Athens is hot, not only weather-wise, but for its history, its hotels and so much more. Delta currently has two daily nonstop New York JFK-Athens flights. The 7:47 p.m. departure is probably preferable, as it arrives 12.30 p.m. the next day, which means there is more than a good chance rooms will be ready.
Many travelers, especially those in Athens for pre-cruise, or stopping over before going to the islands, will head straight for Grande Bretagne. “The GB,” part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, has dominated Syntagma square since it was built in 1842. Today, the eight-floor classical building has 321 keys; and the savvy choose a south-facing room for the best views of the Acropolis, or east-facing to look directly across to the Greek parliament, patrolled by a pair of hefty young guards in characteristic red hats, knee-length white pleated skirts, and significant black shoes with pompoms in the front.
Yes, there is so much to see, and do, here. After settling in, check out the hotel’s history, portrayed in fascinating old photographs displayed around the first-floor lobby, which is a fine example of what the description “gilded, marbled and polished” should mean, but seldom does.
I love the hotel’s concept store. What was once a corner café best described as a hang-out for Athens’ intelligentsia and the rich and famous, is now a concept store with wine tastings, coffee, and the best and really covetable arts and crafts: The soft-casual garments from Mareva Grabowski’s Zeus+Dione current collection are just right for Mykonos or Santorini, the owner’s suite on Ponant or Silversea, or for back home.
If you want to join the local A-listers today during the day, the Winter Garden, at the rear of the lobby, is the place.
For post-flight recovery, go for a Valmont treatment in the spa, or a LifeFitness workout – or exercise the natural way using the hotel’s historic staircase, which offers 221 marble stairs from the lowest level up to the rooftop.
Be sure to make a reservation for the rooftop restaurant for a long evening. Some prefer to sit up at the tapas counter, but for others, I do suggest asking for a table as near to the front as possible. (Watching the sun set here is a lifetime memory on a par with sunrise at Taj Mahal before the tourists arrive, or sunset at Machu Picchu when tourists have already left.)
Tim Ananiadis is the GM who helps to make “the GB” so magical – the concept store, the tapas counter, and the fact that you can ask highly knowledgeable English-speaking staff members to take you to their favorite places in this lovely city.
Of course, it always helps to have passionate and creative hotel bosses. Athens’ newest hotel, Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, now has as GM long-time Park Hyatt legend, Philippe Roux-Dessarps. Actually, the 163-room resort, on a 74-acre promontory 20-minutes’ drive from Syntagma, is not new: the complex of assorted hotel buildings and bungalows dates back to 1961. For decades, it was the summer theater for such names as entertainment giants Bardot, Mercouri and Nureyev, as well as every politician under the sun. Now owned by Jermyn St London/Equity Partners and reconceptualized by Martin Brudnizki (for the restaurants and bars) and Meyer Davis (for the rest of the hotel), it opened afresh this March.
It is anticipated that about 30% of the rooms mix will be from the U.S., and the wedding market is already big business – up to 350 can be accommodated, and target providers are from the Boston area as well as Greek diaspora.
Judging by the quality of the food when I lunched at an outside table on the waterside-set Taverna 37, one of two Greek restaurants in Arion building, it does not matter what you choose, as fresh is the significant description. The same can be said of the dining choices, which include Italian, in the other building, Nafsikas.
The hotel’s 2,260-square-foot fourth floor Presidential Suite has a private rooftop garden with a plunge pool. Other travelers veer to the 61 single-floor villa bungalows: Imagine waking up in your 452-square-foot space, in an ambience of marble and soft blues, and lots of mirrors. And of course, you look out at the stunning blue of the Aegean Sea.