Simple September Pleasures in Athens

September is when holidays are ending and our psyche subtly but surely begins to shift from summer flimsiness to autumnal focus.

Perhaps this year even more, with the threat of more lockdowns looming over us, we want to make the most of the sunshine, outdoors and chances to explore. In Athens, September is usually a kind and mellow month, when the city comes back to life and (always somewhat chaotic) order. It’s the time

…when the sun is still hot but not scorching and swimming is still perfectly pleasant.

Insights Greece - Simple September Pleasures in Athens

Throughout the week, the loveliest and most central – not to mention the largest in the capital – pool to visit is the one at Hilton Athens. It might not be cheap, but the sheer size of the pool and lovely greenery surrounding it, quality of its water, Coronavirus-cautious cleanliness, excellent service, and satisfying Oasis poolside restaurant menu will keep you relaxed and carefree for hours on end. On the ground floor of one of the city’s most architecturally fascinating hotels, designed in the 1960s, the pool here attracts mainly low-key glamourous types, families, and singletons who just want to chill in style. Another brilliant handful of great swimming options awaits you at Piraeus port, just 20 minutes’ train ride on the green line from the centre of town. Hop on a ferry or flying dolphin and within an hour you can land at lovely Argosaronic islands like Aegina, Angistri, Poros, Hydra and Spetses to spend the day at lovely beaches, eating fresh fish and sipping a sunset cocktail before returning to urbanity.

…when kefi-fuelled night owls reunite after a summer apart and make the most of being outdoors while it’s still warm.

Insights Greece - Simple September Pleasures in Athens

Head to the bars where you can be part of the crowd pouring onto the pavement, courtyard or rooftop and watch the world go buzzily by, like Ipittou on Ipittou Square in Syntagma, Baba Au Rum in Monastiraki, Blue Parrot in Metaxourgeio, Floral or Warehouse in Exarcheia, Latraac Cafe & Skate Bowl in Kerameikos, Bios in Gazi, Couleur Locale or

Taf The Art Foundation in Monastiraki, Drupes & Drips in Koukaki, Briki in Mavili Square, and Six Dogs or Atlandikos in Psyrri. Or take the quiet path and stroll at sunset time or under the stars in magical places like Philopoappou or Pnyx hills, Lycabettus, the Zappeion gardens, Anafiotika, and Plaka’s backstreets, the upper fringes of Kolonaki and the village-like part of Mets.

…when we start to look ahead at how we will prepare our home and wardrobe for winter with a touch of Greece.

Insights Greece - Simple September Pleasures in Athens

Whether you’re in Athens during September as a visitor or resident, it’s an exciting time to go window-shopping and start dreaming of how you’ll add classic or ultra-contemporary Greek touches to make your home and wardrobe both cozily comfortable and pleasurably stylish. Maybe you want a knitted lambswool fisherman-style pullover or elaborately-embroidered cushion covers that you can find in some of the finer tourist shops of Plaka like Loom. Or vintage stores with an international selection, including Greek designer specials, found around Kolonaki, Monastiraki, and Exarcheia. It may be classical-style jewellery or objects d’art inspired by Greek culture and sold either as a direct replica or with an extreme modern twist and found at specialty shops in the Cycladic Art, Benaki, Benaki Pireos Annexe or Lalaounis Museums or at Greek concept stores like SOPHIA, Forget Me Not or Paraphenelia.

Daytime Drinking in Athens: Might As Well Do it Right

If you’re mid-shopping, touring, working even, why not stop for “just that one drink”? There are plenty of classic spots for doing this in real Athens-style.

By Adrian Vrettos

Unbeknown to yours truly, I unwittingly started researching this piece 20 years ago.  Being an avid lover of the ancient centre of Athens, it’s somewhere I never tire of exploring.  As you can imagine this can be thirsty work, so finding the right place to satisfy that thirst is of the utmost importance. Lots of bars, restaurants and cafes spring up like fungus in Autumn and choosing the wrong one could end up being pricey and leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. All the places I’m recommending have been around donkey’s years, have their own character and idiosyncrasies and have passed the test of time (well at least one of them has). 

Syntagma

Tazza

On a pedestrianised alleyway just off Athens’ main shopping street Ermou and close to Plaka, Tazza, Petraki 5, has an eccentric Parisian flavour that would be right at home as a backdrop in a Lautrec painting. Lamps with colourful shades chaperone the seating and kitsch fake flowers hang in Babylonian style off the awnings. Wines and cocktails in a buzzy atmosphere.

