Spa of the Month: Zening, Cyprus

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Zening is a handmade kind of place. It’s a one-off, not part of a chain and there’s definitely no corporate image going on here. Instead, it’s a rather special retreat on the Mediterranean shore in a corner of Cyprus that, so far, has been left in peace by the tourist hordes. I went last year which was only its second season so it is still a bit of a secret – I found it through Wellbeing Escapes who specialise in healthy holidays and arrange your whole deal with travel and spa package included. Zening may be new but it is already establishing its identity as a yoga-meditation-detox eco-village, growing its own fruit and veg, making its own feta and soon to be baking its own bread (the oven is being built now). During the course of this year, it intends to be carbon neutral.

It is also very tranquil. There are handmade wooden signs “Zening is a quiet resort” and that seems to suit the guests who mostly read or talk quietly when they’re not in a class. Mobile phones are not allowed in the public areas, there are no televisions in the rooms, you can’t take pictures and I never even saw a newspaper. So there is a serious digital detox going on and it does mean that, yes, Zening is a quiet resort. There’s no smoking (even in your own garden) except for one tiny remote corner of the resort. If you’re looking for a little oasis of calm, this could be it.

Zening sign

There are classes running all day long from seven in the morning to seven at night. You aren’t given a specific programme, you just choose to do as little or as much as you like. You can start with Sun Salutation at 7.15 (or boxercise if you want something a bit more fitness focused). And finish at seven in the evening with Community meditation in the Chrysochous Field at the top of the resort, sitting under a vast conifer and looking out to sea. In between there are lots of yoga, stretch and meditation classes, personal training, tennis and running. There are two pools – one of them (Eden Pool) enormous with interlinking sections where you swim under a bridge, bask in the raised shallows or have a hydro-massage. There are loungers all around and plenty of shade either from umbrellas or courtesy of the many long established olives and palm trees. All very relaxed.

I arrived in the afternoon so the first class I tried was the early evening meditation with Matt. Matt explained some basics about meditation (English is the main language here), its health benefits and the aim – a moment of emptiness when you are completely in the now. Yogis, he goes on, who manage longer than a moment reach a state of bliss, a kind of orgasm for the mind. Well, I did my best but my meditative abilities are clearly not in that league. However, I followed the guided visualisation focused on the heart and did feel very tranquil. Coming out of the meditation, Matt brought the focus to being in the present, experiencing the feel of the breeze on your skin, the sound of the birds and the smell of jasmine wafting across the field. Just sitting in the open air in a moment of inner stillness.

Then I was back to more physical needs – in this case, supper. Zening’s philosophy is that food is medicine so they mostly offer seasonal, local products predominantly vegetarian but with some fish and chicken. There is no red meat. Their policy is no “hard liquor” either. They do have wine that you can have with meals and there’s a bar but that’s just for freshly made juices – I can recommend the Watermelon Cooler. The food, too, is generally pretty delicious – lots of local dips, salads, fruit, veggies and thick, creamy yoghurt.

Zening diet

The next morning, I decided I was going to really go for it on the yoga front. I started with the beginners’ yoga at 8am, again with Matt. Strictly speaking, I’m not a beginner but this class is in the cool of the day, overlooks the sea and leads very pleasantly on to breakfast. I went to the intermediate yoga, too, at 11.30 in the Aphrodite Hall – airy and well ventilated but I am still dripping by the time we finish an hour and a half later. Nearly three hours of yoga in one morning – not bad.

So the rest of the day was devoted to swimming, reading and relaxation till evening meditation time. I’d only brought one short book with me and was already halfway through it before I arrived but discovered the biggest resort library I’ve ever seen. It has an entire building to itself and covers everything from health to fiction across many languages. I’m not sure people are very careful about putting the books back where they found them, though. I did discover a book on Stalin under “nutrition”…

There are places for relaxing and reading all over the resort. Down by the smaller Fontana Pool, there are huge canopied beds as well as loungers. The whole of Zening is, in fact, one big garden and there are quiet spots everywhere. Most rooms have some kind of garden or balcony of their own, too. Mine had loungers, an umbrella and an olive tree for shade and even my own private hot tub. So it would be easy never to leave the grounds but there is quite a lot to do around here and, in particular, a boat trip to the Akamas nature reserve is an absolute must. The area is totally unspoilt, perfect for walking or cycling. Its bay is known as the Blue Lagoon due to its crystal clear blue waters and wonderful for swimming.

Zening Pool

But then it was back to more classes – some of them quite unusual. I tried Susannah’s “tuning up exercise” which turned out to be Eurythmics. This is nothing to do with the band, it’s dancing like Isadora, all floaty scarves and improvisation. It might sound a bit fey but I loved it and found myself dancing round my room afterwards. She also has a class that I misread on the timetable. It wasn’t, as first thought, “meditative butch” (very intriguing) but “meditative butoh”, a Japanese version that involves sitting, standing and walking in tiny slow motion steps.

The Zening Veda Spa is, again, a very tranquil space. Dark and lit with flickering candles, it features meditative music and reproductions of the local mosaics dating back to classical times – Leda and the Swan is a favourite. My first massage was lomi lomi, Polynesian style and using quantities of coconut oil. Paulina – also one of the yoga teachers – used her forearms as well as hands in a gentle, rolling motion, like waves moving over the body. She described it as a happy, uplifting kind of massage and it’s delivered against a background of joyful Polynesian music.

My other favourite was the Thai massage with Evgenia. Thai uses a combination of techniques – acupressure, reflexology and an awful lot of stretching. Evgenia didn’t just use her forearms but her feet, knees, shoulders, elbows and body weight. At times my limbs were kneaded, pushed together, pulled apart and seemed to be involved in some complicated knitting pattern along with the therapist. I was turned in spirals, every joint down to my toes and fingers were pulled free of their sockets and even my head and neck were loosened away from my body. It all worked towards the climax, a series of back bends that arched my whole body backwards, accompanied by plenty of clicking. By the end, there seemed to be more space inside my body, joints had opened up and muscles had unknotted. I had become internally airy!

Zening Cyprus 2

Zening gives you space, too. It sits on a hillside overlooking the yacht harbour with the Med beyond it and high wooded hills curving round to form a beautiful bay. All of the buildings in the resort are painted white with archways draped in floating muslin curtains and scarlet bougainvillea cascading over them. Even in the height of summer it never feels crowded and in the mild winter you can hike through the Akamas or even (on rare occasions!) ski in the Troodos Mountains. This is the ultimate chill-out destination.

Wellbeing Escapes, UK’s leading wellness travel company, offers a Wellbeing Booster package at Zening, for a minimum 5 nights, starting at £415 pp. For the full list of inclusions and to book visit www.wellbeingescapes.com .

For more information on Zening Resort, Cyprus, visit www.zeningcyrpus.com.

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