BBeyond recently spent a week in Athens, Greece for DESTE’s annual art event. Here is our brief review – and recommendations – for the three hotels we stayed at: Hotel Grande Bretagne; Perianth Hotel; and the Electra Metropolis Hotel.
Hotel Grande Bretagne
The Grande Old Dame of Athenian hotels has recently had a facelift after being acquired by the Marriott Group.
The 19th century building sits impressively just opposite the Greek house of Parliament, overlooking Syntagma Square, and with ranging views of the Parthenon from most rooms, as well as from its iconic rooftop terrace where the best buffet breakfast in town is served from 7 am to 10 am.
The hotel has long been a favourite with celebrities and various dignitaries visiting Athens, and the recent updates in amenities will ensure its continued pre-eminence.
It s classic interiors, lavishly decorated with signature antiques, cannot be rivalled for opulence, while the resplendent ground floor bar remains a meeting place of choice in town.
The vast lobby, with its sink-in seats and sofas, original artworks and splendid gilded surfaces connects to the Winter Garden, an urban oasis atrium, adorned by a stained-glass ceiling, potted palm trees and other luxuriant greenery.
Savvy visitors choose to stay in the butler-assisted section (7th floor), which has its own entrance, and are… well, provided with a personal butler on call throughout their stay.
The hotel has two swimming pools, one outdoor on the roof terrace and another indoor as part of the spa which is open 7 days a week, a veritable bonus in a city where opening days and hours are often unpredictable and /or unreliable.
Another perk (for smokers) is the ultra chic cigar bar.
Service is impeccable: from the Champagne offered on arrival, to the discreetly re-stocked with fruit and chocolates rooms, to the no-request-is-too-odd attitude at the restaurant and bar, to the perfectly trained and spoken staff everywhere.
The complimentary chocolates deserve a special mention here because they arrived, every morning, in different colours, flavours and shapes, the apotheosis of them, a very large sculpture of a Parthenon-esque pillar, made in white chocolate (although a football shoe in dark chocolate was a very close contender).
Our abiding regret was that, due to the high outdoor temperatures, we couldn’t take some of the goodies in our luggage, nor eat them all after the copious breakfasts and indulgent dinners.
In addition to the buffet, which abounds with fresh Greek fruits and delicacies, there is a menu for those who prefer cooked breakfast and one of us opted for a most excellent Eggs Benedict every morning (options of ham, bacon or salmon).
The best of the breakfast experience, however, remains simply the best view of the Acropolis on a sunny morning. Make sure you arrive either early or very late to get one of the best tables along the first line of the terrace in order to enjoy it fully.
The shopping district of Kolonaki is a short walk from the hotel, as are countless eating and drinking places lining the streets until late at night.
The Grande Bretagne remains the most outstanding Central Athens hotel, so long budget is no consideration.
Situated in Agia Irini, the hotel is surrounded by myriad eateries, impressive classical architecture, quirky local boutiques and some of the best nightlife in Athens.
At Perianth design chic meets minimalistic-cum-industrialist eclecticism in a unique and fascinating combination. A throwback to the 1930s Athenian modernist movement, interiors are characterised by terrazzo floors, marble elements and glass-brick walls throughout.
Inasmuch as Perianth offers a visual feast, it is the blend of luxury and homeliness that makes this hotel undoubtedly one of the best in Athens.
The rooms are spacious with en-suite bathrooms and independent balconies. Featuring brass bed frames, soothing pastel colours throughout, an amazing rain shower (with shower seat!) in the bathroom, the rooms are comprehensive, comfortable and provide everything you could want from a hotel.
Other notable parts of the hotel are the lobby, with its ‘waterfall wall’ and the breakfast room/lounge areas. With lime green, uber comfortable velvet sofas, industrial lights hanging down and art works from contemporary Greek artists (such as Lito Kattou, Rallou Panagiotou and Maria Papadimitriou) dotted throughout, visually speaking, there is never a dull moment at Perianth hotel.
Last but not least, is the hotel’s restaurant, Il Barretto. Offering a delectable smorgasbord of Italian delights, the restaurant is two steps away from the hotel and a guaranteed winner if you are looking for an exceptional dining experience.
Electra Metropolis Hotel
Just behind Syntagma Square and overlooking the picturesque streets leading to one of Athens’ prettiest and most affluent old town areas, Plaka, Electra Metropolis is part of a group of thoroughly modern urban hotels.
A 10 storey building, formerly the Ministry of Education, this has been turned into an oasis of minimalist chic, complete with a central, greenery-clad atrium style balcony feature, affording views from each floor down to the marbled lobby. Part of the lobby itself leads to a contemporary art gallery on the left and a bar at the end. Art installations add to the hotel’s atmosphere of sleek modernity, with a touch of purely Athenian history (look for the ancient city walls fragment in the Jasmine Room).
Rooms are large and ultra-comfortable and ours, on the 7th floor, was directly above a spade of cafes, boutiques and galleries. When we opened the windows, we could hear some of the jazz music being played down below and bringing the spirit of the city into our space.
Quirky bars, live music, from traditional Greek to jazz and walking through restaurant-lined residential and shopping streets, is what makes staying at the Electra such a distinct pleasure.
This being a 5 star hotel, there are of course the prerequisite spa and outdoor pool on the rooftop terrace, which has not only a good side view of the Parthenon, but also of the city itself.
Buffet breakfast is on that terrace and offers a great selection of local foods, delicious fresh fruit and Greek specialities, as well as classic fare. Later in the day, the roof terrace doubles up as a bar (the M Bar) and a glass-walled restaurant.
A few minutes’ walk is the Electra Palace, but that’s for another visit to Athens, a city that merits a chapter in its own right.
On our way to the airport, and with a few hours to spare, we headed for the beach in ultra-wealthy Vouliagmeni and a restaurant in nearby Voula. If you have a couple of hours, do go to Kastelórizo for a freshly grilled squid and watch the Greeks in the park playing backgammon and cards on a nice day instead of sitting in front of computers.