Monastiraki

Kapnikareas

On Christopoulou 2 & Ermou 57, this is my favourite watering hole when I’m downtown; down-to-earth, local, unpretentious. Perfect for a refreshing beer to hydrate your pipes. Be warned this place can be perilous. One drink can easily lead to a second, chased down by iced raki, as live daytime performances of Rebetika music by skilled musicians churn around the boisterous patrons who may burst into song at any time. If in stock, try the Ikarian beer.

Insights Greece - Daytime Drinking in Athens: Might As Well Do it Right
Plaka

Dioskouri 

Now, this is the top stop after a morning of exploring the ancient sites and Plaka. On the steps leading up to the pedestrianised road circling the Acropolis, Dioskouri is a traditional kafenion with small round blue iron tables and trussed wooden chairs thrown untidily onto the wide steps next to the ancient agora. Ice cold beers, location second to none, nice mix of locals and tourists.

Brettos Plaka, Kydathinaion 41,

This colourful little boozer has been around since forever and is a perfect place to duck into for a sly drink whilst taking in the sites around Plaka. They have their own brand of liqueurs, ouzo and wine (probably best to avoid the latter) and the beer is served nice and chilled. This bar has stubbornly refused to upgrade its look over the decades thus keeping its authenticity and a charm harking back to the Athens of yesteryear.

Psyrri, Miaouli 19

Traversing Psyrri during a hot summer day is a somewhat a redundant endeavour, but if you do happen to find yourself in the vicinity,  there’s Psirra bar, even though it’s small, this popular night time hang out is a bit of a hotchpotch in its decor. In winter try the hot and herby honied raki ‘rakomelo’ and go on! why not the same in summer, make sure you don’t have a boat/train/plane to catch within the next 48hours though.

Nearby Transistor, Protogenous 10, is also worth dropping by since you’re in the vicinity.

Thisseo

Athinaion Politeia, Apostolou Pavlou 33,

There are few better views to be had in Athens, the rock of the Acropolis crowned with marble temples framed by the greens of pine copses and olive groves below and the Attic blue sky above. Well, this is what you get at the large open square where Athinaion Politeia parks its tables and chairs beneath large white umbrellas. This place probably only thrives as well as it does because of the view but what a place to enjoy a cold beer.

Nearby Dama Koupa, Akamantos 3, has more character. Dice clatter rhythmically on wooden backgammon boards with skill and lady luck determining who gets the next round.

Akropolis/Makriyianni

Old School, Makriyianni 19-21

It has taken 20 years for Old School to actually become ‘old school’, and many a liver has been pickled in the process. Located right outside the side entrance of the Acropolis Museum and next to the metro station it’s a great stop either before or after your ancient culture immersion. In the past even up to the last time I went, summer 2019, the food on offer was delivery to the bar!  But now they have branched out into becoming more foody; I hope this doesn’t ruin it as a bar.

Nearby and worth a mention

Athens Sports Bar, Veikou 3, This is a neo-pub style bar under a hostel where local sports enthusiasts and ex-pats mingle with tourists, instantly connecting, cheering or booing on teams. Rugby, cricket, as well as many ‘minor’ sports like football (for American readers, I’m referring to the European kind) live on one of the large screens.

Anywhere

Lastly and one of my favourites, why not find a nice shady spot under a twisting fig tree, a gnarled old olive tree, or a whispering pine, with your view of choice and a modicum of privacy at one of the many green spots around the historic centre.  You can enjoy a refreshingly cold beer or a cool retsina purchased from the nearest kiosk.

Oh and one last point – all the above-mentioned places serve some kind of bites or nibbles to accompany your “one” drink.

 

Rediscovering Athens During Lockdown Through Photography

Hospitality industry executive Christos Ditoras is used to being at a high-end hotel surrounded by people. Lockdown unleashed a new vision of his city and himself.

Suddenly our busy city went quiet, and still. For many, the initial instinct is to feel numb, panicked, confused. As humans, and thus creatures built to adapt, the next phase was to re-emerge from what we considered normality and focus our attention elsewhere. As an amateur photographer since his youth, Christos Ditoras turned his attention on the suddenly silent urban landscape where he has spent so many years of his life and career. He took to the streets and photographed places he had been many times before but was now seeing it in a completely new light. Here he talks about his experience and what led him to passionately create this photo project.

