Discovering Daily Feel-Good and Wonderful Places in a Neighbourhood I Once Disliked with a Passion
By Alexia Amvrazi
I was never a big fan of the Kolonaki that’s usually written about and seen. The busier part, where the main square and all its surrounding streets thrive with costly liveliness. Essentially, I have always somewhat avoided the super-trendy areas with their hyper-expensive boutiques, glossy cafes and wine bars, delis and galleries.
For just over a year, I’ve been fortunate enough to have made my nest in the neighbourhood that overlooks the heart-opening, lush greenery of Lycabettus. The forested hill across my home resounds daily with the sound of birds, church bells and mainly spirited chit-chatter in all languages. On windy days, I listen out for the rustling leaves and the flag from the church of St George, which I feel privileged to watch flapping at the top of the hill through a tiny gap in the trees.
On cold winter mornings, I relish opening my balcony window to inhale the mulchy, crisp forest air, feeling like I’m living in the countryside; on summer nights I say “mmm” from the intoxicating wafts of jasmine, orange blossoms and night flowers. My part of Kolonaki was unbeknownst to me before I moved. It is quiet, quaint, and green, with joggers, tourists, families and dog walkers as its protagonists. Here I will share with you the favourite places I enjoy on an average day, places I reach around the area without ever entering the central part.
Morning to Midday
One of my favourite ways to indulge myself in the morning is to buy a Pain au Chocolat with Gianduja chocolate, or a perfectly flaky and buttery croissant with Cretan apaki ham, Greek graviera and a mustard bechamel from Kora Bakery on Anagnostopoulou St. What an Italian neighbour/friend of mine aptly described as a place that looks more like a hairdresser’s or bathroom – because of its yellow tiles on a stark white wall – rather than a bakery, Kora also sells artfully stacked loaves of freshly baked bread, including a very special one with hints of dark chocolate. The quality is high, the service professional and there’s no hanging around.
For food shopping, I love visiting Kostarelos on Patriarchou Ioakeim St, originally a cheese manufacturer (since 1937) and now also a deli with top quality products sold at very reasonable prices. One can get a takeout coffee and savoury or sweet pie or sit here and eat a yummy cheese (or chocolate!) fondue as well as other easy meals. Or, like me, just head straight for the counters deeper into the store, where I buy chocolate or vanilla cream (kremoula) puddings for my son, great ice cream (the pistachio flavour is made with Aegina pistachios) as well as wonderful fresh cuts of hams and cheeses, organic sliced bread with olive oil and even homemade style jams from small producers around the country.
Afternoon to Evening
Xenokratous Street is my go-to shopping zone. During lockdown it was, happily, the only place I circulated in. I say happily because it’s one of those streets that has everything you may ordinarily need: two butcher shops, two kiosks of the type that sell ‘everything’, a neighbourhood café (The Daily, where mainly locals hang out) two small supermarkets, a florist, a cava, two pharmacies, a key shop and two jewellery shops, my favourite of which is Amaya, where I spend a good while gazing through the window to admire the beautifully handmade earrings, pendants and rings. It’s also the street where the ‘laiki’ open-air market takes place every Friday from 8 am-4 pm. The vendors definitely pinch up their prices for what they presume are richer locals, but the variety and product quality is good.
It’s also pleasing, especially during summer and springtime but also in cooler months, to spend afternoons and evenings at Dexameni, where you’ll find an ancient Roman aqueduct, an open-air (summer only) cinema, a playground and a café-restaurant with tiny tables lining the steep hill that leads down to it. This is where I often meet friends either for playdates with our kids or for drinks or a combination of both, a few meze dishes or a movie. On summer nights Dexameni Café gets very crowded with everyone from millennials from around the city to elderly regulars who queue to sit at the tables.
Since I moved to Kolonaki I must have walked by Bar 56 a gazillion times without even noticing it. Shrouded by a giant black umbrella and hidden in an enclosed, leafy corner along the Ploutarchou Street stairway, once I did notice the warm, reddish light coming from inside it I thought it may be an underground haunt frequented by mafia, and/or ladies of the night. Much to my surprise, when I finally plucked up the courage to pop my head inside upon returning from the St George’s Kick Boxing Club just two minutes down the stairs, I was somewhat awestruck in discovering a vintage-style bar with a jazzy soundtrack that was dreamily lit by fairy lights, with old photos covering the walls, a layout designed for lovers of clandestine corners and a piano. It turns out it has been around for some 30 years and is a “known secret” among serious whiskey and rum connoisseurs. It’s now what I call “my new neighbourhood steki” or hangout, although with Covid madness I’ve only made it there twice thus far.
Nice N Easy
This place, where Skoufa Street meets Omirou Street, reminds me of the TV show ‘Taxi’, “where everybody knows your name” as the theme song goes, and I’ve had some of the best nights of my life there. Why? Chiefly, the owners, Eirini Andersen, Dimitris Christoforidis and Executive Chef Chris Athanasiadis, individuals who know everything right about running a successful, ‘I’ll-Be-Back’ vibe restaurant that offers an idyllic combination of warm hospitality, delicious farm-to-table healthy food, feel-good décor and a happily buzzy ambience. Located near the beautiful Agios Dionyssios church and classically intellectual-friendly Filion Café, this place has always felt like a perfect place to get away while also feeling like home.
Oh…Those Summer Nights! When, after a short (but sharp, let’s face it!) walk up the steps towards St George church on Lycabettus you arrive at a stunning, and at night, sparkly, panoramic view of Athens, the Parthenon, the sea…Enough said. From morning to night, but especially seductive at night, this café-restaurant is the perfect place to fall in love with the city you’re in, and if you’re with the right company, perhaps with whoever happens to be sitting across you. The main dish is the view, but the service and menu are appealing as well.
Main image by harrypapaioannou