How to fall in love with Athens
How to fall in love with Athens and the art of luxury hospitality
When Jeff Koons first met the Greek entrepreneur and art collector Dakis Joannou at the very beginning of his career, he was very skeptical. Should artists deal directly with collectors? That seemed suspicious and strange to him. “But Dakis and his wife, Lietta, were so disarming. Their collection is really an excuse to bring a larger community together and let them interact with each other,” Koons recalls.
More than three decades later, we enter the NEW Hotel, one of four hotels owned by Dakis Joannous’ “Yes! Hotels Group”, and we experience what Koons recognized so aptly in the mid-1980s. For Dakis Joannou, art is not an aseptic decorative accessory in his hotels. It’s about triggering other perspectives and telling stories about the place where it is located. Just as you would expect from a good and caring host.
When the Yes! Hotels Group started to transform the former Olympic Palace Hotel of the late 50s into the NEW Hotel, they commissioned the award-winning Brazilian designer duo, Fernando and Humberto Campana.
It was their love for contemporary materials and their sensitivity to local culture that led to the collaboration and turned every floor and each of the 79 bedrooms into something extraordinary.
On my first morning in Athens, the 11th-century Soteria Lykodemos Church bells wake me up and my first glance is at the replica of Greek shadow puppets adorning the wall opposite my bed. I can’t help remembering my parents’ collection of Balinese shadow puppets, whose whimsical appearance accompanied me throughout my childhood.
Outside, the city is buzzing and lures me out of bed. Directly across the street is the church, behind which you can already make out the poplars of the National and Botanic Gardens of Athens. My gaze, however, wanders in the opposite direction, down the small street alongside my hotel. Just around the next corner must be the Plaka, the old town of Athens.
After less than 15 minutes of strolling through the Plaka streets, we arrive directly at the Acropolis, climb the plateau that is omnipresent in the city and let the temple ruins take their effect on us. The famous Parthenon, the temple for the city goddess Pallas Athena Parthenos, is bigger than I had imagined and radiates a very special grandeur. It’s presence surprises me and at the same time makes me block out the other tourists.
Below the Acropolis stretches the metropolis with over 3 million people, which has spread out in all directions as a white sea of houses. Piraeus can be seen to the south and to the north I seek out for the rooftop restaurant of our hotel, where we have an early evening appointment for a sundowner and dinner.
Athens is a city of contrasts. It lures us into small alleys and presents itself morbid, historical, and modern – all that at the same time. Moreover, the city confirms what we had secretly hoped for: the art and gallery scene is fantastic and the broad spectrum, as well as the high level of the gastronomic offer, is a real treat. No matter where we are, there’s a taverna or café waiting around the next corner.
Back at the hotel, we eat on the 7th floor at the Art Lounge Bar & Restaurant and enjoy not only the food and the fantastic view of the city, but also the fact that this restaurant seems to be one of the locals’ “in” places. We are right in the middle of Athens life on a Thursday evening and enjoy exactly that.
The next morning, I say goodbye to my Greek shadow puppets and exchange their company for what is probably the best room in town: the 65 square meter Penthouse Suite of the NEW Hotel, which takes me back up to the 7th floor.
The direct view of the Acropolis within reach is one of the most spectacular I have ever experienced in a city. Whether from the bedroom, the living room or the particularly large, private rooftop terrace: I can hardly get enough of the view and thank all the Greek gods involved for this moment.
The day of departure, on the other hand, brings the usual effect of an exceptionally great stay: the goodbye blues. We only saw a fraction of what the city has to offer, we haven’t been able to taste all the delicacies of Greek cuisine and we haven’t even been able to try out all the other amenities in the NEW Hotel, such as the wellness area and much more.
Before the cab picks us up towards the airport, I think again of Koons’ quote about Dakis Joannou’s way of understanding art as a bridge and a stage for encounters … I begin to understand and say “Méchri tin epómeni forá” (til the next time).