The Best Of Athens According To Greece Insiders

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

View of the Acropolos in Athens from Hytra Restaurant JIm Dobson for Forbes

Greece was one of the first European countries to welcome vaccinated travelers, and judging by the crowded airports, the Mediterranean is having a major comeback. According to recent government figures, Greece has fully vaccinated about 48.5% of the general population. It is important to note for all visitors from the U.S. that you must have a negative COVID test before your return flight to America, even if you are vaccinated. I almost missed my flight waiting in a long line at Athens airport and paid 20 euros for a rapid test when the airline did not communicate this clearly.

There has always been a special place in my heart for Greece with its spectacular blinding blue warm waters, charming islands with tranquil bays, and vast archaeological sites. With the assistance of luxury bespoke agency Greece Insiders, experts who specialize in designing tailor-made, and private experiences, I have compiled a luxurious way to experience Athens for a brief respite before heading onwards to the Greek islands.

Numerous hotels have recently opened in Athens, and I focused on two highly recommended properties for my brief stay, one in the city and one on the Riviera. I avoided the more populated tourist sites like the Acropolis, instead focusing on the city’s local charm, exciting restaurants, and hotels.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Aerial view of Four Seasons Astir Palace Four Seasons

THE BEACH

Four Seasons Astir Palace

For most travelers to Greece, Athens was just a place for a quick layover before heading out to the islands of Santorini and Mykonos, but the Four Seasons Astir Palace has changed that, and I noticed numerous guests staying more than two weeks at the stunning resort. This is riviera living at its best, and I honestly would have stayed much longer if I could.

Set on a lush pine-clad peninsula just outside of Athens, Astir is located in the Vouliagmeni area and an easy 30-minute drive from the airport or city center. Known as the Athens Riviera, this has historically been the ultimate destination for the world’s rich and famous. The sparkling new Four Seasons property offers up three private beaches, eight restaurants, riviera style lounges and bars, and an enormous Spa.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Sea-view bungalow suite with pool at Four Seasons Astir Palace Jim Dobson for Forbes

Under the astute leadership of General Manager Philippe Roux-Dessarps, the young, enthusiastic staff goes out of their way to ensure all guests are well cared for. There is even a Guest Experience department offering butler service for the hotel’s signature suite guests. They will arrange everything from limo services, catamaran charters, or helicopter transfers (I noticed a large number of guests arriving from neighboring islands and landing directly at the resort’s helipad.) Next season the resort will be offering guests a Four Seasons luxury charter aboard a branded Pardo Yacht for day trips and island hopping.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Bungalow Suite with Pool Four Seasons

I sat down with Philippe, and he explained what his favorite rooms are at Astir Palace, “I think staying in the bungalow suite with pool while having the sea right in front of you is pretty great. Some of our terrace suites in Nafsika have really comfortable seating areas and feel like your own private home. My favorite room is the Ambassador Suite which is the top floor of the Nafsika building, with a large terrace, bbq, private pool, and a direct sunset view. Our top suite is the three-story 4,850sf Riviera Suite in the Arion building with a dedicated chef, butler, personal assistant, rooftop garden, pool, and gym (rates up to $20,000 per night).”

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

(R to L) General Manager Philippe Roux-Dessarps, Guest Experience Manager Fanni Katsouki, F&B … [+] Assistant Director Konstantinos Kagias, Hotel Manager Jann Kaiser, Executive Chef Bertrand Valegeas. Jim Dobson for Forbes

The construction of the original Astir Palace began in 1961 with the sea bungalows, followed by the hotel building, Arion, in 1964 and the more resort-styled Nafsika in 1979. In 2019, Four Seasons Astir Palace combined the three original resorts Astir Palace, Arion, and Nafsika.

