More than a party island: Why Mykonos is the hotspot for health not hedonism

Ah, Mykonos. Clubbers’ haven. Posers’ paradise. Home of hedonism and hefty bar bills.

This beautiful jewel in the Aegean sea has become synonymous with excess, taken over by a party crowd for summer, frequented by world famous DJs and a clientele – including the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kim and Kanye, Leo DiCaprio and Elon Musk – who cannot get enough of the sun, sea, sand and scene.

With beach clubs, all-day parties and nightlife to rival Ibiza, no one goes to Mykonos on a health kick.

Or do they?

A new wave of traveller is flocking to the island and they have no intention of staying up past midnight – after all, they have a HIIT class at 6am.

Hugo Martini Mensch, who runs fitness retreats on the island with his company Helios Retreats, tells that while we were apparently too busy sipping cocktails on Paraga beach to notice, Mykonos has been busy repositioning itself as a wellness and fitness destination.

It’s thanks in part, he says, to the younger generation who are, as he puts it, ‘more into themselves’.

‘This generation wants to look good and feel good,’ he says. ‘Since I’ve created Helios, we’ve seen the evolution. We no longer have to explain to the clients what a fitness retreat is – they already know.’

He puts the shift down in part to the pandemic, which inspired a whole generation of travellers to seek more out of their holidays.

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‘After Covid, people are looking for more enhancement in a trip,’ he says. ‘They are not as keen on the whole idea of going on holiday and partying and coming back wrecked.

‘People are now looking for healing, not hedonism.’

Holidays with purpose are de rigueur. ‘It’s not a novelty any more,’ he says.

So how has Hugo ended up holding retreats on lively Mykonos rather than, say, a quieter, more affordable Greek island that might be just as beautiful?

‘The smaller islands in Greece are very nice but difficult to get to. The food is not catered quite so specifically.

‘Mykonos is a well-prepared island – it has everything you need. It has the infrastructure,’ he says.

‘And as Mykonos is a high-end destination, you get the very high quality that people expect.’

Hugo took his first retreat to Mykonos 7 years ago in 2016 when ‘no one else was doing anything like this’.

Always into fitness – he practised swimming, judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu growing up – he trained as a PT after moving to the UK in 2004, integrating his love of both fitness and travel.

He was scarred by the first ever retreat he tried to hold, in Ibiza in 2015, attended mostly by a group of his pals. ‘I took a bunch of friends who didn’t focus on the activities, they just wanted to go out,’ he says. ‘After that experience, I didn’t like the whole idea of retreats in Ibiza.’

A Greek client recommended the island of Mykonos – and noted that the parties were more daytime, more lighthearted than Ibiza. And in 2016, he concedes, Mykonos wasn’t what it is now.

‘The hospitality in Greece is above and beyond – it’s the birthplace of Xenia [welcoming strangers]’, he says.

‘Seven years ago it was just me doing fitness on Mykonos,’ says Hugo. ‘Maybe because of the stigma attached to Mykonos as a party island, just like Ibiza used to be.

‘But now it has the best of both worlds.’

With Mykonos known for its fearsome bar bills, how does Hugo navigate the famously pricey island?

‘We don’t go in peak season,’ he says. In May, September, October, November, flights are not as expensive and places charge more reasonable prices.

‘If you go in July and August, prepare to spend a lot of money. Businesses have a limited window where they can make a lot of money. So, from the second week of June until end of August, don’t go unless you’re willing to pay higher prices.

Hugo explains too that it helps to know the island. ‘We have VIP access to clubs. No queues, reserved seating. We have shared platters in restaurants, we know what to order, we are looked after.’

His client helped him find the perfect villa and set up the retreat. Greek hospitality has done the rest.

His retreat packages, which start at £1,800 for the week – are all-inclusive, with boat trips, island tours and meals at Zuma and Scorpios – ‘Mykonos’s best restaurants’ – built into the price.

‘Guests like to know what they are spending up front,’ he says.

The 9-bedroom villa in Mykonos that hosts the retreats sleeps up to 18 if people share, but most guests take their own room. Most retreaters are female, though the mix varies by destination. More men take up Mykonos, though the balance is ‘still around 60-40, maybe 70-30’.

Helios Retreats welcome all-comers, but Hugo tells me the destination somewhat dictates the age range and demographic, with Mykonos and Crete attracting a younger crowd, in their 20s and 30s. Maldives and Tuscany attract a more refined group in their 40s and 50s. Moroccan retreat-goers are described as an ‘adventurous group’ who want to learn more about the culture – the Americans love it, apparently.

‘We like to have retreats that let people connect with the location,’ he says.

As such, the fitness element of the holiday – morning yoga and HIIT classes, afternoon workouts – and convivial shared meals and free time at the villa are interspersed with excursions around the island, quad bike and boat tours and restaurant bookings at the best dining spots in town. Quad bikes, yacht trips, fancy dinners – all of a sudden this bootcamp has turned into a rather fabulous vacay, hasn’t it?

‘Our retreats are not bootcamps,’ Hugo counters. It’s not about ‘all work and no play’.

Does that extend to alcohol? ‘People are on holiday, it’s their break – if they want a glass of rose at sunset, they can have one,’ he says.

