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Best Of Athens, Greece 2024

Globetrotting

by Richard Nahem
Athens, Greecce. Porch of the Erechtheion at the Acropolis (Photo by Serghei Starus)

Between shopping, eating, and drinking at cafes, I visited numerous cultural attractions and a few off-the-beaten path treasures.

Porch of the Erechtheion at the Acropolis (Photo by Serghei Starus)

Pack your bags and join us as we explore Athens, Greece; a European Capital well known for art, culture food, and history, along with first class luxury and boutique hotels.

The first time I visited Athens was in the early 1980s while on my way to Mykonos, way before it was a major gay mecca.

Friends and colleagues recommended only staying one day in Athens to view the Acropolis and skip the rest of the city, as there was not much worth seeing. Last fall I returned to Athens for four days and couldn’t fit in all the rich treasures the city has to offer. If you visit Athens now, you will discover it is a significant European capital for art, culture, food, and history, along with first-class luxury and boutique hotels.

I stayed at the New Hotel (yeshotels.gr/newhotel), just off Syntagma Square, which was perfectly located and within walking distance to many of Athens most desirable attractions including the Acropolis (theacropolismuseum.gr) and the Plaka neighborhood. A five-star boutique hotel with 79 rooms, the New Hotel has a downtown, artist’s vibe, and rightly so. The owner, Dakis Joannou, is a major Greek art collector, and has placed numerous, contemporary art pieces throughout the hotel from his collection. Recycled remnants from the original hotel that existed before the New Hotel are cleverly placed around the guest rooms and the public areas. I had a spacious, 300 square-foot Studio Room with vintage postcards framed on the walls in glass, a chair made of repurposed wood fragments, and a resin, triangular-shaped sink in the spacious bathroom. The New Sense gym and wellness club has state-of-the-art workout equipment, a sauna, a steam room, and a jacuzzi.

One of the highlights of the hotel is the rooftop bar and restaurant with an enclosed dining room and outdoor terrace with amazing views of the city including the Acropolis, which is especially stunning at night when is it lit up. I had an impressive dinner that started with three classic Greek dips: tarama, fava bean puree, and smoked eggplant puree served with warm pita bread, followed by their specialty dish of slow-baked pork, with sundried tomatoes and feta cheese. Dessert was a raspberry tart topped with Greek yogurt ice cream.

Another evening, I had drinks on the rooftop of the Hotel Grande Bretagne (marriott.com), the grande dame hotel of Athens on Syntagma Square. Inaugurated in 1874, this historic hotel hosted the foreign mission to the first modern Olympic games in 1896, and ever since has been a magnet for celebrity and VIP guests including Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Maria Callas, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen. The super-luxurious suites are decorated with a combination of antiques, classic furniture and accessories. Other amenities include an Olympic size swimming pool and a winter garden lounge with afternoon, high tea service.

Hotel Grande Bretagne (Photo by Adriana Lacob)

Hotel Grande Bretagne (Photo by Adriana Lacob)

When visiting Athens, you will soon discover what a great walking city it is. My favorite neighborhoods for walking were Plaka and Kolonaki. Plaka, the area in between my hotel and the Acropolis, has winding streets dotted with 19th-century townhouses painted in Mediterranean shades of apricot, mustard, ochre, and terracotta, with ornate iron balconies and ivy, vines, and flowers festooning the facades. The charm of Plaka can be found in the outdoor cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the cobblestone streets and plazas, as well as in the art galleries, vintage book shops, and unique stores.

Stop by Amorgosart (instagram.com/amorgosart), and you will be enchanted by a world of antiques, religious articles, found objects, vintage furniture, China, vintage toys and dolls, and unique artworks. You can easily spend hours each day just browsing the stores in Athens. I found a small, stylish onyx and silver cross for my husband at COSMO 2 (ma-jewels.gr), a jewelry and fashion accessories boutique featuring a collective of Greek artists’ creations I live in Paris and the Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, with hilly, tree-lined streets, reminded me of the Saint Germain des Pres area, with its upscale clothing and accessory boutiques, and fashionable cafes and bistros. Lunch was at Malconi’s Italian Gastropub (malconis.gr), where I savored a starter of sea bass tartare, followed by a dreamy lobster filled gnocchi, while people watching the well-heeled Athenians pass by.

