Holding a label-less bottle of deep red liquid, Minna asked, “Would you like a drink made from lingonber-ries, or one made from elderflower juice?” After we all boarded the private boat that would take us from one of the major boat landings in central Stockholm out to the small island where our retreat would take place, she offered drinks and sandwiches. I have lived in Scandinavia for many years, and was pre-pared for bottles from one of the grocery chains here. No, these were homemade. I looked at Minna and she said, “I asked my father to make these for me, for this retreat.”
Personal touches like these continued throughout the week. Minna Skirgård is Swedish, and although she has made her home in London for over a decade, she has held to her sense of what makes Scandinavia so special—it is about clean de-sign, yes, but also about small relaxed details, about simplicity, about capturing a lifestyle that feels like it only ever existed in the past, and about feeling immediately at home. Minna explained to me that she started her yoga retreat com-pany, Scandoir, to show people what she carries within her of Scandinavia, details that outsiders rarely see. Her retreats are curated carefully, and she selects all of her sites, both in Scandinavia and in England, for their magical qualities: they are “smultronställen”, literally “wild strawberry patch(es)” but figuratively a hard-to-translate term hinting at those places where you feel most home, most you.
The summer had been rainy, cold, and grey up to this point, and I had packed a fleece jacket and gloves along with my yoga gear. The day we set off for the island of Idobörg, how-ever, was warm, with brilliant skies turning the waters of the Stockholm archipelago sparkling blue. Idobörg is a privately owned island, used for corporate retreats as well as alterna-tive/wellness retreats. It is small, but in its borders it holds examples of several classic styles of Swedish architecture, ones that elicit nostalgia and longing: a large white villa with porches and balconies at various levels, Swedish “snickar-glädje” (‘carpenter’s delight”) at every angle; three red cottag-es with white trim, the classic outlines of idealised Swedish summer residences; and a 300-year-old timbered house at the water’s edge, its spaces and beams maintained to period-typical standards, but with the addition of a wood-burning sauna. We made use of this sauna several times, racing out into the shallow cold waters, back-dropped by a spectacular sunset one night, the rising full moon the next.
Yoga practices took place at the water’s edge on the other side of the island, within a beautiful calm dojo space. Paths con-nected all of these places, and walking them was like walking through the most mythologised and idealised landscapes of ‘what Sweden is’: forest floors of blueberries, lingonberries, and wild strawberries. A wildflower field surrounded by fruit trees and currant bushes. And of course the seascapes of the archi-pelago, flat smooth stones curving into brilliantly sparkling sea. I will not go so far as to say Minna controlled the weather that week, but we were all amazed when weather apps showed the storm systems circling us, drenching rain and wind across the archipelago, yet never reaching our island.
Minna of course did hand-select almost everything else, includ-ing the yoga instructor, Erin Pritchard, who is an internationally recognised yogi and yoga teacher-trainer. In the late afternoon of our arrival day, Erin took us through a joy-filled session, flow-ing between asanas, skilfully and almost imperceptibly taking the measure of this group she would lead in practice for the upcoming week.
This first practice was about two-hours, but felt like 30-min-utes. The dinner afterwards also had Minna’s touch: colourful, flavourful, organic vegetarian fare with vegan and gluten-free options. And throughout the week this continued, sometimes with typical Swedish ingredients, sometimes an improvisation on the part of the chef, Maria, who would notice specific pref-erences then design something the next day reflecting those.
We also were able to experience what I think is the best way to see the archipelago aside from sunning on the smooth rocks waterside: kayaking. The island has a small fleet of sit-in kayaks, a combination of singles and doubles, and we took an after-noon to paddle among the surrounding outcrops and skerries. Minna then provided the group with some Swedish socio-cul-tural insight through a group film night, taking advantage of the business conference room facilities projector. She brought along DVDs of films which were uniquely Swedish, in that they reflected something thought-provoking about Swedish soci-ety. These films were enormously entertaining as well. Minna was willing to put herself on the line, too – she is a certified yoga instructor, and as the result of good-natured requests, she quickly put together and led a skilful practice towards the end of the week.
It was difficult to leave this wonderful island and this magical week. But our parting gift, made by chef Maria minutes before we boarded our boat back to Stockholm, was a “smultronstrå” (“wild strawberry strand”, wild strawberries threaded onto a grass straw) and although there are many interpretations of ex-actly what such a gift signifies, Maria assured us: “Eat these, and you will always return.”
Scandoir is organizing two retreats on this magical island this summer 2016:
Forrest yoga with Kristi Johnson 23-30 July
Rocket yoga with Marcus Veda 31 July – 7 August