TRAVEL – WINTER IN ATHENS
Athens may have received some bad publicity over the last 12 months, but delegates at the upcoming 20th ESCRS Winter Meeting will find what they’re looking for.
This beautiful and historic city is as welcoming and fascinating as ever, and winter shows it at its best. The city’s museums spotlight treasures; its iconic sites are free of the summer crowds; and Athens’ restaurants, a haven of warmth and hospitality, are bustling with appreciative diners.
Sharing a meal with friends holds a special place in Greek culture; dinner starts late and proceeds at a leisurely pace. Laughter and conversation are as important as the food, so restaurants have an informal vibe. So take your time, and enjoy the experience.
Here are four addresses to enjoy. Bon appetit… or, as the Greeks say, “Kalí óreksi!”
Karamanlidika, in the Omonia district, is only five to 10 minutes away from Monastiraki station. It is a small butcher and delicatessen that also serves as a restaurant. Housed in a neoclassical building with high ceilings, the restaurant’s bare wooden tables are arranged around a counter displaying cheeses, meats, and condiments. Garlands of smoked meat hang from the ceiling. The staff will lead you through the menu choices – or even choose for you if you prefer. Try the house Ouzo in any case. Karaminanlidika is located at: 1 Sokratous and 52 Evripidou St, Central Athens. Tel: +30 210 325 4184; or visit the website (in Greek) at: www.karamanlidika.gr
Eleas Gi is a restaurant with a view. This upmarket establishment in the Kifisia district in the north of Athens is certainly worth a visit. It offers two tasting menus – 14 and 24 “tastes.” Even the smaller menu might present a challenge to the average appetite. A favourite dish is pork and sweet potato baked in a clay pot and served with a flambéed wine sauce. Among many delights, the chocolate mousse is perhaps the outstanding dessert. Best to book. Tel: +30 210 62 00 005, +30 210 62 06 433; or visit: www.eleasgi.gr
Two blocks south of the Acropolis, the Strofi is an established restaurant with a firm fan base. Fine dining is the theme. The food is traditional Greek taverna style, but served in a chic setting. Try kid in parchment and the milk pudding. Booking is highly recommended (and essential for the terrace). The address is: Rovertou Galli 25, Acropolis, Athens 11742. The Strofi is closed on Mondays but open Tuesday through Sunday. For more information visit: www.strofi.gr
Sometimes a glass or two of wine and a platter of cheese is all you’re looking for. Try Heteroklito, one of the best wine bars in Athens. Very small, with a few stools at the bar and a couple of tables inside (more on the terrace), it offers a huge selection of Greek wines and a great cheese plate. Visit the website at: www.heteroklito.gr
Take advantage of the seasonal lull to visit the famous Benaki Museum. It has several satellite buildings, but the main museum is in the Benaki family’s former home, a mansion in downtown Athens. Among much else, the three floors of this beautifully preserved neoclassical building house Greek works of art from prehistory to the present. Exhibits reflect a wider view of the country’s history, tracing the impact of foreign influences on Greek culture.
For more information visit: www.benaki.gr
The gift shop in the Benaki Museum is itself worth a detour. There’s something for everyone in its selection of unusual and beautiful gifts and souvenirs. These include a range of reproduction Byzantine icons, as well as reproduction jewellery and specially commissioned works by Greek jewellery designers. Some of the shop’s top sellers are: a tree of life paperweight incorporating the design of a Coptic bread stamp for €30; a key ring featuring a reproduction of a silver coin for €105; and a head of Athena on a marble base (42cm high) for €240. View them on the shop’s website at: www.benakishop.gr. If you’ve come on an evening when the museum is open late, follow your visit with dinner in themuseum restaurant on the second floor. The restaurant terrace offers panoramic views of the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill and the National Gardens.
Off-season is the prime time to view the city’s ancient monuments. They never look more enchanting – or enchanted – as when the old stones are set off by the fresh green following the season’s rains. It’s remarkable how alone you can find yourself on the trails through the Ancient Agora and Kerameikos. If you have the time and energy, climb up to the Acropolis itself. Simply keep it in view and head up towards it via twisting old streets and overgrown paths. Wear walking shoes, carry a bottle of water, and don’t forget your camera – the views are spectacular.