The city with the most glorious history in the world, a city worshipped by gods and people, a magical city. The enchanting capital of Greece has always been a birthplace for civilization. It is the city where democracy was born and most of the wise men of ancient times. The most important civilization of ancient world flourished in Athens and relives through some of the world’s most formidable edifices.
This is after all the birthplace of modern culture and democracy, and a city with a rich and fascinating history of political change from the Ancient Greeks to today. The monuments are not confined to museums and galleries, but are all around you as you wander the cobbled streets. Some may say this is a city living in the long shadow of a golden age 2,500-years long gone, but nowhere else do new and old contrast so dynamically.
You can sip a glass of ouzo ogling that audacious achievement of mankind, the Acropolis, and yet the walls behind you will be graffitied and a DJ spins electro in the distance. The calm of island oasis of Anafiotika or the pretty Plaka make a striking contrast against the gritty art scene of Gazi or the rebel youth of Exarchia. This is a city where the classical past is the stage upon which a very contemporary world continues to carve its way.
Part of the Astir Palace complex (recently rebranded a Starwood Luxury Collection resort), the 55 laid-back but luxurious bungalows are set among pine trees on the Athenian Riviera 25km from the city centre. The original 1960s architecture has been reworked by top Greek architects Zege and the ambience is contemporary coastal chic. The bungalows are decorated in natural tones and nautical stripes with sunken tubs and plunge pools, and the Matsuhisa Athens – one of six restaurants – is the city’s hippest dining spot. The Arion spa is dazzling.
New Hotel has been a true labor of love. After picking apart the tired Olympic Palace Hotel, which was built in the heart of modern Athens in 1958, he set about restructuring it, piece-by-piece, without discarding anything. The result is an astonishing work of art – a Gesamtkunstwerk, in which all the senses are in an overall intensified form of visual, tactile and somatic interaction with the objects, structures and materials.
This Luxury Collection hotel teams neoclassical opulence with state-of-the-art technology. The former palace has hosted VIPs from Joan Collins to Jacques Chirac and has the poshest address in the Greek capital – presiding over Syntagma Square, Parliament Building and the National Gardens. There are 321 rooms and suites including the 400-square-metre Royal Suite that has a private gym, media room and wine cellar. The Art Deco GB Corner is good for power lunch over T-bone steaks, the GB Roof Garden for romantic liaisons, and Alexander’s Bar – all mottled black marble and tinkling piano – stocks a selection of rare spirits and has a walk-in humidor. The GB Spa is glamorous with a palm-filled atrium, ESPA treatments, a herbal steam room, and a sea-green pool. Rooms with Acropolis views are worth the surcharge.
The Semiramis is a hotel of the future. Facing a tranquil green park in the Kifissia area of north Athens, the hotel is the creation of designer, Karim Rashid, well-known for his fluid, soft style that mingles rounded forms with bright, lively colours. The Semiramis is no exception to this; all its 51 guestrooms and public areas carry Rashid’s distinctive signature.