‘First stop, Athens!’ I revealed to Mr S in the taxi on the way to the airport. It was the beginning of the big surprise trip that I’d been planning for months to celebrate his birthday. Ok, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise as he already knew we were going to Greece after it slipped out of my mouth during a conversation about holidays (it’s hard keeping secrets from your husband ok!) and then an email that morning from British Airways had really let the cat out of the bag. With Mr S having never visited Athens before, and me only having very vague recollections of a day trip there aged 14, it was pretty much a new city for both of us.
And a special trip calls for a very special hotel and it didn’t take too much research to discover that Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel was considered the best in Athens. Having stayed in a couple of Luxury Collection properties in the past few years, The Gritti Palace in Venice and Hotel Imperial in Vienna, I knew that the group not only offers excellent accommodation and service but also that they shine a spotlight on the history and culture of the city.
Hotel Grande Bretagne couldn’t possibly be more reflective of the city having been an utterly glamorous Grande Dame in the centre of the city since 1874 and with utterly jaw dropping view of the iconic Acropolis, Syntagma Square and the Parliament, lush Lycabettus Hill, the original Olympic Stadium. It was actually first built in 1842 for a wealthy Greek business man named Antonis Dimitriou before the transformation into a hotel and the walls have seen many other historical events – it was actually the headquarters of the Nazis during the Second World War before they were pushed out and it became the home of British Expeditionary Force in 1944. Throughout the years over 40 kings, queens and heads of state have made the hotel their residence, indicating that there is no doubt that Hotel Grande Bretagne is the best hotel in Athens.
The hotel got a multi-million pound facelift in 2004 with much of the period decor retained and carefully restored.
I always think hotel lobbies are so important for giving a first impression and Hotel Grande Bretagne certainly doesn’t disappoint with the original Neo-classical style strictly adhered to. Clad in marble with grandest of columns, gilt trimmed tables, mirrors and antiques plus gorgeous mosaic flooring it feels like an explosion of indulgent luxury.
The lobby leads through to the beautiful Winter Garden which boasts an original stained glass window and utterly Instagrammable palm trees. It’s the perfect place for a quiet drink or light lunch whist listening to twinkling piano music and enjoying the hotel’s fantastic service.
Adjacent to lounge, you can grab a cocktail at the beautiful marble topped Alexander Bar, there’s even an original 18th Century tapestry depicting Alexander the Great behind it.
Continuing on the theme of Alexander the Great, head up stair to find the cosy Alexander’s Cigar Lounge which has a stunning courtyard too. I’m not a cigar smoker myself but I can just imagine a cosy autumn night by this fire with a glass of delicious Greek wine in hand!
But the piece de resistance of the food and beverage options at the hotel is the GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar.
I mean, I think you can see why…located on the 8th floor at the top of the hotel GB Roof Garden Restaurant and Bar has a panoramic view of Athens encompassing the Acropolis, Lycabettus hill and the Parliament. Now, I don’t always book the hotel restaurant as they can be rather hit and miss but there was no way I was missing this one! And in my research of restaurants with a view, it consistently came out as one of the top, plus I got lots of personal recommendations to try it. Arriving at the hotel after our flight at 7pm, I had booked dinner there on the first night.
You can’t actually pre-reserve tables at the restaurant terrace but the short half an hourish wait gave us the chance to try Bar 8, a stylish place right next to the restaurant. I had a glass of wine from Santorini whilst Mr S enjoyed a cocktail as we anticipated our dinner.
Our table couldn’t have been better, with an absolutely perfect view of the Acropolis.
Executive Chef Asterios Koustoudis has created a menu of Mediterranean cuisine for the stunning restaurant. Mr S and I are big fans of Greek food, so I was keen for our first meal to have real Greek flavour and we weren’t disappointed.
My starter was trilogy carpaccio of sea bass, salmon and tuna with yuzu sorbet and mastiha oil while Mr S had grilled seafood.
