So many good reasons for an Athenian city-break – World Meanderings (n°47)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
In spite of the current economic climate it seems that Athens has seldom been so full of energy, driven by a new need for innovation and creativity. If you think that it’s all about the Acropolis and antiquity you have it all wrong. Athens is a modern city and Athenians have turned their back on dark thoughts. They are smiling, welcoming, genuinely kind and will make your Greek break a success!
Of course if you have never been to Athens before you will undoubtedly have to visit the Acropolis ideally built 2,500 years ago on top of a rocky hill that overlooked a vast plain and the Mediterranean Sea. Even today the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea or the Caryatids give a surprising feeling of mixed beauty and power. Walking down the hill you will get to the Roman Forum and to Areopagitou Street, a lively pedestrian promenade lined with grand neoclassical buildings. Although most of them have been turned into touristic restaurants where menus made with garishly coloured photos give you the feeling of being an idiot unable to read “Greek salad” or “Moussaka”, there still are nice places to have a Greek coffee or a snack.
Back on Areopagitou Street, walk around the Acropolis and you will get to the fantastic Acropolis Museum. This ultra-modern museum opened in 2009 and is ever since acknowledged as one of the very best museums in the world. Outside glass floors allow the visitors to step back in time by looking at Roman and Byzantine underground ruins discovered during the excavation works. Once inside a monumental staircase leads to a huge hall filled with an amazing collection of sculpture masterpieces of Archaic and Classical times. The third floor is entirely dedicated to the Parthenon where a real size reproduction of the temple’s Ionic frieze has been placed at eye level. This reproduction surrounds a higher and bare cubic structure the same size as the real Parthenon… as if waiting for the original Parthenon Marbles! http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en
Have you ever heard of Athens’ open-air cinemas? There are dozens of them but the most spectacular one probably is Cine Paris, that has an amazing view over the Acropolis. www.cineparis.gr At Cine Thisio, you will not only enjoy a movie but you will also get delicious Greek snacks such as homemade spoon sweets or some avgotaraho, this typical Mediterranean dish made with dry fish roe, with a glass of Greek wine or of Tsipouro, a local kind of anisette. Forget popcorn and soft drinks! www.cine-thisio.gr Foreign films are shown in their original language with Greek subtitles so you won’t have any problem to enjoy the show.
At the foot of the Acropolis Plaka, Monastiraki and a little further away Psiri are the liveliest districts in town centre. Whether day or night there will always be something to do, see, drink or eat in this maze of small winding streets. Ermou Street that starts at Syntagma Square is an open-air shopping mall in its pedestrian part. You will find there many international fashion brands as well as typical Greek shops selling produce from all over the country.
Amazingly an 11th century Byzantine church is standing right in the middle of Ermou Street. This is Panagia Kapnikarea Church one of Athens’ oldest orthodox churches that has remarkable outside colourful mosaics and inside frescoes. Close by, next to the cathedral, the Agios Eleftherios Church is a tiny chapel built with antique “raw material dump”. Sculpted stones from ancient Greek and Roman temples have been used to make its walls that look like a big incomprehensible jigsaw puzzle!
One thing is for sure you will never get starved in Athens! There are countless restaurants that fit all tastes and budgets. Scholarchio has been our favourite one for many years. Located on Tripodon Street close to the Acropolis, you will easily spot it: from 11 am till late at night it’s always crowded, not only with tourists but also with locals who enjoy its tasty family cuisine.
Get a table on the outside terrace and make your choice from the huge tray filled with at least 15 different dishes that the waiter will carry to your table. And if you want more choice, just ask! The value for money is very good and you can get a fulfilling meal including drinks and dessert for 15 Euros. www.scholarhio.gr
Prasopita is a classic of Greek cuisine. It’s a kind of pie made with layers of filo pastry filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, nuts… and quickly cooked in a hot oven. We found a nice little restaurant in Psiri district where you can watch the cook making an increasingly thin filo pastry filled to your taste with chicken, spinaches, melting cheese… Use your fingers and treat yourself! A great place: the restaurant Mpougatsadiko 1, Iroon Square. Also in Psiri but closer to Emrou Street, go to Aghias Irinis Square, Athens’ coffee Mecca! You will find there several cafés where they still brew coffee the traditional way, on hot sand! Small copper coffee pots are filled with cold water and ground coffee, placed on burning hot sand and slowly “infused”. A must for all coffee lovers!
Built in 1874 the “Hotel de Grande Bretagne” is the iconic historical hotel of Athens where many stars, politicians or VIP stay when in Greece. This 5-star luxury hotel is a grand experience since its hundred million restoration in 2003. Precious materials, period furniture, marbles, paintings create an elegant and intimate atmosphere. Ideally located on Syntagma Square it is at walking distance of the Acropolis and other places of interest in town.
Of course the rooms are very comfortable with a stylish decoration and are well soundproof which is important since most of them have a view over Syntagme Square and the Parliament Building. On Sunday mornings they will give you a great view of the famous “Changing of the Presidential Guards Ceremony”. These guards called Evzones, wear a unique white uniform with pleated skirt and sleeves, red hat and pompom shoes that made them famous in the whole world. It’s a spectacular ceremony full of symbols and history and the view from the hotel is much better than the one you have if standing on Syntagma Square.
The hotel’s restaurants are among the very best in Greece and the “GB Roof Garden Restaurant” is on the list of the “101 best hotel restaurants of the world” of the Daily Mail. Located on the 8th floor with an outside terrace the “GB Roof Garden” offers an amazing view over the Acropolis. It makes breakfast a unique moment, one to remember! Even if you are not staying at the hotel you can enjoy this view while having a drink or dinner on the terrace. Chef Asterios Koustoudis was born in Northern Greece and was awarded a Michelin star in his previous restaurant. Now working as executive chef at “Hotel de Grande Bretagne” since 2011 he remains true to his Mediterranean heritage revisiting the classic Greek recipes. To him “food needs to be simple, not simplistic”. http://www.grandebretagne.gr/
Special offer at Hotel de Grande Bretagne:
For next Thanksgiving week (November 21st to 26th), Hotel de Grande Bretagne announced a special offer named “Happy Thansgiving” with double room price from 270€ (235£). A minimum stay of 3 nights is required but the offer includes a Thanksgiving lunch or dinner for 2 at the GB Roof Garden Restaurant on Thursday, November 23rd (3 course set menu). Furthermore daily buffet breakfast at the GB Roof Garden Restaurant with its stunning views of the Acropolis, daily complimentary in-room WiFi internet access and complimentary full use of the multi-awarded GB Spa facilities and the Fitness Studio, are also included in the package, with a late check-out at 16:00 (obviously subject to availability).
And for all those intending to enjoy Thanksgiving in Athens, this offer includes a fabulous family discount; 50% on second room & complimentary children meals (up to 12 years old).
To fly to Greece, we flew with Aegean Airlines, the most important airline company in Greece since 2008 with a large international flights selection (112 destinations in 40 countries) combined with its complete national network linking together 33 Greek airports all over the country. Aegean Airlines has been awarded “Best European Regional Airline” 8 times by Skytrax and is a Star Alliance member.
Aegean is flying all year around from London and Manchester to Greece with seasonal flights from Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Dublin. During high season Aegean adds new routes from UK with direct flights to many Greek destinations as Rhodes, Crete, Thessaloniki or Corfu…
Aegean airlines offers early booking prices from 58£ one-way London-Athens.
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes