How to spend a long weekend in mainland Greece

Wanderlusters can be forgiven for believing the well beloved islands are the very best Greece has to offer. [...]

Wanderlusters can be forgiven for believing the well beloved islands are the very best Greece has to offer. The mainland is teeming with the ruinous structures of ancient civilisations, hilltop forts and picturesque seaside towns built during the old years of foreign rule. Whether you have a few days to spare before island hopping commences or it’s a city break you’re seeking, we have the ultimate itinerary for experiencing some of the country’s best bits.

Day 1

Arrive at Athens international airport with Aegean airways, who offer regular direct flights from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, followed by 31 domestic flights across Greece from Athens if you are looking to hop to an island as part of your trip.

Take a short taxi ride to the heart of Athens’s old town and check in to the A77 Suites by Andronis. Offering a collection of twelve suites, the hotel is an urban sanctuary located in the old town of Plaka, or the Neighborhood of Gods, as locals know it.

Located on number 77 of Adrianou, one of Athens’ most iconic pedestrian streets, the boutique residence is housed in a 19th century, listed building; each suite is eclectically designed to enhance the building’s neoclassical architectural features. Think marble bathroom surfaces, brass features, spacious and airy interiors and fluffy white robes! The hotel is perfectly located to act as a launchpad for exploring the rest of the city on foot while providing a quiet sanctuary after a long day of exploring. Breakfast is served in your room, with guests choosing from traditional English, Mediterranean, Vegan or classic Greek breakfast menus the night before with a full spread delivered to your door at a time of your choosing. 

Spend the late afternoon getting acquainted with the winding streets of Plaka, followed by dinner at Ergon House, which blends modern architecture and growing technology (think 25-metre glass atriums, a sprawling vertical orchard, and Greek graffiti murals), with the traditions of a Greek Agora. Bringing together a bakery, coffee house, wine bar, butcher’s stall and deli, guests essentially dine in the midst of an urban cool marketplace!

End the night with cocktails at Couleur Locale for otherworldly views of the Acropolis lit up and glowing above the city. Rooftop DJs and a local scene offer a perfect introduction to the city’s vibrant nightlife.

Day 2

After breakfast, walk through the city to the up-market Kolonaki district for a little TLC at the Apivita Experience Store.

Inspired by the Hippocratic philosophy, Greek nature and the power of aromatherapy, Apivita’s Beehive spa offer a range of holistic treatments inspired by natural be products. The store is a place of total wellbeing, with an in-house juice and smoothie bar, hair salon and a “Nature’s Pharmacy”, where Apivita experts mix and blend fully customized products according to your skin needs.

We opted for an aromatherapy massage where guests can choose their own essential oils (lavender for us!) for 50 minutes of total relaxation. Well-priced (50 EUR) and indulgent, (full treatment list can be found here), we can think of no better way to set ourselves up for a day of exploring the city on foot.

Up next is an authentic “Athens Heart” tour with Be a Greek, a 4-hour private walking tour through the city. This is an ingenious option for anyone privy to aimless wanderings with zero sense of direction, and the addition of an Athenian guide ensures a view of the city from local eyes where hidden treasures, ancient history, and mythology would be lost to those exploring alone. The tour takes you through all the must-see sights in Athens, including the Panathenaic Stadium, The Zappeion and the National Garden, the beautiful Anafiotika neighbourhood and of course culminating at The Acropolis of Athens and the Acropolis Museum (entrance to the ancient site is not included within the tour, but views from the lower outcrops are a sight to behold).

We combined our walking tour with a Dionysian Grapes Wine Tasting experience, where an expert sommelier leads guests through a private tasting session of 8 Greek wines, paired with delicious Greek cheeses, meats and bread. We munched and sipped our way through the afternoon while enjoying a whistle-stop tour through the history of Greek winemaking and the country’s wine regions.   

Day 3

Check out of A77 Suites mid-morning and head to the nearby Hertz office to rent a car for the remainder of your trip. No trip to Greece is complete without a trip to the ocean, and the picturesque town of Nafplio offers a beautiful island town feel just 2.5 hours from Athens.

Make sure to stop off at the Archaeological sites of Mycenae Tiryns and roam the ruins of the two greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilisation, dating back to the 12th Century BC, before arriving in Nafplio.

Check in to the Adiandi Boutique Hotel, situated in the heart of old town, 50 meters from the beach and a stone’s throw from the town’s main parking lot. Spend the afternoon exploring the winding cobbled streets, boutiques and eateries set above coloured Venetian style houses with quaint coloured shutters and climbing ivy. Head to the historial “Platia Syntagmatos” (Constitution Square) for wine and gelato in the sun, before heading up the 900 steps of Akronafplia. The Acropolis of the Argolic Gulf was erected by the Venetians and later passed on to the Byzantines and Ottomans. Sat atop a rocky cliff that plunges into the see, those who climb to the top will be rewarded with panoramic views of the ocean and mountains beyond.

Head beyond the historic streets to new town, and dine at Menta restaurant – a contemporary eatery that recreates a traditional Greek kafeneio (coffee house) with a modern touch. The menu is distinctly Mediterranean, blending traditional ingredients with a twist. After dinner, head back to Old Town for an evening abuzz with Taveras and wine bars.

Day 4

Breakfast is hosted in the beautiful Wild Duck restaurant opposite the Adiandi hotel. The interiors are effortlessly chic and modern and the traditional Greek breakfast spread will leave you bursting. Following a Greek coffee and many sweet traditional pastries, check out with your luggage and drive to the beautiful Karathona beach.

Spend a morning with Tribal Kayak – the best way to enjoy the azure waters and coves, which pepper the town’s coastline under the gaze of the Akronafplia. In the summer months, there is plenty of time for snorkelling, swimming and sunbathing to break up the heavy (but rewarding) arm workout.

A few hours spent at sea is thirsty work! Head back to the town for lunch. If you are a sun worshipper like us, there is time for one last ocean swim at Arvanitia Beach – a perfect pebble cove frequented by locals for a daily dip in the clearest blue.

Back on the road; begin the drive back to Athens in the early afternoon, but not before stopping at the Ancient Epidaurus amphitheatre located 35 minutes from Nafplio town. The structure itself is the best-preserved theatre in Greece and a must visit for its sheer impressiveness and hypnotic acoustics.

Arrive at Athens international airport and return the car to the Hertz drop-off centre, conveniently located near the departure gate. Check into the Sofitel Airport hotel just a hop, skip and jump away from the Hertz carpark, for a final night spent in quiet luxury before an early morning flight. The hotel itself is an expansive oasis of complete calm and much needed after a few hours on the road, with an indoor pool area perfect for soaking off the day. We sipped G&Ts at the Artemis bar to unwind before dinner in the hotel’s Instagram worthy restaurant. With a stunning design and some of the best dishes we had tasted during our stay, it’s easy to forget you are at the airport, honestly.

Rest easy, followed by a quick but delicious breakfast buffet before checking out. Cross the street and voila! You’re in the airport, and ready to depart on the next adventure.

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Emily Jones
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30/10/2020
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