Visiting Athens is a refreshing experience. It’s an uncontrived capital city, with a genuine urban energy, with vibrant, distinctive neighbourhoods. It’s a city that is proudly celebrating the best of Greek culture and produce. The Pallas Athena Hotel (Grecotel group and a Small Luxury Hotels of the World property) on the capital’s Kotzia square, is very much part of the optimistic, creative Athens city scene; writes Andrew Forbes.
It’s a luxury city centre hotel that will intoxicate your senses. Showcasing excellent Greek cuisine in its restaurant, on-trend artisan, organic products in its boutique and displaying some very striking art – it is a hotel that makes a statement. In short this is a memorable Greek hotel.
The Pallas Athena is a city centre hotel, on the beautifully restored Kotzia square close to the neoclassical City Hall, with most of the commercial and tourist sights of the city within walking distance. I particularly liked its proximity to the famous Varvakeio central market, where one can really get a genuine flavour of this Mediterranean city. A few minutes’ walk away are two metro stops, Monastiraki and Omonia, that can take you to the airport; across the city; and to the number one visitor attraction, the Acropolis and it’s adjacent Acropolis Museum.
What to Expect
Either side of the entrance of this 63 room hotel are two over-sized designer flower planters, over a metre high – quite the contrast with the rest of the classic exterior of this eight story building. Yet they give a small indication of the visual surprises inside. The Pallas Athena hotel manages to blend urban cool and contemporary art with classic elegance. It may sound a contradiction, but the property maintains cool, clean lines in its public spaces, that allows the art to be the protagonist, yet without being too ‘over-designed’.
The brilliant white, glossy lobby has stand-out pieces of art. Step down from the reception lobby area and one finds the ‘Agreco Corner’, a boutique selling exquisitely presented organic produce and designer fragrances and body care products from the Grecotel AgrecoFarm estate.
Grecotel has a traditional, 40-hectare farm estate near Rethymno on the island of Crete, where it produces a wide variety of organic foods and herbs that are used in artisan-style, low production products and the Eau de Grèce collection of toiletries also offered in the rooms.
The guest rooms and suites reflect the design theme, from upscale loft suites with statement art to, wait for it, what they call ‘graffiti’ rooms. These are funky guest rooms designed by different artists to appeal to families, couples, etc. For those that want a more elegant and tranquil experience there are also classically elegant rooms.
Check In and Welcome
Upon arrival I approached the reception desk and introduced myself. The smartly dress team were friendly and professional and quickly advised me that Mary (Maria) the Hotel General Manager would come and welcome me.
Shortly afterwards Maria came to say hello, with a warm, welcoming smile, accompanied by a woman carrying a tray laden with cocktails, from classic Kir Royals to non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiris. She introduced herself as Theodora, the restaurant manager. So within moments we were toasting our stay with cocktails from the hotel’s signature gourmet restaurant – what a great welcome!
The Pallas Athena might just have the most varied room types of any hotel I have experienced! Not only are there 11 types of guest room, but almost all are decorated in different, very distinctive styles, mostly along the lines of ‘graffiti’ wall art.
Although there are classically decorated guest rooms, with cool, clean interiors with a few designer touches, there are also plenty of the hotel’s signature ‘graffiti’ guest rooms and suites that featured walls decorated by acclaimed street artists such as Stelios Faytakis; Dreyk the Pirate; ‘b’; Billy Gee; and the German illustrator Joe Willion.
Some are specifically designed for families, others for youngsters with familiar storybook and cartoon characters whilst some are especially romantic for couples.
At the top end, the Art Chic Suites and Loft Suites are like private art galleries that you can enjoy as rooms – each feature distinctive art, from sophisticated, abstract styles through to family friendly Spiderman or Batman themes.
The Loft suites are like private upscale Athens apartments. Found on the hotel’s top floor, they have private terraces with sunbeds.
My room was a Prestige Pallas Suite. These suites are inspired by an artist’s studio, so have brilliant white walls and framed art pieces from the hotel’s collection. I loved this pared back, classic look – for me it was more restful than the graffiti rooms. Splashes of colour and visual interest came from the dark sofa and the blue dyed animal skin rug.
At around 38 square metres, it felt spacious, with a king size bed and two bathrooms – that’s a real luxury. Even travelling with your partner, it’s great not to have to share a bathroom.
The twin French Windows opened out onto a balcony terrace, with a street view.
There was a writing desk/dressing table too, as well as a mini bar which was actually very tempting. In addition to the normal drinks fridge, the tray of goodies on one of the coffee tables included lots of things that demanded will my power not to rip open and devour.
The bathrooms felt ever so slightly dated – elegant marble with mosaic tile detailing but not especially bright or upscale. The showers were just a simple overhead rose, no additional handheld shower or indulgent rainforest shower head. The towels were good, but there were no facecloths, just bath and hand towels. However the Eau de Grèce collection bath amenities were generous sizes. They were the type of toiletries you want to take home – not only beautifully, stylish packaged but are also infused with essential oils and herbs so they smelt great. The double wardrobes had thick bathrobes and comfy slippers, and a room safe.