By Christos Ditoras

I spent my childhood in Corfu and Parga. In 2010 I had a small camera – the old ones that are only 4.0 megapixels – and started taking photos of Parga that I uploaded to a Facebook page. The photos and page became a big success, which inspired me to pursue photography. I created a Flickr account, bought a better camera, and started photographing more seriously. In 2015 I followed a 90-hour seminar in photography at Orama Photography Studies, after which I participated in an exhibition and presented photos on Urban Minimalism. From 2015 and until now I take pictures all the time, especially of landscapes, buildings and alleys that I love to discover around the city.

I’m really interested in neuroscience and psychology and follow various seminars on these topics, such as the Introduction to Psychology course at Yale through Coursera, that I’m currently doing online. 

I’m really inspired by social media because it’s what helped me communicate my photos with the world. I think it’s amazing how with just one click people can share their thoughts and visions with the world. Also, the Internet played a big role in adapting to lockdown as it meant I could stay close and connected to family and friends.

My daily work involves being around a lot of people and being actively busy. In the first two to three days of lockdown, I felt like I was an actor in a movie, not living in real life. I was suddenly alone at home all day. Soon I began to go jogging, taking online courses and of course enjoying walks around the city to take photographs.

Lockdown in Athens created three new feelings in me: the sense of having free time, the discovery of the city with empty streets, and the need to tap deeper into my creativity.

Creativity is probably one of the most important things a human can experience. It has healing power; engaging in creative behaviours and pursuits is proven to improve brain function and work as a stress-buster. I believe that lockdown, globally probably prompted one of the greatest periods of creativity.

Insights Greece - Rediscovering Athens During Lockdown Through Photography
Plaka

I recall a Picasso quote in which he said: “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” We all have so many talents and I think it’s vital to discover them. Photography is something I discovered accidentally, and probably there are other talents I need to seek out within myself along the way. We should all take advantage of our creative talents so that we can experience life more fully. I cannot call myself an artist, I only do what I do as a way of expressing myself and overcoming stress.

Lockdown helped me – and I’m sure others too – realise just how beautiful Athens really is. How important it is for us to love and respect it, care for it – like keeping things clean – and really look at it. I realised how spectacular some buildings, streets, and other locations are. Usually, we walk around without even really noticing all that we pass.

It’s impossible to predict how lockdown will affect us in the long run. I think because of lockdown our senses were refocused to become more attentive. Certainly, some people go back not exactly how they were before the experience, but I think others really change forever because of it. The important thing is to keep adapting and looking out for the beauty around us.

Follow Christos Ditoras on Instagram

Culinary Journeys at Botrini’s Restaurant

As soon as you arrive at Botrini’s you feel you’ve reached somewhere special and your expectations are fanned.

The very friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive staff make you feel at home, although there is always a sense of being somewhere very elegant where you can’t completely let your guard down. With seven Michelin stars and a multitude of awards under his belt, restaurateur/ TV celebrity, and poet Ettore Botrini has created three tasting menus that each tells a story. Each story connects flavours, textures, philosophical concepts, cooking traditions, nostalgic memories, creative ideas, and even a fortune teller’s advice with often playful, beautifully presented dishes. It is a sort of theater of the palate and a wonderful place to visit with someone whom you can enjoy the journey with. After at least four ‘welcoming’ amuse bouche dishes come several entrees, the main course, a sorbet, and finally a light, refreshing dessert. Advice: Eat a light lunch on the day you visit!

Insights Greece - Culinary Journeys at Botrini’s Restaurant

Type of cuisine: Modern, Creative, Greek-Mediterranean

Type of eatery: Elegant, stylish, modern, with a large garden and large white rotundas.

The low down… Since it opened in 2014, the restaurant has received a Michelin Star seven times for its ambitious menu, professionalism, and ultra-creative high-end flavours.

Décor/ Ambience: Modern and designer, with strong elements of glass (like the façade of the kitchen, which one can see through upon entering the building) and wood. The garden area is spacious but hush-hush posh.

Entrees: We loved ‘Herring, A Journey Through Time’ the service of which starts with a smoked golden herring brought to the table as décor and ends with a glass of white mousse-like cream you dip through with an extra-long spoon to discover the herring and other ingredients from the bottom up. The Cheese Pie puff with cheese, sesame, and thyme honey was also a delight.

Insights Greece - Culinary Journeys at Botrini’s Restaurant

Mains: If you want to relish an explosion of citrus (Corfiot neratzosalata or bitter orange salad) artfully combined with Swordfish Carpaccio prepared in fishermen style from the Elba island. Also delicious was the Pasta Benedetto Cavalieri cooked like a risotto, in lemon water with sea urchin. Unfortunately, as a sea urchin fan, I couldn’t taste much of it, but the pasta was gratifyingly cooked to perfection as one would hope from a half-Italian chef, and with a zingy lemon punch.