There are 303 rooms spread across The Arion and The Nafsika, all with dramatic views overlooking the bay, and all maintain the original 60’s aesthetic that continues to attract the jet set. With airy interiors, modern design, and spectacular views, it is no wonder even the local Athenians continue to celebrate special occasions here.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Sea-view bungalows at Four Seasons Astir Palace Jim Dobson for Forbes

Of all the rooms I toured at the property, the sea-view bungalow suite with a private pool is my favorite. While not the most expensive option at the resort, having the privacy and luxury of your private retreat away from the main hotel buildings make it priceless. Quiet, exclusive, and with your own beach, the bungalows were masterfully renovated to retain a feeling of glamour from their heyday in the ’60s.

In its early years, Astir Palace welcomed Jackie Onassis, Brigitte Bardot, Nelson Mandela, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, and even Vladimir Putin. More recently, you might have spotted Lady Gaga or former President Obama, most of who have stayed in the storied, exclusive bungalows.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Restaurant Manager Cedric Vinckier (far left), and Chef Luca Piscazzi (far right) with the amazing … [+] staff at Pelagos at the Four Seasons Astir Palace. Jim Dobson for Forbes

There are numerous dining options at the resort, from authentic Greek cuisine at the waterfront Taverna 37, fresh seafood at the fine dining yacht-inspired Pelagos, upscale Italian cuisine at the trattoria-style Mercato, Argentinian steaks at the poolside Helios. There is also a Matsuhisa on the property for sushi lovers. The restaurants are designed with extensive outdoor dining terraces for social distancing and fresh breezes from the sea.

Executive Chef Bertrand Valegeas oversees the dining experience at the resort, and the selection is endless, all crafted with the highest quality raw ingredients, especially the huge amount of fresh fish sourced directly from the Aegean. For a special occasion, make sure to book a private dinner at the hidden Zolotas Beach, a unique, lantern-lit location right on the water with the ultimate in privacy.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

The Dreamers Suite at Shila Hotel Shila Hotel

THE CITY

Shila Hotel

Located in Kolonaki, one of Athens’ most trendy neighborhoods, in a quiet area situated off a marbled side street, the intimate 1920’s Shila Hotel is a stunning mixture of antiques and modern design. The hotel feels more like a private neoclassical mansion with its original terrazzo floors, high ceilings, and expansive living spaces with only six suites. I felt instantly at home with the warm welcome by the staff and the ethereal, relaxed atmosphere of the interiors.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Dreamers Suite bedroom Shila Hotel

Each themed suite at the boutique hotel is unique, filled with vintage velvet furniture, patina walls, flowing fabrics, and mood lighting. What I found most remarkable is that the suites are enormous, with two bathrooms in some and separate privacy doors for converting the space into two bedrooms. Beds are designed to look like they are floating, and there is even a swing in one of the suite bathrooms. You may not spend too much time in the room as you venture to the rooftop where hipsters gather weekly for cocktails and a DJ.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Stunning lobby at the Shila Hotel Jim Dobson for Forbes

The complimentary breakfast is magical at Shila as you indulge in a gorgeous basket of goodies delivered to your room or the roof garden. If your time is limited, make sure to explore the surrounding pedestrian streets and walk to the nearby IL Postino restaurant, a small, popular cafe with outdoor tables scattered under trees for a delicious bowl of pasta created by its charming rock star Chef Andreas Soures.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

GB Roof Garden Restaurant Hotel Grande Bretagne

THE VIEWS

Grand Bretagne Roof Garden

Initially built in 1874 as a private mansion, the Hotel Grande Bretagne offers up the most outrageous views from its GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar. With direct views of the Acropolis, Lycabettus hill, and the Parliament, this spot is a must for all visitors. Very upscale and nearly impossible to get a sunset reservation, the New Mediterranean cuisine highlights raw materials and fresh seafood.

