Leave the summer hordes behind in favour of a toothsome flat-hunting tour around Greece’s ruin-strewn capital. Kolonaki and Psiri, two very different neighbourhoods, offer up some smart urban boltholes and investment opportunities in a city that boasts an abundance of island escapes just an hour or two away by boat.
Athens is one of those cities that many people only visit en route to another, more idyllic destination. During the summer highs Athens’s bustling port of Piraeus surges with schools of holidaymakers heading off on ferries and Flying Dolphin hydrofoils to the Cycladic islands of Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, Kythnos and a host of other Aegean hotspots. However tempting it may be to make for the surf, we suggest you spend a few days experiencing Athens and considering its second-home potential.
Olympic host cities are renowned for their dramatic regenerative schemes and it is no secret that Athens’s tenure in 2004 did wonders for the city’s infrastructure. Having lost its bid in 1996 (when it held heritage as key to its tender), next time Athens pulled out all the stops and sluiced the waste-scattered streets, transforming the city into an efficient, liveable urban centre for the first time in, well, centuries. In subsequent years Athens has reclaimed some of its “relaxed” charm, and things are once again running a few days behind schedule – time that locals use to drink frappé (the local whipped ice coffee) and enjoy eight-course lunches.
There are two neighbourhoods that are worth a look. Kolonaki is the city’s Belgravia or Upper East Side; and Psiri is its Bethnal Green or Greenpoint. Each has its charms and its relative price tags. Should you crave a monumental residence, then Kolonaki has enormous apartments and splendid views from its perch on Lycabettus hill.
On the other hand, Psiri is a more realistic investment, with two-bedroom flats selling for as little as €50,000. Taking their cue from other metropolis dwellers, the “creatives” have taken over the ramshackle district and are busy converting it into a lively, hands-in-the-air kind of place. Those ubiquitous urban créateurs – artists, designers, writers, photographers – are gentrifying the area with a surprisingly sympathetic eye.
Wherever in Athens you choose to buy your second home, you’ll eat, drink and live well. Besides, when the city gets too much, you’ll sit and sip frappé while waiting to board the hydrofoil to some remote bucolic isle.
While Psiri is undoubtedly the best place to party into the wee hours, Kolonaki feels as if it was built for walking. Here we take in the sights of the smart neighbourhood. Begin your day on the roof of the St George Lycabettus hotel on Kleomenous Street with a light breakfast (you’ll need to save room for lunch). Head out of the hotel into Dexaminis Square where you’ll find the open-air cinema Frame and café, both owned by the hotel. Resist the urge for a coffee in this delightful setting – there’ll be plenty of time for that later. Head out of the square onto Fokylidou Street and pop into Cats & Marbles to browse Marina’s collection of antiques and modern classics which are all for sale. Turn left down the steps on Dimokritou and walk downhill until you reach Parthenis, a well-stocked womenswear shop. Other stores include LAK, De Toute Façon and Deux Hommes. For a pre-lunch frappé, grab a seat outside Tribeca on Skoufa Street where a sexy crowd of twentysomethings sip their iced coffees for hours in the shade. Having worked up a healthy appetite slip into De Toute Façon Café, Eric Artigaud’s To Bakaliko (restaurant-cum-deli) down the road from his clothes shop of the same name. Order yourself the beetroot soup followed by the Axiotissa salad and the salted fish platter from Mytilene, the owner’s home on Lesbos. Have a little wander around Kolonaki before making your way to Kolonaki Square. Here you’ll find two cafés facing each other. One, Da Capo, is currently the coolest spot in the city to watch and bitch about passersby – a very, very Greek pastime.
Flights to Athens:
From London Heathrow British Airways – up to twice daily
From New York Olympic Airlines – up to twice daily
From Zürich Swiss – up to three times daily
20 Dimokritou; + 30 210 363 3158
Orsalia Parthenis is one of Athens’s most respected fashion designers. Under the tutelage of her father Dimitris, Parthenis has grown the brand to include simple womenswear and childrenswear staples.
12 Fokylidou; + 30 210 361 3942; catsandmarbles.com
Opened in 2004 to coincide with the influx of Olympic visitors, Cats & Marbles is a well-curated gallery of ancient artefacts and mid-century pieces. Find centuries-old furniture sitting alongside current pieces from artists and designers sourced from across the globe.
8 Ivikou and Eratosthenous;+ 30 210 722 2774
Having cornered the market around the world for wholesome ancient tinctures and modern-day cosmetics, Korres still only has three standalone stores. This one in Athens is the original and best with pharmacists on hand to help you self-prescribe.
10 Skoufa; + 30 210 628 3260; lak.gr
Another celebrated Greek designer, Lakis Gavalas displays his youthful summer-friendly designs for him and her in his original Kolonaki shop.
South on the main coast road out of Athens
Poseidon’s temple stands at the tip of Cape Sounion about an hour’s drive along the coast road from Athens. Although Poseidon’s Temple is a magnificent draw, it’s the small coves along the way that have us heading south. Be patient, finding the right one is worth every glass of cold Mythos. And all this without having to get in a boat.
