Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, is all-too-often shunned for the nearby beach resorts of Chalkidiki or the archeological splendour of Athens to the south. We sent our writer-in-residence, Rachael Lindsay to get Thessaloniki from a #TeamCoco perspective.
Having lived in Greece’s capital, Athens, for the past 12 months, I have long been intrigued by Thessaloniki. I have heard mixed reports of the city, from ‘a smaller, cheaper version of Athens’ to ‘the best city in Greece’. With the opportunity to stay at the quirky Blue Bottle Boutique Hotel slap bang in the centre, I book a train from Athens and am on my way.
After initial doubts at the rather grim train station, I quickly begin to feel at home in this lively, manageable-sized city. Lacquered tables spill out into the pavements, filled with fashionable students sipping cold coffees, the port promenade stretches as far as the eye can see with dog-walkers and families taking a stroll as the sun sets, impressive graffiti dances across a patchwork of archeological styles, jumbled together in the central streets.
It feels a little like everything has been piled on top of each other in a hotchpotch fashion yet I continually stumble upon green spaces and sunny squares which are wide and spacious and totally surprising. The view from my cute balcony at the Blue Bottle is a good example of this; flooded with big leafy trees below, you can’t even see the road for green, and yet I spy an escape room opposite, some sort of exercise class to the right and a community centre a little further below. I could people-watch from this balcony all day.
The feel of Thessaloniki is far more relaxed than in the capital, perhaps because it is on the coast, perhaps because the quality of life is generally higher than in Athens or simply due to its size and its ‘small town’ vibe. That’s not to say however that Thessaloniki isn’t innovative. I discover three great-quality vegan restaurants, plenty of very trendy cocktail bars and several intriguing art installations that defy its small size.
The Blue Bottle itself is a great example of innovation – the design is playful with a bike re-fashioned as a bookcase stand and a leather sofa nestled between a vintage car bumper and tail lights. Whimsical travel is the theme with slogans like ‘to travel is to live’ scrawled on the windows and chalkboard walls. Yet it is also very chic; one of my favourite spaces is the working space with floor to ceiling windows, green plants everywhere and a swinging chair suspended from the ceiling.
Clever touches continue into the rooms. I discover a lavender spray and a hand-written note on the benefits of spritzing it onto my pillow before bed as well as a smartphone with free calls, maps of the city and details of what’s on. And I have to mention that Coco-mat bed; not only is it enormous but I sleep so deeply that I forget where I am when I wake up. Breakfast is also an eclectic delight. Served buffet-style, there is fresh fruit, pastries and spreads, homemade fruit cakes and a range of fruit juices.
After breakfast, it is tempting to wander just a few yards away, to the allure of the port or the bars near the central archeological sites like the Rotunda and Arch of Galerius. But I would highly recommend making the steep climb to the Upper Town. I adore the tiny winding streets with wildflowers popping up between cobbles, the ‘Secret Garden’-esque gateways and the staggering views over all of Thessaloniki. For more great views, walk to the OTE tower, take the lift to the top and order tea and cake in a bar which revolves very slowly to showcase the entire city, while a piano-player belts out old songs. Surreal and fantastic.
Of course, the fact that Thessaloniki is located only a few miles from big, sandy beaches is another draw. Yet staying just one night in this city is not enough time to take it all in. The history of the city, from a great fire that destroyed most of it to shocking World War II truths, is impossible to take in on a few-hour stopover from Chalkidiki. Come here to travel slow, to discover it for yourself. And stay at the trendiest place in the heart of Thessaloniki, where, like all of us here at #TeamCoco, travel is the highest good.
Address: Blue Bottle Hotel Επισκόπου Αμβροσιου 16 & Συγγρου, Down Town, Thessaloniki 54630, Greece