Way way back in they day–like waaay back in the day, Athens needed a patron God or Goddess. Poseidon and Athena both thought they were up to the task. They played a match of skill and wisdom atop the Acropolis in front of the first king of Athens, Cecrops (half man-half snake—eeew), to see who would be awarded key of the city. Poseidon was up first. He sauntered over and struck a rock hard enough to bring forth water. The water geysered up in a grand display…but the water was salty and unusable for humans (something the god of the sea perhaps should have considered…salty water is no bueno for land lubbers…). Athena thought for a moment then buried a branch that immediately sprung up into the first olive tree–bringing forth tasty fruit, oil for cooking, and beautiful wood for practical needs and art. Athena was the victor and has since been the patron goddess of Athens. Athena is seen around Athens as the large-eyed owl–you see them everywhere. Of note: Poseidon was a sore loser and subsequently cursed the city with shortages of water, which still plague the city today.
My journey back to Athens was steeped in anticipation! I had not been there since 2008, when I brought The Chickadee here on adventure. I wanted to see the city with fresh eyes and the right way–with a private guide (oh man this is always a good idea!!!). My home for the first visit was the ever-fabulous Grande Bretagne and the New Hotel for my quick return before heading home.
Upon arrival, I was faced with a problem: my luggage took a right turn in Paris and wanted to spend a few more hours in the City of Light. I stood at the baggage carousel hopeful at first…then pleading for it to come out….then peering around the corner to see if it was stuck somewhere….then realizing I was the last to leave the party…by myself…with no luggage…. I proceeded to the luggage counter where a nice man asked me a bazillion questions (color of my luggage (orange), brand (antler), size (big), color of my luggage tag (???)) and told me my luggage was in Paris and would arrive sometime before morning. He then gave me a large zipper bag, which contained a men’s white t-shirt (???), toothpaste and tooth brush, and some other necessity items (but devoid of Vodka, which I really needed), and sent me on my way. Luckily, I had a private driver waiting for me (have I told you, yet, that this is an essential travel reservation??) and he whisked me away to the Grande Bretagne. Now I have to tell you something: I am *so* glad I was not wearing the American travel uniform of Yoga Pants and a sweatshirt as I had dinner reservations that night and wanted to explore the city in between. I like to wear a super comfy black casual dress and bring a jacket. Luckily this transferred pretty easily to dinner dress (although I put on a TON of the hotel lotion to combat the stinkiness)….
I walked into the lobby and just soaked in the grandeur and history of the hotel. How I love a good hotel!!!! Georgia Boosalis, the sales manager, was there to greet me and make sure all was in order. She’s just amazing and is wonderful to all my clients! Situated in the heart of Syntagma Square, this five star, luxury property is steeped in history!!! The hotel has retained the style and character of the original building constructed in 1874 (which is one of the reasons I love it!). It’s a stone’s throw away from the high-end shopping areas, notable museums, the business district, and Parliament. The hotel offers both indoor and rooftop pools, a lovely spa, and a bar/breakfast area with views for days!!!
The suites are just–W.O.W! No wonder dignitaries and even Lady Gaga stay at the GB!!! There’s even a baby grand piano to enjoy…and I won’t bore you with my efforts to emulate her Insta pic on the spa bench…. You’ll love the suite, though….very classic in style…and ginormous! Take a peek:
I checked into my room, a classic room with a courtyard view (no the Lady Gaga Suite but wonderful all the same!). The room was decorated in the traditional style (it’s a historical property). It was medium in size (for Europe) and offered a great bathroom area with separate shower! I was happy to find that the room offered a usb charger in the room (I had packed my adapter/converter in the delayed suitcase). A quick nap was in order, so I set my alarm and got a few zzzzzs….
Next on the list, check out the hotel bar and get a glass of Champagne (of course!). Alexander’s Bar just feels opulent with its 18th century tapestry of the bar’s namesake Alexander the Great. I gazed longingly at the selections of cognac–I spied the Paradis and Richard Hennesey immediately. The waiter brought me my glass of champagne and I toasted myself to a beautiful beginning to a beautiful trip (one must toast to themselves at the beginning of a trip!!).
I met up with my friends that evening for our dinner reservations at the fabulous Aleria restaurant. The tasting menu was amazing and I loved the atmosphere. It had the feeling of an old house. The restaurant is very romantic and the service was spot on! The greek wine pairings rocked my world! I know I had been hearing that the Greeks had amped up their wine game and I expected to love the whites, but oh man, there were some amazing red wines as well! We chose the Tasting Menu II–what a delight of elevated Grecian cuisine!
Upon my return, I saw that the room gift elves had visited (oh how I love them!!!) and given me a treat with a golden Karyatide made of edible gold-covered white chocolate….
Good morning, Athens!!! Oh man! You just have to see the breakfast at the Grande Bretagne!!! One can order off the menu (and I fully intended to), but then I saw the Spanakopita and some fresh peaches and that’s all she wrote!!! The best thing, though is the view. To watch the sun rise over the acropolis is nothing short of amazing… okay, well, my friends saw the sun rise over the Acropolis, but I did see the sunrise pink and orange sky when I make it up there. You feel like you can almost reach out and touch it! Now there tends to be some confusion about whether it’s the Acropolis or the Parthenon and if they are interchangeable. The Acropolis is the rock above the city. Acro means highest or topmost and polis means city. The Parthenon is a building on the Acropolis.