I had fish of the day (sea bass) with grilled vegetables where as Mr S had lamb with smoked eggplant pureé and yoghurt with spices (I didn’t get a good picture) and as I literally couldn’t wait for my first Greek salad we also ordered one as a side dish. As you can see from the decor at Hotel Grande Bretagne, the hotel falls into the category of traditional or elegant luxury but it is by no means stuffy. The GB Roof Garden is buzzy and bright with a very modern character plus the food was seriously good, I’d highly recommend a visit even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
The French Pastry Chef, Arnaud Larher, is rather legendary so we couldn’t leave without trying dessert. We opted with crunchy choux pastry with vanilla cream, orange compote, rose-scented chantilly and fresh strawberries which had a special surprise for Mr S’s birthday.
Quite possibly my favourite ever breakfast view at a city hotel, we returned GB Roof Garden the next morning.
And the food was amazing too…I mean I think that they served pretty much every carb possible from traditional Greek pies and pastries to muffins, bagels and pancakes. Plus fresh fruit, meats, cheeses and cereal, hot breakfast and eggs made to order. The breakfast at Hotel Grande Bretagne was a serious dream.
With 320 rooms and suites, this is not a small hotel but it certainly feels intimate and cosy with the personal service. Knowing we wouldn’t be in the room too much, I booked an entry-level classic room but thanks to booking through my Virtuoso agent, we were upgraded to a deluxe room.
With creamy tones and grand drapes curtains, the room like the rest of the hotel is luxuriously old-school glamour. With a king bed, plenty of floor space and a beautiful antique writing desk, it was was the perfect place to sleep for our two days in Athens.
An elegant marble bathroom had double sinks, a shower, bath and was kitted out with Gilchrist and Soames products and the snuggliest of bathrobes.
But let’s be honest, what actually struck me as soon as I walked in was the amount of chocolate that had been left for us in the room.
From the huge birthday cake, to the statue actually made out of chocolate, plus chocolates left on our pillows!
That’s because the aforementioned French Pastry Chef, Arnaud Larher stands amongst the top 10 chocolatiers of France for the last ten years. A man fascinated with the raw ingredients of chocolate, great care goes into his marvellous creations that are served throughout the hotel and sold in the gift shop. I also want to mention a minor blip on our arrival, I’d arranged a car to pick us up at the airport but there was no one there on arrival at the airport and I called the hotel to find out where it was, they had no reference of our booking at all. Of course it turned out to be a miscommunication, and they immediately arranged a transfer. I slightly stressed me out as I always worry that an initial problem may be a sign of things to come but Mr S always says, the most important thing is how it’s dealt with, and it was handled to perfection. The cost of our transfer was covered and we discovered another gift in our room as a further apology. I will also say the concierge was utterly excellent and organised all other transport beautifully, plus booking restaurants and arranging a tour of the city.
A short but sweet stay does mean you don’t always get to use the hotel facilities but we had a lovely hour by the rooftop pool, enjoying a glass of champagne and watching the sun go down.
The seventh floor space is served by it’s own bar and like most places in the hotel, boasts an absolutely stunning view. You can do your lengths whilst gazing at Lycabettus Hill.
The Spa was another of the hotel’s beautiful spots that I’m sad I didn’t get to use, but of course I took a good sneak peek.
Once again design is take seriously, this isn’t just any old basement spa. Marble, pillars and mosaics are used throughout and there’s a gorgeous indoor pool, steam room and sauna plus full salon and gym facilities. One of the beauty therapists came up to the room to blow dry my hair for a small added supplement.
In terms of location Hotel Grande Bretagne couldn’t be better, it’s right on Syntagma Square, opposite Parliament and walking distance for shopping, restaurants and museums. The historic neighbourhood of Plaka is close by too and the Acropolis was about a ten minute drive.
I absolutely love staying in hotels that encapsulate the history of a city, and with such a long and interesting past coupled with that phenomenal view, Hotel Grande Bretagne was truly the perfect place to stay in Athen.
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