View of Mount lycabettus and Kolonaki Disgtrict from Areopagus Hill (Photo by ColorMaker)

View of Mount Lycabettus and Kolonaki District from Areopagus Hill (Photo by ColorMaker)

After lunch, I needed a caffeine boost, so I stopped by Chez Michel (chezmichel.gr), a popular, French-style bistro and coffee bar, for an espresso and yummy French pastry. Fully charged, I decided to explore the beautiful creations by Ileana Makri (ileanamakri.com), the go-to designer for bespoke, and ready-to-wear fine jewelry crafted in gold, silver, and precious stones. The elegantly designed boutique also stocks a coterie of other international jewelry designers, plus a home accessories collection and designer sunglasses.

I also did some major shopping damage at Mah Jong Boutique (mahjong-boutique.gr), a menswear shop carrying luxury Greek and international fashion brands. The focus is more on small, artisanal collections which include Aida Barni, for cashmere, Seraphin for luxurious leather jackets and coats, and Incotex for jeans. Mahjong also has a made-to-measure department for suits, sports jackets, accessories, and shirts.

With hundreds of adorable and appealing restaurants and cafes in Athens, from which to choose, it was a clear case of too many tavernas, and too little time. A historic 400-year-old building is home to To Kafeneio (tokafeneio.gr), a cozy, tiny tavern with just 18 tables, a working fireplace, and exposed stone walls. It is decorated with wall tapestries, ceramic tile tabletops, and wood and straw chairs. Menu specialties include kessaria pie, filled with pastrami sausage, cheese, and peppers, classic Greek salad with stuffed grape leaves, and for dessert, kormos, a chocolate log stuffed with crumbled biscuits and nuts. Outside the restaurant is an extended terrace in a cobblestone plaza.

Greek Salad (Photo By Anna Shepulova)

Greek Salad (Photo By Anna Shepulova)

My favorite dining experience in Athens was dinner at the 2 Mazi Restaurant (2mazi.gr). I was immediately enchanted stepping onto the outdoor terrace, festooned with colored, glass lanterns and hanging vines, enclosed by wrought iron gates. The award-winning restaurant serves contemporary Greek cuisine with most of the ingredients sourced from small, artisanal purveyors across Greece. My fabulous, three-course dinner of smoked tuna tartare, braised lamb on a bed of eggplant puree, and wild greens, and a passion fruit mousse with mango coulis and chocolate ice cream for dessert, was presented on gorgeous, glazed, ceramic dishware.

Another excellent choice was Taverna Saita (restaurantguru.com/Taverna-Saita-Athens), an authentic taverna that prepares terrific versions of Greek classics such as moussaka, grilled feta cheese, oven-baked eggplant, and Saita, a salad of marinated anchovies, capers, tomatoes and peppers. If weather permits, dine on the outdoor terrace with green and white checkered tablecloths, wood back chairs with straw seats, and cream color canvas awnings.

Between shopping, eating, and drinking at cafes, I visited numerous cultural attractions and a few off-the-beaten path treasures. One of the most significant archeological intuitions in the world, the Acropolis Museum (theacropolismuseum.gr/en) has a 4,200-piece collection of ancient artifacts from the Roman and Byzantine, and the Greek Bronze periods.

View of the Acropolis from the rooftop Cafe at the Acropolis Museum (Photo by Richard Nahem)

View of the Acropolis from the rooftop Cafe at the Acropolis Museum (Photo by Richard Nahem)

The modern steel, 150,000 square-foot structure has loads of natural light pouring through massive glass panels, highlighting the ancient sculptures and statues. Stay for lunch at the open-air, rooftop café and restaurant with jaw-dropping views of the Acropolis, then buy some postcards and souvenirs at the well-stocked museum shop.

The oldest, still-standing Greek Orthodox Church, the Panagia Kapnikarea (athensbylocals.com), near the Plaka district, dates back to the mid-eleventh century. Don’t miss the magnificent frescoes by Greek painter Fotis Kontoglou and his art students.

After visiting the ancient and historical sites, head for the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (emst.gr/en), the only museum in Greece dedicated to collecting and exhibiting contemporary, Greek, and international artists. Debuting in 2000, the 200,000-square-foot museum is laid out over three stories and has architecture, design, and photography exhibitions. I discovered several wonderful Greek artists’works on display including Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, Stephen Antonakos, and Vlassis Caniaris.

Dazzled by the ancient treasures at the Acropolis Museum, I was once again dazzled, but this time by the contemporary treasures at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum (lalaounis-jewelrymuseum.gr). Starting off in a small boutique in Athens in 1969, Ilias Lalaounis, created a new collection of bold jewelry based on designs rooted in Greek history, and became a runaway success, opening 38 boutiques across the globe. Over a 50-year period, he designed over 18,000 pieces of jewelry and the museum features 4,500 of the iconic and important pieces from his extensive archives, displayed in six sections. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum presents temporary exhibitions featuring pieces from recognized, international jewelry artists.


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