Something to drink: Every dish in each elaborate menu is paired by the restaurant with a Greek or Italian wine chosen by the restaurant’s Sommelier.

Price range: There are three tasting menus created by Botrini, My Origins (70 € a head), Travelling (120 € a head) and Ploes (90 € a head).

FYI: Botrini also has an award-winning restaurant in his native Corfu.

Location: Vas. Georgiou B, 24 b, Halandri.

Opening hours/days: Tuesday- Saturday 20:00 – 24:00.

A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

Neo-tavernas have become a huge hit among both visitors and locals over the last decade because they provide authentic-style cuisine in a fresh, modern setting. Yet there’s an undeniable charm to the real, old, non-renovated Greek taverna that should be experienced at least once.

Many of the Greek tavernas listed here opened in the ‘20’s – the ‘50s, and it is much more than nostalgia that has kept them going, especially during a merciless financial crisis. Their charm, infused in the décor reflective of a bygone era, the owners, who have created dishes inspired by their culture for so many decades for so many hungry customers, are important factors. And then there’s the food itself, which may not be playful and innovative, culinarily-fluid or instantly Instgrammable, but it tastes pretty much the same as it did when it was first served up. 

Athinaikon

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Opened in 1932, this is the only place in this guide that is a little bit closer to a restaurant than a classic taverna, although its menu is comprised of classic traditional dishes. Bang in the heart of central Athens, it has been a favourite of famous Greek painters, politicians, and poets for its homey and unpretentious yet chic style.

Dishes To Try: The large variety of meze dishes and platters eaten with a glass of ouzo. Giant beans baked in tomato sauce (gigantes), bite-sized minty, fried meatballs (keftedakia), pan-melted cheese with pastrami (saganaki me pastourma and tart, salty) and marinated smoked mackerel (tsirosalata).

Location: Themistokleous 2 & Panepistimiou Sts

To Koutouki Tou Andoni

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: The cosy ambiance in this taverna, with a covered, tiled courtyard with a large fig tree, wine barrels, wooden tables with lion’s claws, and a vintage mosaic and stone walls hasn’t changed since it opened in 1958.

Dishes to Try: Fresh, fried small fish, calamari and cod, fava bean puree, wild greens, charcoal-grilled sausage, and meat patties (bifteki), as well as meze dishes with your house (hima) wine.

Location: Argyrokastrou 26, Palia Kokkinia, Metamorfosi

Taverna Tou Axoti

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Still standing proud after 60 years of operation, this family-run taverna makes you feel right at home. If you’re lucky you may be treated to a spontaneous live song performance by the owner’s grandsons.

Dishes to Try: Lamb chops, fried cod with garlic sauce (bakaliaros skordalia), fluffy meat patties, and hand-cut, freshly-fried potatoes.

Location: Paparseni 15, Polygono

Bakaliarakia Tou Damigou

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Considered one of Athen’s most antique tavernas, Damigos is said to have opened in 1864, when it specialised in cod. Today run by the fourth generation of proprietors, who have over time extended the menu. Numerous actors, writers, poets, and painters have traversed Damigos’ threshold over the century.

Dishes to Try: Definitely the cod, spicy anchovies (gavros), garlic sauce, and taramosalata.

Location: Kydathinaion 41, Plaka

Dioskouroi

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: More of a traditional meze-restaurant-kafeneion than taverna, this is a favourite for many (since 1975) because of its scenic view of the Ancient Agora in Plaka.

Dishes to Try: Take a break from touring to eat a Greek salad and a grilled meat platter accompanied by a cold beer.

Location: Dioskouron 13, Plaka

Diporto

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: By now somewhat famous for being so old, authentic, and traditional, Diporto is just a few minutes walk from the Central Athens Varvakeios Fish and Meat Markets. It is charming especially because it’s a basement that you enter by walking downstairs, as well as for its remaining, heavily traditional working class of the ‘50s décor; and the food is delicious too.

Dishes to Try: The house retsina wine, oil-cooked pulses (ladera), traditional slow-cooked stews (mageirefta) and small fried fish.

Location: Sokratous 9 St & Theatrou Square, Psyrri

To Eidikon

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed
Image Courtesy of Culinary Backstreet

History & Style: This only remaining – since 1920, when it started off as a food store, as its décor reveals – old style-deli tavernas in Piraeus is located behind the tobacco factories at the central port. It was a favourite hangout of Greek Rembetika musicians Kazantzidis, Tsitsanis, and Papaioannou.

