A relaxing beachside resort that's just minutes from the buzzing city of Athens? believe it!
Having previously visited Athens at the peak of summer, I was expecting my second journey to the sprawling Greek city to be an equally frantic experience. Athens is home to the Acropolis, one of the most stunning ancient cities in the world – well worth the journey alone – but in the summer months its bustling streets, sticky heat and steady stream of tourists can make for a less than relaxing holiday. Many seasoned travellers choose to do a short stint in the city en route to the more popular Greek islands, but on my second stay I learnt that location and setting can make all the difference.
Upon my arrival at the Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort, I was taken aback not only by the hotel's chic and minimalist décor, but, stepping out onto my private terrace, I couldn't believe the view: the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea sparkled before me, and the hotel's private beach and ocean-front pool beckoned. Located on the Athenian Riviera on the Saronic Gulf, all the rooms at the Astir Palace are ocean-facing, so the spectacular view can be enjoyed by every single guest.
Though I had just barely stepped off my overnight flight, I couldn't resist the temptation of a little beach time, so after a delicious breakfast of eggs, Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit at the hotel's beachside Kymata Restaurant, I changed into my swimming costume and settled into my sun lounger. Taking frequent dips into both the ocean and the Olympic-sized swimming pool to cool off, I couldn't help but think, ‘This is the life!' So far my second time in Athens was proving to be a completely different experience.
Not only does the Astir Palace provide an idyllic beachside setting for your holiday, it's also in close proximity to several must-see attractions. Just a 30-minute drive from the resort, the Acropolis rises high above the crowded city streets; a beacon of Greek culture and history nestled among the surrounding parks, shops and hotels. The brand new Acropolis Museum, located just underneath the ruins, allows visitors the opportunity to learn about ancient Greek civilisation before continuing on to the Acropolis, where they can see the relics up close and get an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the city.
A 45-minute drive from the hotel along the picturesque coastline of Posidonos will bring you to the stunning Temple of Poseidon, a fascinating reminder of the craftsmanship of the Greeks. Located on a cliff high above the water, the temple offers magnificent views of the Saronic coast.
Vougliameni Lake, a natural mineral spa that contains healing properties for a range of ailments including eczema and arthritis is just a 10-minute drive from the resort, and makes for a pleasant afternoon swim – if you don't mind the fish nipping at your feet as you first get into the water! The lake is filled with a brilliant bluish-green water and is today regarded as a wonder of nature by locals and tourists alike.
In the summer months, the Herodion Atticus Amphitheatre next to the Acropolis becomes the venue for a series of spectacular performances under the stars, including opera, orchestra, ballet and live theatre. As you take in a world-class show in the ancient venue, with the Acropolis illuminated on the hill behind you, you may just have to pinch yourself to believe you're there!
Located below the Acropolis, the Plaka is the main shopping district in Athens, where you'll find jewellery shops, restaurants and clothing stalls among the hustle and bustle of the crowds. When you've tired of scouring the shops, step into Bretto's Ouzo Bar, a legendary establishment that's been around since 1909 and has served some very famous faces, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Naomi Campbell and Frank Sinatra.
To go where the locals shop, venture to the Glyfada shopping district, conveniently located just three kilometres from the Astir Palace, where you'll find a large selection of boutique and high street shops.
When it comes to dining, you'll have plenty of options while staying at the Astir Palace. Blue Hytra Restaurant, with a divine terrace overlooking the sea, offers Greek cuisine with a focus on fresh seafood. The resort's Sofa Bar, featuring amazing seaside views and a laid-back ambience, is the perfect spot to grab a few casual drinks with friends before a night out on the town, and Kymata serves up a delicious breakfast buffet to guests every morning. When visiting central Athens, the Hotel Grande Bretagne's Rooftop Garden is a must for lunch or dinner al fresco. Featuring a breathtaking view of the Acropolis and the surrounding city, diners can sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of Greek wine while revelling in a little Athenian hospitality.
HOW TO GET THERE
Emirates offers daily direct flights to Athens (www.emirates.com)
WORDS BY CAITLIN CHEADLE
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE WESTIN ALISTIR PALACE RESORT
Source: OK Magazine