It may be the most visited of all Greek archaeological sites but once you’re up here you realise why. With 360-degree vistas of the city from Kolonaki to the north and Pireaus to the south, you get a real sense of Athens’s almost four-million-strong size. And yes, the Acropolis is the hill and the Parthenon the monument on top.Panathinaiko stadium
West of the Pangrati district
No one is allowed into the stadium unless they are on official business or have tickets to an event. However, you can run the 400m around the top on a dirt track that hugs its walls. If you’re lucky the groundsman may allow you a brief walk into the actual grounds for a quick tour of the only all-white marble arena in the world.
2 Monistaraki Square; + 30 210 321 3036
Sitting on the edge of Plaka’s tourist trap, Bairaktaris nevertheless serves the best souvlaki we’ve ever tasted to a loyal group of locals who sit for hours in the taverna.
48 Skoufa;+ 30 210 362 5700
Eric Artigaud’s father was from France and his mother from the island of Lesbos. He mixes these influences effortlessly and creates dishes that would make any Lesbian mother proud.
46 Skoufa; + 30 210 362 3541
Next door to De Toute Façon, Tribeca serves the thickest frappé in town. Made with a special instant coffee, frappés are a Greek heart-starter served with a little milk, a lot of sugar and a glass of water.
61B Agisilaou; + 30 210 346 2077
Possibly the coolest drinking establishment in Athens, Nixon is part-bar, part-restaurant and part-cinema. Turn up late, roughly midnight, for great cocktails and a bite to eat. Their Martinis are enormous and will last until dawn.
1 Tsakalof; + 30 210 360 2497
For morning-after coffees, Da Capo is the only place to watch and be watched. Greeks love to sit and comment on the passing foot traffic and cry “Kalo Kalokeri” (Have a good summer!) Located in Kolonaki’s upmarket square Da Capo serves Italian-style espressos and the inescapable frappé. Dress well and join in the gossip.
St George Lycabettus
2 Kleomenous; + 30 210 729 0711 19; sglycabettus.gr
Known locally as the best hotel in Athens, the St George is a large old-world property set high on the Lycabettus hill in Kolonaki – great location and views.
26 Sofokleous; + 30 210 524 8511; freshhotel.gr
For those who prefer contemporary design hotels then the Fresh will satisfy all those minimalist demands. This hotel is set on the outskirts of Psiri.
Average prices for houses (50 sq m)
Rome €420,000 Madrid €280,800 Lisbon €140,000 Athens €80,000 Ankara €60,000 Source: GPG (Global Property Guide) globalpropertyguide.com
Corporate Relocations Greece
36 Elaion Avenue, Kifissia, Athens
+ 30 210 800 3510
9 Thasou, Kastri, Athens
+ 30 210 807 4570
Before you purchase property in Greece, you must first obtain a tax registry number (AFM) from any tax office in the country. In addition, overseas buyers will need to obtain a “pink slip”; without it Greek authorities will consider any money wired into the country as income and will tax it accordingly. You may also be required to open a Greek bank account.
A public notary oversees the purchase process. Once an offer is made on the property, a preliminary contract is drafted. A deposit of up to 10 per cent is then placed on the property. After the buyer obtains the financing and the seller satisfies their own obligations under the preliminary agreement, a final contract is signed between the parties.
With the execution of the final contract, the ownership of the property will be conveyed to the buyer. The final contract is signed before the public notary. In addition, according to Greek law, the property agents who have been involved in effecting the sale must be present for the signing of the final contract.
30, publishing executive
“One of my favourite things about Athens is the number of open air cinemas – great in the summer. I’m in a band called Yellow Devil Sauce and we play clubs like AN, so I spend a lot of my time in places like that. Athens is a party city, anyone moving here will have to get used to staying out into the small hours and heading to work straight after. I spend my weekends during the summer on the nearby islands and I just heard that a company plans on introducing hydroplanes for speedy trips from Athens to the archipelago.”
“I live just around the corner from my gallery in Kolonaki. I’ve lived in the neighbourhood for a while and I have got used to the atmosphere – it’s quiet and comfortable yet it’s still exciting. I realise it’s expensive around here, but not as expensive as the equivalent in other large cities. Athens is a very exciting place to be young. At the moment the art scene is really taking off and Psiri is leading a new and interesting movement.”
“I’m Greek and I was brought up a Greek, but I’ve lived in various places around the world. I’ve worked in London and New York which were both incredible experiences, but it’s nice to be home here in Athens. I love working in Kolonaki, the clientele is a lovely mix of bright young things. I also love all the shops around here, although resisting the temptation to spend a fortune is sometimes unbearable! And then, of course, you have the islands. I love to escape in the summer.”
“One of the main advantages of living in the centre of Athens is the fact that you can be walking on the Acropolis and then 30 minutes later you can find yourself on a beautiful clean beach eating fresh fish in a cute little taverna enjoying the view. In the summer I like to go to the Argosaronic Islands like Hydra and Spetses, but if I stay in Athens I like to visit a tiny neighbourhood located on the slopes of the Acropolis called Anafiotika – it has the atmosphere of an old Greek village with small individual houses.”