Dishes to Try: Sausage, the taverna’s well-known corned-beef omelette, fava, keftedes, sardines, and a side of juicy tomatoes, olives and good quality Greek gruyere cheese.

Location: Psarron 38 & Salaminos, Piraeus

Koutouki Tis Harikleas

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Located in an old refugee building, this place looks more like an antique store than a taverna. Old radios, sewing machines, cooking utensils, photographs, and wine barrels make up the surprising décor.

Dishes to Try: Lamb chops, fried pork, melted cheese, and great salads.

Location: Artis 29, Metamorfosi

Katsarina

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: In the leafy northern suburb of Kifissia, this early 19th Century taverna has hardly changed its menu since it opened in 1893, making it a beloved old classic. In summer enjoy sitting out in the garden.

Dishes to Try: This place is for meat-lovers and is known for its steaks, as well as some home-cooked stews and oil-based (ladera) dishes.

Location: Kifissias Avenue 311, Kifissia

Karavitis

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: This legendary taverna in Proskopos Square opened in 1920 and has a devout local as well as a tourist fan base. Its large wooden wine barrels and cosy ambiance are its most noteworthy characteristic feature.

Dishes to Try: Their famous meat patties, either plain or stuffed with cheese, crispy lamb chops, and traditional side dishes.

Location: Arktinou & Pafsaniou 4, Pangrati

Klimataria

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Originally a kafeneion next to the temple of St John, since 1927 this wine tavern offers customers both a real sense of old Athens and tasty dishes.

Dishes to Try: Lamb with potatoes slow-cooked with garlic in a ceramic pot, onion pie, melted cheese, tomato-stewed rooster with mashed potatoes, and good house wine.

Location: Theatrou Square 2, Psyrri

Marathoniti

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed
Image courtesy of This Is Athens

History & Style: Since the 1970s this basement-level family-run taverna with an old mosaic-tile floor has lured many a diner, especially with its wine and meze dishes. All even better when accompanied by rembetika music.

Dishes to Try: Oven-baked beans (gigantes), sausage, lamb chops, wine meze dishes, and steaks.

Location: Ymittou 253 & Vinkelman 3, Mets

Metaxou

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Over half a century old, this wine tavern has retained the vibe of Athens’ bygone era when friends gathered to feast on simple yet authentic and delicious food.

Dishes to Try: Meat stew with orzo (yiouvetsi), shrimp pasta, and chicken cooked in tomato sauce.

Location: Pythodorou 10, Metaxourgeio

Mister Loukidelis

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Nea Filadelfia’s most well-known taverna opened in 1932 and is now managed by the third generation of proprietors.

Dishes to Try: If it’s your kind of thing, try the famous Loukideli’s testicles” (ameletita) meze. Also try the cheese pie, fried cod, fava puree, and snails.

Location: Georgiou apandreou 79, Nea Filadelfia

Peinaleon

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Old mirrors from 1919, wall paintings, antiques, and old photographs create a nostalgic and singular ambiance here.

Dishes to Try: Roasted mastelo cheese from Chios, coal-fire smoked aubergine dip (melitzanosalata), pork cooked with mastic, fluffy croquettes with wild greens and herbs and pork with hand-cut fresh fried potatoes.

Location: Mavromichali 152, Exarcheia

Roumeli

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: Since 1930 when it opened, this taverna has changed its appearance several times, but the food has remained deeply gratifying.

Dishes to Try: Well-grilled, good-quality meats like lamb chops, steak, liver, and meat patties with fresh, hand-cut fries, as well as home-cooked stews. In winter warm-up with the meat soup.

Location: Konstandinoupoleos 34 & Proussis, Vyronas, Nea Smyrni 

Vardis

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: An authentic, traditional taverna that opened in 1922, signs of which you can see around the tavern- an old set of scales, wooden plate rack, and ceramic bowls. Through the glass floor, you can see the old wine barrels in the basement. Some days you can enjoy live Greek music performances.

Dishes to Try: Fried meatballs, goat, fried cod, and fava puree.

Location Kaisarias 9, Ymittou Square

O Vathis

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: With a large, lovely garden, this 1974 taverna has a warm, family feeling both because of its friendly service and cosy ambiance.

