Back to Greece, at last! – World Meanderings (n°90)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
After being postponed week after week since the end of the Greek lockdown flights from the UK to the main Greek airports should be operating again on July 15. With an exceptional low impact of the Covid 19 Greece is more tempting than ever and we can consider a trip to Greece with the needed sanitary measure but without a second thought. Fingers crossed!
Mandatory sanitary measures
However before getting onboard your plane to Athens or Thessaloniki make sure to test negative or you could be quarantined under supervision for 14 days in a hotel chosen and paid for by the government. Not exactly the kind of holidays you’ve been dreaming of! All visitors going to Greece have to fill out a “passenger locator form” 48 hours before arrival. You will then be given a QR code that will be scanned at the airport. This code will be read by a member of the screening personnel and allowed to the exit or directed to a testing area and isolated for 24 hours at your destination until you get your results. If positive you’re good for the 14 days quarantine!
Same Greek wonderful sites, but much less tourists
Although certain activities will still be restricted you will be able to enjoy Greece respecting social distancing. That shouldn’t be a problem since there will be less visitors and a unique occasion to visit almost empty sites. Can you imagine visiting the Acropolis without the hordes of tourists that usually invade it! Built 2,500 years ago on top of a rocky hill that overlooked a vast plain and the Mediterranean Sea this citadel irresistibly catches the eye. Still today the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea or the Caryatids give a surprising feeling of mixed beauty and power.
After visiting the Acropolis first thing in the morning walk down the hill to 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.
Go back to Areopagitou Street to walk around the Acropolis and you 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
Is Plaka really overrated?
The answer is yes and no since Plaka still has an undeniable charm but it’s not the only lively district in town. Monastiraki at the foot of the Acropolis and a little further away Psiri also deserve your interest. 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!
Our favourite places to eat
Getting starved in Athens is simply impossible! 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
Find out more about Prasopita 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, spinach, melting cheese… Use your fingers and treat yourself! Go to Mpougastadsadiko 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!
Where to stay
The “Hotel de Grande Bretagne” was built in 1874 and still 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. Rooms are as comfortable as can be expected with stylish decoration and efficient soundproofing which is important since most of them have a view over Syntagme Square and the Parliament Building.
On Sunday mornings you’ll have a great view of the famous “Changing of the Presidential Guards Ceremony” from your balcony. 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.
Far from the informal restaurants of Plaka 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/
Aegean Airlines, the obvious way to fly to Greece:
Aegean Airlines whose flights will resume very soon, propose many destinations through Greece and will have daily direct flights from London or Manchester to Athens and is expected to have many more during this high season from Dublin, Birmingham or Edinburgh. It’s a good value-for-money company even if due to this sanitary crisis the on-board service had to be made simpler than before. All infos on Aegean website:
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny