Luxury Hotels

The glorious GB exudes more luxury than ever

The Winter Garden

Through all the recent years of upheaval, some have soldiered on. The Grand Bretagne, known universally as the GB, saw occupancy go down to 24% at its nadir.  From time to time ground floor windows had to be boarded up and doors sealed as its location at the north-east corner of Syntagma Square, across the road from Parliament, made it extremely vulnerable to protestors.  As of 2017, the gal was told, the situation began to improve, and now, once again, the hotel is busy: occupancy this year should close at 78%. The gorgeous inner Winter Garden, at the rear of the main lobby, has the afternoon tea crowd, and, day and evening long, groups chatting, and enjoying themselves in the way Greeks do.

GB Concept Store

Cleverly, even before the troubles started, GM Tim Ananiadis (above) had closed one eating-drinking place, GB Corner, and converted it into the GB Concept Store.  Entry is from the hotel lobby or direct from Panepistimiou: an upper gallery allows quiet seating and meeting, while downstairs there are well-displayed belts and shoes from Zeus+Aione, and macaroons and other sweet things from consultant Paris-based patissier Arnaud Larher, often called the ‘star of Montmartre’. There are Zegna items here too, so you have a full range of gifts, as souvenirs of your ‘trip to Paris’, to keep or give to friends. Although everything is displayed as if on Rodeo Drive, the Concept Store’s main decoration is a living olive tree, about ten feet high

Pool Grill…

Soon after arriving I headed up to the hotel’s seventh floor terrace pool.  This is strictly hotel-guests only, accessed by your room key, and certainly provides relief from the hubbub that is sometimes down in the lobby and, at any time, in the street outside (see a video of walking from Ermou pedestrian street into Syntagma). The outside pool, by contrast, is so calm you feel like talking in whispers.  I like the way that the pool bar, with tempting arrays of bottles displayed alongside a glass-fronted chilled cabinet of Mövenpick icecream, is bordered by a white high-up dining counter, guarded, as it were, by several flourishing herb pots.

.. a cooked to order lunch

The Pool Grill menu is local, and basic healthy food.  I asked what someone else was eating and obviously enjoying.  Souvlaki, I was told, and it was, indeed, delicious – two wood skewers holding six bites of pork, four pieces of pita, tomatoes, onions, cucumber-tzatziki dipping sauce and, bliss, skinny fries.  Tim Ananiadis arrived, unexpectedly.  He often slips away from business to have a quiet lunch here but today he chatted away nonstop, sharing the great news about better business, and the fact that not one of the 650 employees was let go, though retirees were not replaced, everyone, from top to toe, took a pay cut and some stepped back temporarily from full-time to part-time.  But now the mood and business at this memorable Athens hotel is once again on the rise, and life around it is busy, AS THIS VIDEO SHOWS

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Luxury Hotels

But coming up is another SERIOUS luxury Athens hotel

Sam Ioannidis

Athens, or rather Vouliagmeni peninsula – see above – 35 minutes’ drive south of the Greek capital’s Syntagma Square, will, come March 2019, have an iconic luxury Four Seasons complex.  GM Sam Ioannidis seems to have been onsite for a ‘long time’, patiently converting the 30-hectare Astir Palace resort into what will be Four Seasons Astir Palace Resort. Back in 1958 when Astir Palace opened, it became focal point of the Greek Riviera. Every famous name, including Greece’s Yiannis Latsis, Melina Mercouri and Andreas Papandreou, relaxed here, plus such others as Brigitte Bardot, Rudolf Nureyev and most of Europe’s top politicians, some of whom, says the gal, should not be mentioned.

Typical pines

Today the peninsula still has its famous pines.  It also has the input of hundreds of local workmen busily laying walkways and converting the two original hotels, the Arion and the Nafsika (at one point Westin) into what will be the two blocks of Four Seasons. The 163-room Arion block, with 61 separate bungalows, and the 136-room Nafsika block, will have comparable rates. Between them there are 32 private pools, plus shared outside pools and, of course, gorgeous beaches. The walkway from Arion to Nafsika takes about seven minutes, and, says Sam Ioannidis, staff with fresh fruit will prepare to order, as walkway refreshment.  Ah food: of course I know to expect the best, but all I am told is wait and see, but it will be authentic, with lots of organic and grass-fed.

Tuna belly carpaccio, Vouliagmeni style

The spa will be water-based, and wellness offerings will include nutrition support, and a latest-Techogym fitness centre. There will be tennis galore, plenty of water activities, and boating (there is an historic, and popular, marina).  All this will be looked after by a total 700-strong team, the women, says Ioannidis, dressed by fashion leader Sophia Kokosalaki, who has also designed the uniforms for Aegean – if you have not flown this airline, which now owns Olympic, let me tell you the cabin crews are arguably the world’s best-groomed, and among the most professionally friendly.  Back to Four Seasons.  Sam Ioannidis is amazed that he already has nearly two dozen big weddings booked, from Greek diaspora in the USA, and he also has an ‘incredible number’ of definite reservations from holidaymakers, over 60% US-based.  Yes, Athens is flavour of this month, and post-March 2019.

Camomile, from the tops of mountains

I was asked not to photograph on-site and there were as yet no eating facilities so on this occasion we lunched at nearby Ithaki, looking back across the Saronic Gulf at what will be the luxury Four Seasons Astir Palace Resort. Lucky guests, as soon as the luxury hotel, or rather hotels, do open, will find unique gourmet and design specialties that Sam Ioannidis has been seeking out over the past few months.  The photo on the right shows a beach bag – really big and sturdy, and with an inner pocket.  The Minton cup, admittedly belonging to the photographer rather than the hotel, holds one of Sam Ioannidis’ exclusives, camomile tea from Corphes, ‘hand-picked from the peak’. The camomile is harvested at an isolated ecofarm up to 1,430 metres above sea level in Deskati, Grevena, without any chemicals.  That is all impressive, and the final touch, to me, is the presentation: the camomile heads are packaged in a triangular box with cutouts of the mountain peaks, brilliant. And a miniature pair of tongs is included.

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Luxury Hotels

Athens’ newest luxury hotel

GM Nikos Trikourakis’ reflections in the lobby

The gal wanted to experience Athens newest luxury hotel. Grand Hyatt Athens took its first guests Sunday August 5th, 2018, and one month exactly after opening it was running at 100%, which shows the power of the Hyatt brand.  Yes, it is actually an old lady, or rather a perennial dame, but, like the sexagenarian Madonna, who constantly re-invents herself, so does this eight-floor building on Syngrou Avenue.  What opened in 1977 as the Metropolitan became in turn Marriott and Ledra – and now it is Grand Hyatt.  Enter the lobby to an artwork that reflects you (in this photo you might just be able to make out the hotel’s GM Nikos Trikourakis).

Colour on the rooftop

The hotel interiors have been redesigned by Maria Vafiadis, MKV designs, whose work includes Costa Navarino, and, in Switzerland, the Bürgenstock complex above Lucerne.  Here she has given the 308 rooms her standard treatment, gorgeous wood floors, muted colours, fabrics that feel good. Maria does not go for bling or gloss.  By contrast, the rooftop restaurant, a high-ceilinged space that extends out to the pool, is by Athens-based Gregorio Konstantopoulos (Proplusma Architects)who obviously favours lots of colour.  I love the way white marble tabletops are complemented by bright orange Bonacina plastic-look chairs, and lots of green plants.  The restaurant is currently hotel-run but a celebrity chef from Mykonos is rumoured to be on his way here.

Tina Daskalantonaki

Tina Daskalantonaki has also had a big say in minutiae throughout the hotel.  I was so thrilled to catch up with her (we had lost touch for a few years).  Tina and her brother Yannis signed operational control of Grand Hyatt Athens, which is jointly owned by two investor groups, Henderson Park, and Hines Europe.  It was the Daskalantonaki pair who then, in May 2018, signed Hyatt, as a franchise – within three months, they got the 308-room hotel ready, and, as I have said, having the Hyatt brand on the building quickly attracted guests from far and wide. Tina is also hopeful that Hyatt’s partnership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World SLH will encourage followers of smaller hotels to turn to this hotel.

Looking over the pool to the city

It is the rooftop pool that truly turns this hotel from reliably first-class to lifestyle luxury. Tina Daskalantonaki says there was a pool there before but it was boring, ordinary.  Now the pool has been raised, with blue glass sides that enable you to see, as distorted as if in a fairground’s hall of mirrors, people swimming – sometimes their heads seem completely disjointed from their bodies. All around the pool is seating, raised along the long side away from Syngrou Avenue.  The bar of the restaurant is only 20 feet away so service is no problem, and even if live music is not playing right at this moment the noise levels of Athens’s movers and shakers, especially at sunset, might be complementing yet another fashion shoot.  See a video below if you do not believe me. SEE VIDEOS OF  710 – AND THE LIFESTYLE ROOFTOP

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