Dishes to Try: Grilled bread with olive oil and oregano right from the start. Cabbage-wrapped meat dolmades, lamb chops, a big choice of tasty home-cooked stews and ladera dishes, fava puree, melitzanosalata and fried courgettes.

Location: Kyrou 7, Kifissia

Vourliotina

Insights Greece - A-Z MINIGUIDE: Athens’ Authentic Old Tavernas You Never Knew Existed

History & Style: A taverna that used to be the home of Yiayia (granny) Triandafyllia and has kept elements of her life, who was from Smyrna.

Dishes to Try: Unsurprisingly, the cuisine here is also influenced by Asia Minor and includes dishes like tabbouleh, pastrami pie, egg and cheese terrine, homemade liqueur and kazan dipi dessert.

Location: Vas. Alexandrou 10 & Ymittou

Main image: Karavitis 

The Effortless Joy of Electric Cycling Through the Capital

Solebike Tours organize electric bicycle excursions throughout the day – and year – and you don’t need to be super-fit to enjoy them!

Ah, la luna, la luna…the night that I sped under the spell of the moon. In Athens, the August full moon is the one night of the year when the city’s ancient sites are open to the public after sundown. I hopped on my Solebike electric bike and off we travelled through the city’s most beautiful spots, in the silvery light of the moon.

Easy, Breezy, Fascinating!

Insights Greece - The Effortless Joy of Electric Cycling Through the Capital

Solebike, created by cycling-enthusiasts/tourism experts Costas and Sofia has been successfully running city tours for people of every age (baby and child seats are both available and safe) for several years now. Daytime tours include wearing an earpiece through which you can follow a fascinating guided tour by Costas, Sophia, or Dimitra as you cycle. Electric bicycles are so easy to ride, all you need to do is pedal a little and zoom! Off you go, whether you’re on flat ground or up-hills. As for downhills – and believe me, we had some steep ones on my night trip – just gripping both brakes gently assures a smooth, easy experience.

The greatest thing about electric bicycle tours such as the ones so skillfully organized by Solebike is that regardless of traffic – by cars or people – you can easily and speedily navigate through the city. Vastly appealing to both foreign visitors and Greeks (indeed on my tour is was an all-Greek group), the tours are fun and always have something interesting to teach. Except for stopping at various points of interest, you get to observe life, architecture, nature, and often unknown side streets or other areas you wouldn’t normally walk through in the city.

The Moonlight Tour

Insights Greece - The Effortless Joy of Electric Cycling Through the Capital

On my tour, we started at the dinky Solebike Tours HQ in Makriyanni, near the Acropolis Metro station, where we registered and were offered complimentary water, helmet, and instructions. The first stop was the ancient and deeply historical area of Filopappou, where we walked to the same-named Roman monument from where we took in heady panoramic views of the city, sprawling glitteringly all the way down to the deep blue coast on one side. On the other was the gold-lit Acropolis, admired by families and friends who sat around in groups, and lovers concealed behind olive trees on ancient benches.

Next, we whizzed through the very lively Plaka neighbourhood, with its old tavernas, neoclassical buildings, seductive smells of delicious Greek foods, and buzzy crowds of revellers, many of them out to soak up the full moon’s light like us. After that, we cycled to the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium where the Modern Olympic Games were organized in 1896, but we got to see it both from the ground level and a ‘secret’ angle that Costas took us to from high above on Ardittou Hill. Finally, we visited the Zappeion Megaro next to the National Gardens, before parking our bikes back at the shop and enjoying a refreshing complimentary glass of wine and happy chat at Wine O’Clock bar on Vrassidas St.

Something for Everyone

This was just one of many creative, educational, and fully enjoyable tours that Solebike offers. They also organize cycling visits that include food and/or wine stops, seaside routes, and soon they are hoping to launch excursions to nearby Saronic islands like Aegina, where there are a whole different variety of pleasures to discover – food, sea, ancient sites and varying nature.

Solebike are out-of-the-box thinkers and even include a Sea Turtle Rescue Tour, while they are always coming up with new ideas of how to make the best of the developing Athens Walkway, the cycling paths on the southern coast, nearby locations and creative/pleasurable pursuits. They also organise private tours.

From Famously Classic to Tastefully Modern, Vassilenas Restaurant

Choose between the restaurant’s Signature Tasting Menu of seven dishes that are artfully paired with three different glasses of wine or order a la carte from the Parkside menu.

Always using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients, chef Manos Garnelis alters the menu five times throughout the year, always succeeding in combining delicate sophistication in both textures and appearance with real yet ethereally transportive flavours.

