Jelly waves, purple coral and sponge sand on endless fields - that's Gozo, the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago. An island more distinctive and varied than any I have been to. I chose Gozo for a much deserved break. Amchara, a picture postcard pretty, well-being resort was my destination. My intention was to pamper myself with excess. Not the usual holiday excess of an indulgence in food, drink, partying or frenetic sightseeing but rather an excess of nature, relaxation, meditation, raw food and juices and the most picturesque walks.
As I landed into Malta for my 1 week retreat, the crepuscular sky was peopled by clouds and silent. My transfer from the airport had been immaculately arranged by Amchara. At the airport I was met by my affable chauffeur Steve who was the best guide I could have asked for. As he drove me to the Ferry Terminal and through the cobble walled roads of Malta he shared many stories - stories about how Malta has been irretrievably shaped by its colonisers - the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Kinghts of Saint John, the French, the British (and there were yet others too).
The ferry ride in itself was a magical half hour. By now a storm had begun brewing and clouds covered the setting sun like smoke on the spiral of night. The sight of Gozo from the waters, as it came into view, was almost spiritual: a Gozo crowned by storm clouds delineated by the thick gold of a dipping sun. At the Gozo ferry terminal I was met by Marlene who drove me to Amchara. We hit it off immediately and chatted like long, lost friends as she told me how to make the famous Gozitan cheese and shared her rabbit recipe (rabbit is a Gozitan delicacy).
The Amchara staff gave me the warmest of welcomes and showed me to my flat: a beautiful flat with very spacious interiors. My front door opened into the swimming pool quadrangle necklaced by palms. My back door led into the serene air of fields as far as the eye could see. In the week I was to spend there, in between my juice times (as I was on a juice diet) I often sat in my balcony and was visited by the prettiest of butterflies and birds and the passage of time or any sensation of hunger would simply become inconsequential. In the evenings, the swimming pool quadrangle would become my Zen space, ‘lit’ up by the chiming of church bells. Gozitans are an extremely religious people and the little island has over 45 churches and almost no crime.
Amchara has some fabulous facilities that include an infra red sauna that is known to help with the detox process. I found the effect of the heat on my muscles therapeutic. There is also an outdoor jacuzzi and a miniature amphitheatre where, on my last night, we had a drumming session by a wood fire under the watch of an infant moon. A sauna, steam room, a trampoline, a mediation room, a ‘çosy’ room and a film room complete the space.
I was put on a juice diet that comprised of 3 different juices a day, at 9am, 12pm and 3pm followed by a soup at 6.30pm. The first night I was given a nourishing soup of squash and greens
garnished with a delicious purple garlic flower (yes it was edible!). I was ravenously hungry that night. I was travelling for the best part of the day and had hardly eaten. The hunger kept me awake for half of the night but then when I was awoke in the morning my stomach rumblings had subsided.
After my morning juice I had my first meeting with my wonderful nutritionist Jane. After a chat about the detailed health questionnaire I had filled in prior to my arrival it was decided that though I don’t have too much to detox (as I don’t drink alcohol or caffeine or smoke) I still have some detoxing to do – to cleanse my system of the sugar I had accumulated from foods I thought were harmless (like Teriyaki sauce), and toxins from pollution, beauty care products, cleaning products and furnishings (things that would not even normally cross your mind as being the nasties!).
All of my second day I was raring to go. I did the walks, the twice a day yoga, the meditation and attended the film screenings (everyday films on health and well being are screened and each guest is also given a pen drive loaded with these films to watch at leisure). But on the third day, a debilitating weakness set in.I found even the simple task of having a shower arduous. It seemed as if my body was adjusting to the unannounced drop in calories. While I don’t think I could have persevered with this juice diet if I was at home, here I felt supported by the expert staff, by the rejuvenating surroundings, by the absence of food and by the other guests at the resort as we became co-travellers on this detox journey.
The nutritionist reappraised my situation on day 3 and I was given a tiny bit of raw food in the evening – few avocado and pepper strips and that felt like an energy boost. By day 4 I was over my worst and my body had begun adjusting. The nutritionist took a call to give me some raw food in the evenings, if necessary,to stave off any weakness. But my energy began making a comeback and I stayed the course with my juice diet till my last day.
Each day walks and events were organised for us from candle-light meditation and Buddhist sound healing to walks to watch the wine red sun dip into a cobalt Mediterranean Sea. We walked to Gozo’s iconic baroque churches through old stone farmhouses and through winding roads, dotted with pretty house doors draped with bougainvilleas in red, fuchsia and bright purple. The most unforgettable of our walks was the one to the Azure Window – a limestone window formation of rocks emerging from the sea of changing blue. And our boat ride through the window, that cost just couple of Euros was the most magical experience of all!
I took back with me the indelible experience of being nurtured at Amchara and of the different colours I had assimilated – turquoise, cobalt, aquamarine, teal, azure, cobalt, indigo, periwinkle and serene – all colours of the sea.
Written byDr Priya Virmani
Dr. Priya Virmani is a Political and Economic Analyst and an International Speaker based in London. She is the Foundress and Director of Paint Our World - a humanitarian project that works to heal underprivileged children who have endured trauma. Together with her passion for her work, she derives her nurture from being in nature, horse-riding, writing, painting, classical music and travelling. Travel, in her words, is 'the best medicine and the best teacher'. She loves travelling to explores the souls of places.