The menu is relatively small (and pricey), highlighting the most delectable options, including Tuna and seabass carpaccio as a starter to Ravioli filled with ‘tseberi’ cheese from Ithaca, Grilled cutlets and slow-cooked leg of lamb. Follow this up with a special dessert menu by famed Arnaud Larher, featuring some of his signature creations. But it really is the view that you are here for, so relax with a bottle of crisp greek wine and gaze out upon the city.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Outdoor dining terrace overlooking the city at Hytra Restaurant Hytra

Hytra

Greek cuisine is reimagined at this Michelin-starred downtown restaurant. Hytra’s seventh-floor outdoor location, offering up stunning views of the Acropolis, matches its delectable degustation style menu. Modern Greek cuisine meals include dishes like an Amberjack oyster, loquat, chamomile, apricot umeboshi as an appetizer, Short rib rock samphire, mushrooms, fir, and pine as the main course, or select the 14-course degustation menu with wine pairings for 125 euros. Whatever you choose, you will be amazed at the artistry of each high concept plate and the gourmet culinary experience with a twist from Executive Chef Tasos Mantis.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Orizontes Lycabettus restaurant Orizontes

Orizontes Lycabettus

The hill of Lycabettus is the highest peak of Athens, which overlooks the capital and is considered as one of the most romantic places with its panoramic view facing the Acropolis to Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf.

Executive Chef Xenia Bouzaranidou offers up Mediterranean cuisine adding various twists from Greek recipes. In order to facilitate access to the top of the hill, valets at the entrance of the cable car on Aristippou street assist you to arrive at the restaurant using their renovated cable car to the highest spot in town.

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Healer Nikolaos Unalome Nikolaos Unalome

THE HEALING

Nikolaos Unalome

I discovered Nikolaos after hearing about a spiritual healing retreat he conducted at The Rooster Hotel in Antiparos, and his popularity spread rather quickly. While there are numerous spa treatments at hotels and resorts when you travel, there are rarely opportunities to have a life-changing experience with a healer. With a combination of blessing oil massage and healing sound therapy, Athens-based Nikolaos Unalome includes spiritual coaching and connection with the soul to clean the energy, unblock chakras, emotions, and old traumas. And to make it even more appealing, the experience costs much less than a basic massage at a luxury resort.

Not only a great way to combat jet lag after you arrive in Athens, but also an amazing opportunity to transform your soul with love and light before or after your long nights of partying on the islands. Unalome’s journey of awakening started with the Yoga practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa, Yoga Therapy, and Pranayama. He completed Advanced Seminars for Thai Massage, Osteo Thai, Fascia, and sound therapy (Tibetan bowls, Crystal bowls & Tuning Forks). He is also a therapist of Ayurveda (the ancient medicine of India) with Abhyanga massage. As a healer, he offers sessions of Reiki, “Christ Healing Energy,” and “Shamanic Healing.”

Greece Insiders, Four Seasons Astir Palace, Shila Hotel, IL Postino, Grand Bretagne Roof Garden, Orizontes Lycabettus, Nikolaos Unalome

Anthia Vlassopoulou of Greece Insiders at the Hotel Grande Bretagne rooftop Jim Dobson for Forbes

THE EXPLORING

“We are experiencing a unique tourist season this year, with extreme demand and very last-minute bookings,” says Anthia Vlassopoulou, Co-founder and CEO of Greece Insiders. “There is high demand in Villas, private yacht chartering, and high category hotel rooms as this is a way for guests to ensure they can stay inside their bubble. We have worked with all our partners to ensure we can have the most flexible cancellation policies possible to allow travelers to feel safe to book.”

Among her favorite activities that can be customized with their local expert guides, she suggests, “A guided helicopter tour of Athens and Cape Sounio, an ancient ceramics workshop, an exclusive shopping tour getting you to meet the creators behind the clothes and jewelry, a luxury RIB boat excursion to the Saronic golf, scattered with beautiful islands (Aegina, Hydra, Spetses), a cooking lesson by one of Athens’s most famous chefs, and finally a special tour in the Ancient Agora of Athens on how ancient Greeks were conducting business and building social networks.”

*Note: Masks were removed only for photos.

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