A-One Hundred Year History 

What started as a humble ‘bakalotaverna’ (cod tavern) in 1920 run by Thanassis Vassilenas is today one of Greece’s best and oldest restaurants. When Thanassis’ son George took over the taverna after WWII the restaurant, which served a set menu of 18 delightful seafood courses, drew the likes of Winston Churchill, Maria Kallas, Manos Hatzidakis and countless other local and global personalities. The restaurant was next taken on by his son Thanassis, who moved it from Piraeus to its current location behind the Hilton Hotel in 2016 and turned it into the modern, upper-scale restaurant it is today, designed by K&K Architects, who also designed the Benaki Museum.

Type of cuisine? Modern, Seafood, Greek-Mediterranean

Type of eatery? Cosmopolitan but unpretentious, elegant designer interiors, relaxed summer garden.

The low down…This is the perfect place for any special occasion, and although Michelin-star-worthy the dishes are reasonably priced. The service is excellent and the food and wine of the highest standard.

Décor & Ambience? Contemporary and welcoming. The post-industrial yet warm interiors include a white wall of volcanic rock from Santorini, themed on the design of the Hilton’s unique architectural façade that one can see in the distance, lit wine bottles on the ceiling and a large glass cava.

Entrees? Try the surprising Cheese and Spinach Pie amuse bouche and the Sea Bream Tartar. The Slightly Poached Egg with potato mousse, summer truffle and apaki ham is the ultimate comfort food.

Mains? Don’t miss out on the Grilled Squid with split pea purée, sweet-and-sour saltwort greens, cuttlefish ink, “sujuk” dry spicy sausage and the Grilled Seabass with pan-fried greens, Greek salad, grilled beetroot pureé.

Something to drink? With around 150 Greek and international wine labels and a super-skilled and accommodating Sommelier, there’s nothing to worry about.

Price range? The Tasting Menu is 39 € per head or 49 € with the inclusion of wine. Overall individual dishes range between 9-25 € each.

Chef says: “I’ve remained loyal to Vassilenas’ culinary values, but my role is to also listen to our clientele and follow their evolving tastes. The most important thing for me is to offer real flavours to people, so they can recognise what they are eating and savour each taste. At home, I’m not a chef! My wife does the cooking. I’ve taught her a lot and she’s become quite excellent!”

FYI: Vassilenas periodically organises wine tasting events that include a menu of bites paired with the wines. 

Location: Vrasisa 13, Athens (close to Hilton)

Veganism in Athens in 2020: It’s So Easy Being Green

The vegan food scene in Athens just keeps blossoming, and their menus are as sophisticated as they come.

Veganism has become a way of life for many Greeks, especially those of the younger generations. Being more well-travelled and culturally awake, vegan eaters in Greece today expect – and are getting – great dishes at affordable prices. The places we list below each have their original style, décor and menu, often with several exciting options that include influences from ethnic cuisine or fun and flavorsome creations made by the chef. Whether you’re strictly vegan or just in the mood for healthy, fresh, surprising and meat/dairy-free foods, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

VEGANAKI (Athanasiou Diakou 38, Makriyianni)

Comforting Greek homemade-style dishes and recipes with Asian or Mediterranean elements are given a contemporary overhaul here. Try the classic Pastitsio dish which is made with soya instead of beef mince and a rich bechamel sauce made from pureed cauliflower and almond milk, juicy burgers made with veggies and pulses, salads, soups, sandwiches and smoothies

Insights Greece - Veganism in Athens in 2020: It’s So Easy Being Green


AVOCADO (Nikis 30, Syntagma)
The Original vegan gathering point in Athens is still a favourite for locals and visitors alike. The organic food here is nutritious, delicious and worldly – from comforting spicy Dahl or vegan sushi and avocado pizza to peanut-butter marinated tofu served in a vegan bowl with spicy edamame peas and quinoa, there’s something for everyone. The juices, teas, smoothies and desserts (try the chocolate fondant tart) rock too.

MYSTIC VEGAN (Emm. Benaki 76, Exarcheia)
What started out as Mystic Pizza, which quickly stood out because they use hemp flour with cannabis seeds, in later years branched out opening Mystic Vegan. From seasonal soups and fresh salads to lachmatzoum, peinirli, pasta and of course many choices of pizza, this too has become a favourite for Athenian vegans.

VEGAN BEAT (Perikleous 56, Monastiraki)

Located in buzzy Monastiraki, this dinky restaurant with a few outdoor tables serves the vegan rendition of fast food- from burgers covered in melted vegan cheddar cheese and caramelized onions to souvlaki and moussaka, there are plenty of meat-free ‘junk food’ options to keep you satisfied.

