TRAVEL

Spending Two Perfect Days in Athens

The article originally appeared in Forbes Travel.

Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels Worldwide.

Athens is called the “Cradle of Western Civilization” for good reason. This city has more than 2,500 years of history under its belt. In its heyday, the Greek metropolis spawned cities, democracies, philosophies, art movements and much more.

Today, Athens is the kind of place where you could spend days soaking in its antiquity or enjoy an afternoon getting lost in its contemporary culture. Whichever direction you’re pulled in, we have the itinerary to ensure a 48-hour experience worthy of the history books.

Day One
Drop your bags at Hotel Grande Bretagne, an elegant 142-year-old property in the heart of the city. Once you’ve changed into comfortable walking shoes, make the 15-minute journey past Syntagma Square until you’ve reached the archaeological area. You’ll be at the base of the Acropolis, history’s most epic mount.

You’re going to want to do it all during your stay, of course, so purchase the multi-attraction pass ticket, which gives access to the Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and all of Athens’ archaeological sites for five consecutive days

After all of the walking, you’ll have worked up an appetite worthy of the gods. Head down the Acropolis and back toward Syntagma for an outside table at Tzitzikas & Mermigas. This laid-back modern taverna has an outstanding appetizer lineup of tzatziki, soutzoukakia (meatballs in tomato sauce) and more, so fill up.

When you put down the saganaki (fried cheese), it’s back to Hotel Grand Bretagne for a timeout at the GB Spa, a spot offering a classic delight of saunas, Turkish baths, a pool and treatment rooms.

Hotel Grand Bretagne courtsey of Starwood.

Once you’ve rested up, put on the finest resort-chic outfit you’ve packed and grab a cab to the Acropolis Museum for a night visit. The gorgeous, all-glass building sits face-to-face with the Acropolis, reflecting the glowing Parthenon in its glass panels.

But beyond its physical majesty, the landmark also holds a substantial Greek art and sculpture collection. Not to be missed are level one’s Caryatids, six female figures that held up the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, and level three’s Parthenon Gallery, a beautiful display of the frieze marbles and casts. The entire floor is built to the exact dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon’s cella.

Before leaving, make sure to get a drink on level two’s terrace, which has a front-row vista of the Acropolis.

For dinner, take a cab to Piraeus, Athens’ port city for fish. Like many major ports, Piraeus is a charming chaos of restaurants, nightclubs and fast-food shops. Have the hotel concierge book you a table at Varoulko, a chic dockside restaurant in the Mikrolimano marina, the smaller and slightly less chaotic port in Piraeus.

The maître d’ at Varoulko will call you a taxi. Try to get back to Syntagma Square just a few minutes before the hour to watch the Evzones, the changing of the Presidential Guard, a five-minute display of pageantry. (Tip: Though this changing happens every hour daily, a special ceremony, with official uniforms, occurs on Sundays at 11 a.m.)

Day Two
Say good morning to Greece from Hotel Grande Bretagne’s rooftop. There, you’ll find the most beautiful Acropolis morning view as well as a delectable breakfast buffet. Feast up, as you’re in for another walk through history.

This time, you’ll start out at the National Archaeological Museum, which sits just two metro stops from Syntagma Square. This attraction features the country’s finest collection of antiquities — most notably, a larger-than-life bronze Zeus.

From the museum, head to Ancient Agora, a sprawling site that was the city’s original meeting square. You can walk around temples and trek in the Stoa of Attalos, a monumental, two-level building that stretches roughly 380 feet.

For lunch, enjoy a bite at Quick Pitta, a relaxed gyro spot, just outside of the archaeological site in the Monastiraki neighborhood.

After lunch, be sure to stop by EMST, Athens’ new national museum of contemporary art. To be frank, the space can be walked through relatively quickly, but a visit gives you an idea of what is going on in creative Greek and international circles.

Stroll back in the hotel’s general direction to the nearby Kolonaki neighborhood, a vibrant area filled with boutiques and cafés. Our favorite right now is i-D, a store that curates a dynamic collection of clothing and accessories by Greek designers.

Stick around after you’ve finished shopping. By 9 p.m., Kolonaki square transforms to a bustling center of cocktail bars, shops and eateries. Pedestrian street Tsakalof is a standing-room-only thoroughfare that has everyone vying for an outdoor table or stool. But, at some point, even those eating wind up at Minnie the Moocher for a cocktail closer to the evening.

Getaway: Costa Navarino, Greece

Greece.  Hellas.  Graecia.

Visiting the Hellenic Republic has been on my mind long before Grexit fears and decades before life with an obsessed and ancient idiom quoting archaeologist*. Ever since I was a child and my parents handed me D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths as a consolation prize for their trip to Athens, I've imagined languid days of oracles and island hopping, afternoons of Athens and Acropolis, and meetings with those who do that ouzo oh so well.  And to spite those recent headlines of crisis, reforms, protests and chaos [which made people ask me if visiting Greece was safe- yes it is], it was time to pack the overnight bag for a flight to Kalamata.

The Destination: The Romanos , a Luxury Collection resort, invited me to Costa Navarino, a small Peloppenese beach area and of course, I said yes for several reasons.  First for the relax-and-do-nothing vibe that I desperately needed- The Romanos is a village unto itself of private beaches, boutiques, restaurants, golf courses, swimming pool and spa.  Beautifully hued of soft, muted tones and pedicured with rosemary plants , the visual aspect alone is peaceful, add in olfaction (you got it, the rosemary) and audition (birds, cicadas, crickets) and it is paradise, even without the pampering of itsIonian Exclusive experience.  And as much as I appreciate a digital detox, I also love when a hotel just gets it technically and logistically-- from an excellent, salon-quality blow dryer to easy, fast wifi.  The Romanos charmed me with WhatsApp (did I really just write that?)- you know, the message app that all high schoolers love.   Once I added The Romanos in my contacts, I chatted with Xanthi about Greek salads, opening screen doors, locking myself out of the room and butler service pick up.

The second and equally important reason for a quick weekend getaway was that I wanted a little history with my Ionian sun tan, and there is no doubt that blue waters of theBay of Navarino have seen it all- sea-faring ancient explorers [Odysseus, perhaps], medieval crusaders, armadas and warships.  Greek Independence sprang from the Pelopponese with the 1827 Battle of Navarino as key to ending Ottoman rule and establishing an independent Greek state.  In Pylos and on islets throughout the bay are memorials and commemorations to the battles and the allied forces (French, British, Russian) who fought with the Greeks, while looming above Pylos is the 16th century Neokastro castle, an Ottoman fortress overlooking the bay.  I took a spin around the bay, enjoyed a dip in the cool waters, walked through the castle and then looked for Nestor's cave at Voidokilia (belly of the ox) beach.

All in all, I had a tiny dip in Greece, which reminded me what I had put on the back burner* in these past years.  So I've already called the girls and we're planning the next getaway to Athens for more history and food, and a bit of contemporary art.  Remember, it's just a flight away.

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*Let's just blame the Professor for side-tracking an earlier trip to Greece with his Roman obsessions.