After a leisurely breakfast, a few friends and I headed down the streets near our hotel to explore a bit (and to do some shopping). Per usual, I made a quick stop at the concierge desk to get a map and get the skinny on the best walking routes and (most importantly) the best rooftop bars/cafes. After we walked and shopped enough to burn off our breakfast calories (let me dream!), we saw both of the recommended rooftop bars and decided to try them both.
First on the docket: A for Athens. This place was bustling! Lots of tables on covered patio area and on the rooftop, but lots of full tables. There was a significant wait and we had no where to even hang until a table was free so we decided to try option 2.
Next up: 360. I loved this place!!! The view of the Acropolis was a bit better than with A for Athens, but most importantly, on the rooftop, there were long communal bar-type tables in the center with greenery in the middle. What this meant for us was that there was a place to hang out. The place was full of Greeks (about hipster age or younger) and they all seemed to be drinking coffee (apparently in Greece, coffee trumps wine–egads!!). 360 had a nice selection of Greek wine (I was falling in love with Assyrtiko) and we had to have something to toast our view!! It was a lovely afternoon!!! Yes, we could have walked around more and explored more and yes we could have done something touristy “productive,” but what is more culturally productive than spending a Saturday afternoon the Greek way–in a trendy cafe chatting with friends??
We had a lovely site inspection of the Grande Bretagne’s next door neighbor and sister hotel, the King George. The King George is a quieter, smaller version of the GB. It’s has a lighter and slightly more modern decor than the GB. Most rooms do not have a separate shower (it’s a tub/shower combo), and there are some connecting rooms, but not as many as the Grande Bretagne. Guests in the King George may use the facilities of the Grande Bretagne with the exception of the outdoor pool (because it’s small).
Now that the gang is all here, it’s time to get to serious business–wine tasting!!! The Somm for the Grande Bretagne and King George had a treat for us tonight!!!! We enjoyed the first ever presentation of the Greek Wines Master Class (what an amazing tasting–you absolutely must do this!!!). The hotel recently moved its wine collection to the main level where hotel guests and patrons may see their collection and enjoy the wine in an elegant setting. First poured was a sparkling wine (I had no idea there was a Greek Sparkler–an it was lovely!!), the Tselepos “Amalia” Brut from the Peloponnese. This lovely was made from 100% Moschofilero. I wanted a case to bring back home!!!!
Next we had an Assyrtiko from Santorini (which became our wine mascot for the entire trip–this Greece Educational brought to you by Assyrtiko…), a delightful red wine from Naoussa (Xinomavro varietal), and a fortified sweet wine (think sherry) from Samos. I loved how the wines were color coordinated with wine-colored drips atop a map (I adore maps!!). The wine selections were accompanied by delicious paired bites from the kitchen.
Our dinner was held on a long table inside Tudor Hall at the King George hotel with night views of the Acropolis Stunning dinner and equally stunning location!
One just cannot go to Athens without immersing oneself in a bit of history…. We visited the Acropolis first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. Although this was early October, there were still hoards of visitors to contend with and trust me, you want a private tour and one that arrives early for the best photos!!! The number of people walking into the the site when we left was dramatically different from the number of people walking in when we arrived–dramatically!!!
After the Acropolis, our guide took us to the new Acropolis Museum, which is fabulous (and I am not typically a huge museum person). Parts of the museum were built to scale of the actual Parthenon, with the original (or copy) decoration along the sides displayed and explained. The columns are the same as you see on the Parthenon outside (and through the window). Some of these pieces were just stunning. There are interactive displays revealing the colors painted on certain pieces (yes, they were painted)… I especially loved my girls…the Karyatides (of which one is still “on holiday” at the British Museum)…. Beware of the museum glass floors, though, as travelers underneath can see your knickers if you wear a skirt or billowy shorts….
After our travels in the ancient world, we had a local, street food delight at the famous Monastiraki eatery, O Thanassis and of course, another jaunt to our rooftop favorite, 360 for more Assyrtiko and another toast to Athens!
Later, we had dinner and drinks at the fabulous Galaxy Bar at the Hilton overlooking the Acropolis at a distance–and the site where the daughter and I visited our first bar together (I still have a coaster I swiped from here from 2008!). The bar has a lot of fun energy!
Our Return to Athens…
On our return to Athens, we stayed at the trendy New Hotel very near Syntagma Square. The New Hotel is a 79 room design hotel. Every public space and floor was creatively renovated to include pieces (actual furniture pieces, which was super cool!) of the former Olympic Palace Hotel. Pieces of the furniture and lighting are used to cover walls, columns, and as decorative elements throughout the hotel. The floor to ceiling windows in the guest rooms give ample light and views over historic alleyways of the city. The guest rooms have one of three themes: vintage postcards (my favorite), the Eye, and a local vintage cartoon character. The rooms are very modern and the sizes do range. Their best suite has a roof-top lounge that is amazing (photo below)… Best of all is the rooftop bar (of course) overlooking the city…and place for my last Assyrtiko of our journey.
Tonight was our last dinner and the setting was spectacular! We had reservations at the terrace at Kuzina (you must have reservations for the terrace here–don’t sit downstairs as the view makes the dinner!!). The restaurant was filled with locals celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. Best of all are the views of the Acropolis and the Hephaestus Temple (which I felt I could reach out and touch!). Unfortunately, since it was so dark outside, my photos did not come out…. but Dinner was great and it was a fun place to share a last travel memory!
Becky Lukovic is a Southern Europe specialist in Johns Creek, GA. She travels to Europe each year (multiple times on some years) and collects wines from around the world. Becky has insider access to the best hotels world-wide. She is available to meet by appointment in person, via Skype, Facetime, or WhatsApp.