DUBAI: Visitors to Greece usually flock to the islands or make the hike up to the Acropolis for a mandatory selfie with ruins. So there’s a side of Athens they may miss — a place where Greek residents like to ‘summer.’ Welcome to the leafy northern suburb of Kifissia: my childhood hometown.
Tourists may recognize it as the last stop on the metro, with Pireaus port at the other end of the line. Kifissia is a tree-lined town full of designer boutiques and colorful cafés. Its history can be traced back to the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian, when Kifissia became a retreat for philosophers. Today, it is a respite for wealthy Athenians to enjoy cooler climes during the hot summers.
Less crowded than downtown Athens, Kifissia is a charming town that looks like a romantic comedy set. At any time of day, you might be serenaded by an amateur guitarist singing classics above the din of old men playing backgammon and discussing politics. Restaurant tables and chairs sprawl onto the pavements. Grab a pistachio ice cream at Dodoni, a ‘mythical’ chicken souvlaki from Mythos stuffed with fries, or an iced Frappe at Everest just to people-watch.
The old-new mix is obvious at first glance. On Kassaveti Avenue, under the speckled shade of trees, global brands L’Occitane and HSBC neighbor homegrown favorites like Varsos, a bakery that first opened its doors in 1892 and still serves the same delectable homemade jams and cakes. Don’t be fooled by the standard outlets like Zara, Paul and Gap to the right of this main street. Tucked away nearby is a string of brightly colored, new cafés that have sprung up out of a need for vibrancy and socializing after the COVID lockdowns.
La Petite Fleur will have you thinking you’ve stepped into a magical world — with thick slices of chocolate cake and whipped cream served on pastel colored plates. Menta has pink-and-green pillows on stone steps beneath the shade of trees and offers a list of coffees as long as the food menu. For an authentic Greek meal, the taverna at the top of the hill, Tzitzikas & Mermigas, serves wild greens from Crete, smoked chicken from Lakonia, and rosemary-rubbed goat from an old family recipe.
The newest accommodation in Kifissia includes the stylish Say Hotel, 500 meters away from the National History Museum, with a rooftop bar offering panoramic views of the city. Families will enjoy the quiet — and pool — at Theoxenia Palace, a regal hotel with a verdant park at its doorstep and the sound of church bells ringing in the air.
Growing up, we used to regularly drive 45 minutes to the southern suburb of Glyfada, where salty sea air meets a trendy city center. Its long strip of hotels, beaches and restaurants dotted along the Athenian Riviera has a laidback Seventies vibe. Time feels slower here and it’s always a few degrees warmer than Kifissia. A grand church stands in the center of Glyfada, where narrow streets house Greek designer boutiques including Pinko and Mirina Tsantili. Some areas have their own vibe; Kyprou Street and Botsari district have the latest see-and-be-seen restaurants that seem to change every year. Foodies will love O Proedros (President in Greek), its whitewashed walls, woven seats, and a menu that includes Greek classics like peinirli (a boat-shaped pie filled with bubbling cheese and tomatoes) make it seem like it belongs on one of the islands.
Across the main Poseidonos highway, you’ll have your pick of beautiful public beaches. For a small fee, some private clubs like Asteras and Balux offer sunbeds, pools and restaurants where the fashion set like to hang out. Either way, the siren call of that deep, Aegean blue with its backdrop of green hills will steal the show.
Glyfada has image-conscious, LA-style vibe and hotels to match. Four Seasons Astir Palace is the grand dame — it sits on its own peninsula with a private, sandy bay, and you will hear as much Arabic spoken among guests as you would in the Middle East.
The Margi Hotel is another stunning property, tucked into the green hills of Vouliagmeni, with blush walls and a retro pool surrounded by fuscia bougainvillea. The top floors have breathtaking balcony sea views and you will find yourself researching the cost of purchasing a property nearby just to hold onto this feeling forever.
Thirty years of coming back every summer, and I still love to discover Greece’s stories between the mountains and the sea. Each visit, I find something new, rediscover something old, and am always struck by the beauty.