Dining al fresco, enjoying modern art by moonlight and staying in luxurious hotels with unique design…these are just a few of the things that Team Coco like to dream about as the days get shorter, darker and colder.
So, we sent our art writer, Rachael Lindsay, to the heart of sunny Athens to suss out a boutique art hotel they call the Grecotel Pallas Athena.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I get déjà vu when I stay in a city centre hotel. Same austere reception area, same pastel-toned room, same cellophane-wrapped toiletries, same buffet breakfast.
If you ever get a similar feeling, and you find yourself in the vibrant city of Athens, then I suggest you stay at the Grecotel Pallas Athena. From the neon gnome stools outside the lifts to the volcano graffiti covering the walls of the room, this is a place chock-filled with personality, making a refreshing change from your usual city hotel.
Grecotel Pallas Athena is located in the buzzing centre of Athens, between the Monastiraki Flea Market and the intriguing anarchist quarter of Exarcheia. Unassuming from the outside, you know that you are somewhere a little different as soon as you arrive at reception and sink into a huge white leather baseball glove instead of a sofa.
Feeling like a child in a candy store, we check in whilst I marvel at the bizarre and fantastic art in reception. Thirteen tiny monkey skulls from the early twentieth century are lined up in a glass cabinet below a large striking canvas of a male upper torso. A roaring fire is inset into the sleek white walls next to an armless, helmeted sculpture of a nude. And in the corner on the ground floor, an assortment of products from the Grecotel’s very own farm in Crete congregate together to tempt guests.
Climbing the stairs, I quickly realise that the fun doesn’t stop at reception. Every single room is unique and is designed differently. In addition to the rooms covered in sleeping octupus, Smurf families and Spidermen balancing on buildings, many of the rooms are more simply decorated, drawing attention to just one or two stunning works of art.
Having enjoyed the madness of a room filled with erupting volcanoes this time round, I think next time I would like to try the perhaps slightly calmer Art Chic Suite with an aquamarine pig sculpture and a doll-like woman flying through the air on the wall.
The joy here is that Grecotel has a room to suit any taste or mood – for a spot of real indulgence, you could even treat yourself to a loft suite with an outdoor terrace and great views over Athens.
I was excited to try the glam hotel restaurant which uses organic products from the Agreco farm on the island of Crete. And I was blown away by the food.
The grilled octopus was as tender as chicken, the tuna tartar was citrusy and divine, the seabass was perfectly sautéed and came with creamy Kitharoto pasta…and the chef also invited us to try his wild fennel pie which was subtle and buttery and delicious.
The setting is also a delight. Knowing that it was drizzling and grey in London, I choose to dine al fresco looking out over the bright lights of Athens’ Kotzia Square. But you definitely won’t be disappointed if you choose to dine indoors as the hotel restaurant is of course adorned with plenty of wacky design features, including a life-size zebra sculpture.
And instead of retiring to bed after dinner, this is one of the few hotels where you can then take a midnight art tour. As well as its permanent collection, Grecotel Pallas Athena welcomes a different artist to exhibit their work in the hotel every few months and, until the end of this year, Teodosio Sectio Aurea’s paintings will be on display around the hotel.
A self-taught artist, some of his works explode with bright geometric shapes painted on a black backdrop whilst others are formed from sculpted metal. My favourite was a wall sculpture depicting a masked woman with downcast eyes.
After a comfortable sleep, I head to the dining area to try the legendary breakfast buffet. Again, the food is impressive with exotic fruits, freshly baked cakes and viennoiseries and even a Greek corner with creamy yoghurt and honey and authentic Cretan rusk with fresh tomatoes.
I check out and leave through the beautiful lobby with a heavy heart. One night is not long enough to stay at a hotel so refreshing, fun and tasty and where I know there is so much great art to ponder and admire.
And in a city like Athens with its mighty acropolis, plethora of art museums and buzzing bar scene, I think I might have found my perfect autumn getaway.
For more information, visit www.grecotelpallasathena.com.