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09 June 2016

A Mindful Mediterranean Cruise

Carey, our yogi, says to me “close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing,”. I manage about two seconds, before my eyes ping back open. I look up to the wide blue sky, pretending I’m still engaged in my post-yoga mindfulness. The boat rocks gently beneath me, the morning sun warming the deck. I hear soft waves, birds twittering, Carey intoning something about imagining I’m floating up through the air…but I have no desire to imagine myself anywhere but right here.

Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com

Banner Image Credit: Heather Richardson

Yoga

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

Early morning yoga by the sea is not an everyday reality for me. Usually 8am finds me already at my desk, embarking on the never-ending assault on my inbox. Today however, I’m anchored off the Greek island Symi on day two of a week-long cruise with Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage. Our vessel – the Muhtesem A – is a traditional Turkish gulet, made of polished wood and with eight cabins. The striking red Turkish flag flutters behind, contrasting with the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkish Flag

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

Our itinerary sees us sail from the Greek island of Rhodes to Marmaris in Turkey, stopping at several islands and ports en route. The activities are gentle and intertwined with the environment: hiking through the hills, swimming in the sea, and sessions of sunset yoga and stretching before dinner.

Marmaris Fort, Turkey

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

It’s a good job we’re keeping active, because the food is dangerously delicious. Chef Adnan, brother of our captain Aytekin, is a former wrestler and a man of few words – but many recipes. Every day he delivers something different to our communal dining table; from freshly caught barbecued fish to hearty servings of ratatouille. The tahini and honey at breakfast is a unanimous favourite, as was the dried version, halva, which we have for dessert one evening. The honey comes from Adnan and Aytekin’s brother’s bee farm, the only member of their seafaring family to have stayed on land.

Breakfast on the cruise

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

Throughout the week we go for lunch at a local family’s home (relatives of Aytekin and Adnan); we experience an authentic Turkish hammam; and we explore the islands’ history. Our guide, Ali, has an impressive knowledge of the region’s past and leads us around old, crumbling fortress ruins, explaining the Mediterranean’s ancient and rich history as we go, his enthusiasm infectious.

Turkish Coastline

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

Ali also takes care of me when the sea is a little rough, as he knows I am prone to occasional seasickness. As soon as the wind picks up, he is like a mother hen, making sure everyone has taken their motion sickness tablets. I ask our unflappable captain, Aytekin, if he’s ever experienced seasickness. “Once,” he tells me. When he was seven. His grandfather – who, decades ago, was one of the best sponge divers in the Mediterranean, sinking 80 metres into the deep whilst clad in the giant diving suits of the time – made him drink a shot of seawater. “Very dangerous,” Aytekin warns me, although it is not something I am contemplating sampling for myself. It worked though. He’s never been seasick since.

Nothing beats the moments of Zen-like calm and contentment I experience on board. I rise early each morning to find a few moments to sip my tea and absorb the peaceful quiet on the boat’s warm deck. One morning, I am the first up (even the crew are still sleeping). I sit on the loungers on the back deck, looking out to the tiny, empty cove in which we spent the night, and listen to the only sounds I can hear: the splash of little waves against the boat and the occasional dull clang of goats’ bells in the distance.

Mediterranean Sea, Turkey

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

As the gulet sails to our next destination, we sit around on the loungers, chatting, a bottle of chilled rosé between us. Although most of our motley group did not know each other before, the communal spirit of the cruise (and a couple of nights out in buzzy harbour towns) makes it seem as though we’ve all known each other for years. The sea merges into the horizon, with no clear line between it and the sky. The water looks like rippled blue silk, it is so smooth. Such simple moments are what define this trip for me.

Cove in Turkey

Image Credit: Heather Richardson

Though ‘fitness’ is a key aspect to our cruise, I think the word ‘delights’ is more applicable. It is as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body. We can all go to the gym or out for a run to keep ourselves physically in check, but space and time are the real luxuries of the modern world in which we live.

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