing goats and breathe in the scrunch of wild sage as you journey to Savasana.
Reached by a vivid orange staircase, the indoor shala nestles cave-like beneath the house. Retreat here in the winter and meditate on the brass statue of Lord of the Dance, Shiva Nataraja, grounding you in the eternal cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution as you gaze out of the window at the yellow white stone from which Itha108 was carved. I can imagine no greater heaven than lying on the polished dark wood floor at the end of practice, snuggling down on a mat warmed by state-of-the-art under floor heating.
It was a long journey from London but after just one yoga class I began to feel anchored. The air of comfortable familiarity extends well beyond the mat, pervading the whole retreat and giving it a home-from-home feel. There are plenty of spaces for lounging – an indoors-outdoors sitting area with more of those spectacular views, a dazzling white breezy roof terrace with views of Kefallinia (perfect for a sundowner), woven charpoy daybeds, Indian bed swings with linen covered mattresses and a cosy sitting room complete with oversized sofa and armchairs, a well-stocked library, framed photos of Ingrid’s three beautiful girls, board games and Asian artefacts.
Much of the furniture, a clever combination of sleek modern style and traditional craftsmanship, comes from Rajasthan, designed and commissioned by Ingrid herself. Shipped in a forty-foot container, when it arrived in the village of Stavros it attracted hordes of curious locals who gathered to watch it being transferred onto smaller trucks that could manage the winding roads down to Itha108.
All the bedrooms have an Indian accent; traditional Rajasthani mirrors and silk bedspreads, stained wood ceilings and tapestry stools. The bathrooms, on the other hand talk twenty first century, with power showers and eco flush loos.
Breakfast, served on a sinuous polished white plaster counter, is simple and delicious. Help yourself to plates heavy with fruit – succulent figs, grapes, juicy peaches, and refreshing melon, Greek yogurt and local honey, plates of cheese and tomatoes, ginger tea or ask for eggs and a mug of strong coffee. Breakfast can be a long drawn out affair – hours are lost chewing over the matters of the day with newfound friends.
There are three beaches within a ten-minute walk, each with a different character. The biggest one has parasols, sunbeds and plenty of opportunities for people watching. The other two are smaller – with plenty of hidden coves that feel like your own private beach.
All the beaches on the island are very clean, with some clear turquoise water but all of them have chalky white pebbles – very pretty but a bit of a pain to walk on, so take a pair of flip-flops or pick up a pair of rubber bottomed shoes in town (expect to pay around eight euros).
Part of the charm of Ithaca is that it’s so quiet – the island is forty-six square miles and has just 3,500 inhabitants in winter. However, there are a few very pretty harbour towns and villages for mooching about.
Highlights include Kuoni, perhaps the prettiest and certainly the most glamorous – when we there Roberto Cavalli was in town. Vathy is the capital and has several harbour-front cafes – take a seat and soak up the accents; Greek,French and Italian, Australian and South African – part of the returning diaspora whose parents left after the earthquake of 1953.
Leaving Itha108 felt like leaving a treasured home; by the end of my stay I felt more myself than I had in years. Though perhaps not ready to climb Mont Blanc I was grounded, re-energised and ready for almost anything.
Itha108 – I love you.
Itha108 is taking enquiries from teachers for 2015.
Contact Ingrid at firstname.lastname@example.org