‘Alcohol is not offered with dinner in the villa, but the chefs can bring a glass if guests want, with no judgement.

‘Just remember you’re exercising the next morning – but you can sweat it out. I don’t mind,’ he says. ‘I’d say, what’s your goal? If it’s to exercise and have a bit of fun, then have a glass of wine.

‘Look at Mykonos – it’s about having adventures. If you’re on a boat watching asunset, it’s impossible not to have a glass of wine.’

‘That’s what matters for an overall experience.’

Hugo is keen to reiterate that Helios Retreats are not ascetic weight loss camps. The goal isn’t for guests to starve themselves or necessarily to go away thinner. Instead, they are about a ‘wholesome experience’.

‘We are a happy retreat. Everyone eats until they are happy,’ he says.

‘Food is shared, so if you’re very strong-willed and want to avoid bread, you can,’ he says.

‘If you know about food, you can choose salads and proteins.

‘The truth is, if you are doing all the classes and making good choices, you will likely lose weight.

‘We don’t want people to go home and feel like they have been deprived,’ he says. ‘It’s about eating healthy, trying different foods and exercising.

‘It’s a way of life that is more longterm – have carbs, have a glass of wine and watch the sunset. Enjoy the moment.’

Despite his relaxed approach with guests, Hugo currently doesn’t drink alcohol at and hasn’t for the whole of 2023. He lives in Barnes [leafy suburb of west London that runs alongside the River Thames] with his wife and son Sebastian, two, where he says people are ‘very into their fitness’. ‘It’s very endurance-focused – people running, doing matharons and triathlons.

‘Training motivation drops a bit even with a glass of wine,’ he says. ‘I’m really focused and don’t think alcohol will help me at this time. I’m 42 and have just had a 2-year-old!’

Now Hugo holds 15 retreats a year and attends around 4 himself. His team – with a ‘zest and enthusiasm for life’ host the rest.

Helios Retreats now spans 7 countries, with retreats in Bahamas, Morocco, Maldives, Greece (Crete, Mykonos) Italy (Tuscany), France (Chamonix, a ski retreat) and Portugal.

For all of them, it’s not just about fitness, it’s about making connections and meeting people from all different countries.

‘You spend a week with new people on a retreat. Put that in perspective. The amount of time they spend with these strangers, it’s longer than they spend with their friends,’ says Hugo.

When they get the balance right, it’s ‘beautiful to watch’, he says, reporting that some groups from years ago still talk in their Whatsapp groups to ‘chat, have meet-ups and arrange reunions’.

The trend for solo travel has helped – according to, solo travel has more than doubled since the pandemic and shows no sign of slowing down, while Google data shows search for solo travel up over 700% – and this is where Helios focus their trips. ‘You get the most out of a trip if you come solo,’ he says. ‘We get some friends or siblings, or mum and daughter – but if I can focus on solos, I do.’

‘Since Covid, people are feeling lonelier than ever. Retreats help bridge that,’ he says.

‘In our 20s, we went to Ibiza and came back feeling like we needed another holiday.

‘Now we go on holiday and want to be healed.’

And it turns out that against all odds, Mykonos is the place to do it.

Hugo’s next 2023 Mykonos retreats will be held in 15-20 September and 21 – 26 September. From £1,800pp (sharing). Visit Helios Retreats for more information and details of other forthcoming retreats.


Day 1

5pm Welcome drinks and introductions with the Helios team.
A team member will show you around Villa Joy, your home for the week, and introduce you to the other guests. Time to mingle and make some new friends.

7 pm Chef’s Greek BBQ
Our chef will whip up a tasty Greek feast to welcome you to Mykonos. Expect a variety of grilled meats and veg, alongside fresh Greek salads and other traditional treats. Vegetarian/vegan options available.

Day 2

8 am Workout with Vitor

9 am Yoga with Juliet

10 am Brunch

11-4 pm Free Time

4 pm Strength session with Charlie

7.30 pm Dinner at Zuma

Join us for a fabulous dinner at Zuma Mykonos. The chef has prepared a special three-course meal for our group, so get ready for a tasty evening.

Day 3

8 am Workout with Vitor

9 am Yoga

10 am Brunch

11 am Sailing Catamaran day out – Discover the nearby island of Delos on an amazing day out with the team. Lunch and drinks on the boat are included.

7 pm Dinner in the Villa – Chef’s BBQ

Another scrumptious Greek feast prepared by our chef.

Day 4

8 am Workout with Charlie

9 am Yoga

10 am Brunch

11 am Pick up quad bikes for the day

Explore Mykonos’s best beaches and clubs on a quad bike. Alternatively, take the day off to enjoy the villa or explore the island.

No afternoon activities planned.

7 pm Dinner in the Villa – Chef’s BBQ

Another delightful Greek feast by our chef.

Day 5

8 am Workout with Charlie

9 am Yoga

10 am Brunch

11 am Quads drop off

4 pm Workout

7.30 pm Dinner at Scorpios

Our final night out at the exclusive Scorpios Mykonos – a night to remember!

Day 6

8 am Workout & Goodbye from the Helios Team

10 am Brunch

11 am Villa Check Out

Time to say ‘see you soon’. Transfers to the airport at 11 am.

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