PLANT KINGDOM (Frynis 1, Paleo Faliro)
With a menu of fresh, seasonal, local and mainly organic ingredients, this green spot in the southern suburb of Faliro changes its menu every week. Try their vegan burger with vegan cheese and guacamole, lentil ‘meatballs’ with roast potatoes or try the dish of the day.

PEAS (Falirou 40, Koukaki)

Try a jackfruit burger, seitan club sandwich, cheesy tofu nuggets with black eye beans or any other creative and freshly conceptualized dish at this new arrival. Serving food that’s centred on flavour and health benefits, including smoothies, juices and mouthwatering desserts like lemon pie, Peas already has a devout following.

LIME BISTRO (Dekeleon 23, Gazi)

Lime in Gazi has an uplifting interior imbued with shades of blue and a back garden where you can taste a great choice of vegan burgers, a daily raw tart of the day, soups, power smoothies and salads. Try the raw carob-‘dako’ rusk tomato salad with creamy almond ‘myzithra’ cheese and the ‘seafood’ orzo pasta dish and don’t miss out on the banoffee pie.

YI (Grigoriou Lambraki 69, Glyfada)

Not only vegan but also raw, Yi’s sophisticated menu can’t fail to impress with its fantastic variety of homemade plant-based cheeses, nut-and-seed “butters”. The restaurant is also proud to be serving strictly glucose, gluten, sugar and dairy-free, non-processed foods only, making no sacrifice on flavour. They specialize in hot (with hot water added, not boiled) and cold soups and their most popular dish is the Burrito platter for two.

COOKOOMELA GRILL (Themistokleous 43-45, Exarcheia)

Greece’s first vegan/vegetarian souvlaki joint serves delectable gyro and wrapped souvlaki using mushrooms and pulses to replace meat and serving fresh crisp salads rich with aromatic herbs and seasonal veggies. Try their best selling dish Yellow, with mushroom gyro, avocado, handmade vegetable mayo, mustard, parsley and freshly cut fries.

The Most Romantic Spots in Athens

Even with social distancing, nothing can quell romantic notions if you and your amour are in Athens.  

There are several go-to places in the city that can push your romance up a few notches and it would be foolish to not make the most of them! Here are some of our favourite spots in the Greek capital to visit with our other half! 

Head for the Hills

Grab a chilled bottle of prosecco from the fridge and walk up Lycabettus hill at sunset, seeing a panoramic vista of the city’s lights twinkling on at glowtime. Other scenic spots for a scenic al fresco drink are Philopappou or Pnyx hills, where you can sit on a rock or lay down a blanket and soak up the ancient vibes and awesome views of the Parthenon seemingly side by side with Lycabettus hill. Finally, get away from the urban throng and summer heat in the shady, verdant National Gardens (closes at sunset); enjoy walking amongst tree and plant species from around the world and spotting exotic birds like parrots, peacocks and black swans.

Islandesque Romance 

Take a stroll through Anafiotika, an island-like ‘village’ neighbourhood built by locals of Anafi in the foothills of the Acropolis. The pretty mini gardens and whitewashed houses, narrow cobblestone lanes and sweeping city views are all delightfully romantic. Start in the morning with an early stroll here while it’s still cooler and then head to Makryianni neighbourhood below for a coffee at Little Tree Cafe, Lotte Cafe or Drips and Drupes charcuterie where you can enjoy a midday prosecco or a healthy juice and a cold cuts platter a deux.

Foodie Turn Ons

Share a refined, delicious meal in a buzzy restaurant like Asian-Greek Nolan in Syntagma, meze-garden Ama Lachei in Exarcheia, Seychelles in Metaxourgeio or Nice N Easy in Kolonaki. If you prefer romance by the sea, visit the magical Temple of Poseidon in Sounio (around an hour from Athens by car or KTEL bus), have a cooling dip and then admire the temple lit up in gold light as you sit for dinner by the lapping waves at one of the tavernas below.

Hold Hands in the Dark

Munch on popcorn, sip iced drinks and venture to other worlds together watching a movie at one of Athens’ refreshing open-air cinemas. Some of the best and most classic (and still open despite Covid) are Cine Thisseion (one of the city’s oldest, where unlike anywhere else the bar snacks include bottarga from Mesolonghi, homemade cheese-pie and cherry liqueur) and Vox in Exarcheia.