After check-in a fruit plate was delivered – a tray of exotic and Mediterranean fruit, together with whipped cream and chocolates – what’s not to love about that?!
Yet there was more, a goodie bag of products from the Agreco Corner boutique – including amongst other things a vintage style can of Greek olive oil, some Eau de Grèce collection bath gel, olive oil soap and some dried organic sage (I am have since cooked with the sage, and goodness, what a glorious flavour of the Mediterranean – a great way to keep holiday memories alive).
Rest of Hotel
The main public spaces of the property are the large lobby where there are sofas to sit, meet people or simply enjoy the art; and the lounge bar, restaurant and terrace. The hotel has a free fitness room too, but no spa or pool, although the team will arrange for city centre day spa access.
When choosing a hotel in Athens, often the main criteria is a view of the Acropolis. Admittedly enjoying cocktail or dining under the stars with a view of what is said to be the world’s most recognised structure is magical. Yet I didn’t miss it at The Pallas Athena Hotel. The property has plans to open a roof terrace, but at the moment the hotel’s city view terrace opens out from its gourmet restaurant and it doesn’t afford views of the Pantheon and for me it wasn’t an issue. Walk a few steps from the hotel and you can see the dramatic Acropolis between buildings, dominating the skyline.
Having cocktails before dinner in the lounge bar (yes more, but it would have been rude not to) I took a jokey selfie of myself with a zebra; yes, that’s right there’s a stuffed African zebra in the dining room, and why not? There are fun and creative design accents everywhere.
But the food is no joke – it was excellent. Greece seems to have rediscovered a self-confidence in its own produce and kitchen. This is especially true of the gastronomy from the island of Crete which is very on-trend in Athens. With the Agreco Farm, Grecotels is well placed to offer authentic, high quality Cretan cuisine.
The subtle, romantic lighting of the restaurant meant I couldn’t really do justice to the dishes with my iphonography, so you’ll have to take my word for how good it was.
The waiter was knowledgeable and friendly and spoke perfect English. He guided me through the menu and helped me with suggestions.
I shared two starters with my travel companion to get a taste for Cretan cuisine, including flavoursome organic baby vegetables and also a simple fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumber, barley, cheese curd and Stamnagathi which are highly prized, wild greens from Crete, and they are a real delicacy.
For the main course I just had to order lamb – it really is one of the best dishes in Greece. So I had the lamb cutlets, prepared medium rare with sautéed Stamnagath greens. I also tried some Cretan Skioufichta pasta with asparagus and Cretan pork.
The cuisine has a robust, rustic feel, yet is prepared in a contemporary way, with elegant presentation.
I pared the dishes with Greek wine by the glass, starting with a sparkling wine. The wine list is extensive and very well-priced, and although has international wines, is predominantly focused on Greek wines, which over the last decade have become quite special.
Puddings of hot chocolate brownie and also yoghurt panna cotta made a memorable end to the meal. But just when I thought I couldn’t eat anything more, some petit fours arrived including tiny macaroons – all beautifully presented!
The Pallas Athena has succeeded in making its in-house restaurant a destination for city slickers and visitors alike. The ambiance is relaxed, yet sophisticated with designer details throughout the space. There was a well-proportioned outside terrace too for dining al fresco.
The hotel supposedly has quite the reputation in Athens for its breakfast so despite my hearty evening meal, I was ready to put them to the test!
My first impression was very good. As I walked in I clocked the long table in the centre of the dining room dressed with an appetising buffet. To the side is the ‘Cretan Corner’ where guests can try specialities such as little cookies, stuffed breads, and small savoury pies, (if you want to practice your Greek they are called, I am informed, ‘dakos’, ‘apaki’, and ‘mizithropitakia’ etc.). There was also Cretan cheese and olives.
The breakfast also featured classic hot and cold favourites too, such as croissants, fresh fruits, eggs and more. But one thing you have to try is the honey; it’s just so good!
What made it special?
The location was good – I could walk to the city markets, the touristy areas of Monastiraki Square and the Plaka as well as hop on the metro for the few stops to the Acropolis. The staff is very friendly, spoke excellent English and knew their hotel very well – clearly a well-trained and passionate team. Overall the atmosphere and ambiance is very welcoming and the rooms comfortable and distinctive.
Prices start from 98 euro, breakfast included for a Superior Guest room, and climb to 573 euro, breakfast included, for a Loft Suite, breakfast included.
Would I recommend it?
The boutique, friendly ambiance; the glamourous urban style and the great restaurant make for a winning combination in my mind. But I recommend you choose your room type, to make sure you get a look and feel that you find relaxing or appropriate for your stay. The Pallas Athena is one of the few Athens hotels that truly caters for families, with its well-designed family rooms that have layouts and designs that will make for an enjoyable visit. The loft suites are unique – the idea of a luxe city apartment -style suite with all the benefits of a hotel seem very appealing.
Address: 65, Athinas str. & Likourgou, GR-10551, Kotzia sq., Athens, Greece
Tel: + 30 210 3250900
Review carried out by Andrew Forbes