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Wish You Were Here: A Get Away to Greece

Oct 14, 2019 10:17AM
Whitewashed buildings. Shimmering seas. Head-turning ancient architecture. This is the Greece you see in textbooks and on TV, but it’s so much more, too.

The Greece I experienced on my late winter, off-season trip meant meeting locals who are proud of their heritage but remain humble, a slow-paced, enviable lifestyle that’s all too easy to adapt to, and landscapes that reach far beyond beaches. The postcard-perfect Mediterranean country—comprised of thousands of islands and often called the “cradle of Western civilization”—stole a piece of my heart and only a fraction of my money (prices are extremely fair when it comes to Europe) but left me longing to return.
 
Interested in planning your own Grecian getaway? Follow my guide for tips on what to see and do and where to stay.
Epidaurus

 

ATHENS

Hip, historic, enterprising, energetic. Welcome to Greece’s storied capital city. The large metropolis—and one of the world’s oldest—is home to just under one million people with a perfect mix of glam and grunge. Strolling through one of the myriad neighborhoods, expect to see sun-bleached ruins nestled next to modern infrastructure and a surplus of side streets splashed in mesmerizing murals.

STAY

For those who want to sleep in the lap of luxury:
Hotel Grande Bretagne pulls out all the stops. Sited next to Syntagma Square smack dab in the city center, this five-star property built in 1842 boasts Old World opulence, state-of-the-art amenities, and plush décor that’ll make you feel like royalty. Breakfast on the rooftop garden is a meal worth waking up for—think fresh-squeezed juices, expertly crafted espresso drinks, and scratch-made Greek and Western fare.

If you want to experience authentic Greek hospitality:
St. George Lycabettus Hotel is your spot. Set away from the main tourist crowd, amongst the pine-forested slopes of Lycabettus Hill and next to the leafy streets of Athen’s upscale area, Kolonaki, the boutique, family-run property offers sincere hospitality, an elegant ambiance, and breathtaking views. From a complimentary welcome massage (on my stay) to an onsite cinema, art gallery, rooftop pool, and restaurant, there’s plenty to keep guests engrossed.
 
For stylish, art-filled accommodations:
NEW Hotel—located in the trendy Plaka district—may be the primo pick. Expect in-room installations, floor-to-ceiling windows, funky, handmade furniture made from recycled materials, and gold basin sinks.
Loukoumades (Greek donuts)

 

DO

Eat your way through Athens
Be a Greek’s Taste (Y)our Way Food Tour is the ultimate foodie-filled excursion. The private, four-hour adventure allows you to explore the tastes and smells of Greece as you meander through some of the city’s oldest streets sampling typical sweet and salty delicacies (gyros, moussaka, loukoumades, cheese pies, koulouri, etc.) alongside an entertaining, informative guide.
 
Sit back, relax, and be pampered
The APIVITA Experience Store and its fourth-floor Beehive Spa immediately calm the body and mind, thanks to their unique series of holistic, natural, and effective treatments that are inspired by the Hippocratic philosophy, Greek nature, the power of aromatherapy, and the deep knowledge of precious bee products. Following your facial, enjoy a cold-pressed juice and peruse the surplus of all-natural skin care that promises to leave you glowing like a goddess.
 
Taste Greece’s liquid gold
Take part in an interactive, 40-minute Olive Oil Seminar at Yoleni’s Greek Gastronomy Center, a multi-story brick-and-mortar where you can explore the flavors of Greece via a butcher shop, bistro, wine and spirit cellar, deli, market, and more. Throughout the entertaining session, you’ll try four indigenous varieties of extra virgin olive oil alongside fresh, hyper-local foods—ultimately learning how to select, taste, appreciate, and integrate the nutritional treasure into your daily life.
 
Become a know it all
Join Greeking. Me and one of their licensed guides/archaeologists for a Best of Athens in One Day: Acropolis & City Exploration Tour. In just seven hours, you’ll go through 2,500 years of history as you journey through ancient and modern Athens—discovering the Acropolis (tour-goers can even avail of skip-the-line tickets), Acropolis Museum, and city highlights—learning and witnessing first-hand the historical and architectural wonders that make the metropolis so special.
 
Dinner with the locals
Avoid the tourist traps that try to lure you in with their faux food in glass-enclosed cases and go where the locals go. Vezene, a Greek-inspired, Michelin Plate bistro, is sited in a cozy, sophisticated setting, and dishes out family-style plates that may include aged beef tartare “pastistio” style; wood-fired pies with eclectic toppings like cherry-smoked baby lamb; and aged meats that melt in your mouth. For those who appreciate a good pun (and wholesome, high-quality comfort food), Nice n Easy is a must. From “The Paul Newman” (a Caesar salad with a Mediterranean twist) to “The Marvin Gaye” (minced buffalo meatballs with yogurt and mint) and “The Marlon Brando” (organic beef burger with cheddar, caramelized onions, coleslaw, and pickles on brioche), it’s a taste of Hollywood in one of Athen’s most high-end ‘hoods.


NAFPLIO

The stunning seaport village of Nafplio, the original capital of Greece and thought to be one of the country’s most romantic destinations, is located just under two hours from Athens on the Peloponnese peninsula and offers idyllic scenery with easy access to renowned ruins. Often dubbed the “Naples of the East,” expect a stunning coastline dotted with waterfront cafés, unforgettable fortresses (including Palamidi, which towers 999 steps above the city), and narrow, cobblestone-studded alleyways brimming with blooming bougainvillea.

STAY

For an intimate boutique inn that exudes elegance:
3sixty Hotel and Suites is a refurbished neoclassical house from the 19th century that holds tight to its past but has been updated with all the amenities you’d expect from a present-day property. A stately spiral staircase serves as the hotel’s stunning centerpiece and allows access to each of the seven rooms. Come morning, head next door to the onsite restaurant for a made-to-order breakfast featuring the most perfect pancakes and buzz-worthy coffee.
3sixty Hotel and Suites

 

DO

Get to know Nafplio
Learn the lay of the land while seeing the city’s major sites and hearing the stories behind them with LandLife Travel’s City Walking Tour—a two-hour stroll with a licensed leader that takes you through Nafplio’s most beloved buildings, past the picturesque port and promenade, and down the scenic side streets.
 
“Seas” the day
A trip to Greece really wouldn’t be complete with at least one island adventure. And though the majority of visitors will immediately flee to Mykonos or Santorini, a trip to the affluent island of Spetses—a car-free, carefree place that’s rich in history (it was the first of the Greek islands to raise the flag of Revolution on April 3, 1821), teeming with tavernas, and relatively untouched by tourists—is well worth the short drive and ferry ride.
 
Step way back in time
On your drive back to Athens, it’s imperative you stop at two of of the country’s most popular and significant archaeological sites: Epidaurus—known for its ancient theatre that’s thought to represent the finest and best-preserved examples of a classical Greek theatre with exceptional acoustics—and Mycenae—a fortified, late Bronze Age citadel that was once the largest and most important center of civilization. 

For more tools to help you plan, visit discovergreece.com.

by  Megan Wiskus


PARK & FLY

If your flight departs from SFO, save yourself the headache and hassle of long-term airport parking by booking a stay at AC Hotel San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront. In addition to bay views, modern architecture, and ample amenities (including an indoor pool), the property provides free parking and shuttle service to and from the airport, ensuring you’ll rest easy before or after the long voyage.

PARK & FLY