by The Daily Telegraph, March 23, 2016
When Athenians want an authentic “Greek island” experience they’re more likely to take the bus than the ferry. Just a short drive south of the metropolis are sandy beaches, rocky hillsides and cool pine forests, interspersed with sleek marinas and every kind of cuisine your taste buds could crave. It’s like heading south from London and finding yourself in Chios rather than Croydon.
|Photo by Freeimages.com/Dave Hamilton|
Better, if anything, because the so-called Athens Riviera, which stretches 35 miles from glitzy Glyfada to slumbering Sounio, has retained much of the raw, salty innocence that some of the more touristy islands have lost. You want to find a secluded cove? Just look for a cluster of cars with Athens number plates parked along the coast road. Seeking a seafront fish taverna? You’ll spot waiters weaving among the traffic carrying plates of red mullet or mussel rice from the kitchens across the street.
Idyllic views: you can hire a car in the city and easily drive to the Riviera
British Airways flies twice daily to Athens from London Heathrow and the further south you go the more laid-back the towns, the more untamed the landscape and the more tranquil the beaches – inviting expanses of sand, sea and solitude such as Legrena and the windsurfing centre of Anavyssos. The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio is one of Greece’s most significant ancient sites. But there’s none of the gritty bustle of the Acropolis, just pencil-thin Doric columns perched 200ft above the Aegean, forming one of Greece’s most stunning sunset silhouettes.
Built around 440 BC, the temple marked the limit of the civilised world for the ancient Athenians, the landmark sought by squinting lookouts on every returning trireme – a kind of Hellenic white cliffs of Dover. It captivated Byron, too, who carved his name on one of the marble pillars, surely one of the world’s most stylish pieces of graffiti. Some of the best views can be had from the delectably stylish Cape Sounio Grecotel resort just across the bay, which you can book direct with British Airways.
Near Lavrio, a few miles up the Attica Peninsula’s east coast, is an even older building, the 6th-century BC theatre of Dionysos at Thorikos, the earliest theatre ever discovered in Greece. The recently rejuvenated port of Lavrio also offers the chance to explore some of the real Greek islands.
Taking it in: everybody from oligarchs to locals embrace the Riviera lifestyle
But you’ll hardly feel the need to. The Athens Riviera offers more than enough swimming, eating, shopping and sightseeing to fill every day with something new. The southern stretch is strewn with little gems, such as the tiny peninsula of St Nicholas with its one-room stone chapel.
Up towards Athens the resort towns become bigger and brasher. If this is the Riviera then Vouliagmeni is its Cannes, with palm-lined boulevards, upmarket marinas and oligarchs’ yachts competing for attention in the broad bay. The best beaches are more like private clubs, offering everything from spas and shopping to wifi and water sports. Some amenities remain distinctly Hellenic, though: elite Astir Beach even boasts it own ancient ruins, the Temple of Apollo.
The wooded headland between Vouliagmeni and the fishing port of Varkiza is studded with cosy little coves where the swimming is free. But the area’s most arresting natural feature is Vouliagmeni Lake, a collapsed limestone cave fed by an underground river of warm mineral water forming a giant, natural spa.
Cosmopolitan Glyfada at the north end of the Riviera is home to some of Greece’s most ostentatiously wealthy inhabitants, as well as eclectic restaurants, big-name shops, pulsing nightclubs, open-air cinemas and Greece’s first 18-hole golf course. But there’s also a weekly laiki (traditional Greek market) where you can stock up on goat’s cheese and olive oil.
From Glyfada you’re only a tram ride from the Acropolis. So you could breakfast at Sounio, motor up the coast road for a leisurely lunch by the sea, spend the afternoon amid the splendours of the Parthenon, and be back to sip an ouzo as the sun sets over the Temple of Apollo. Not bad for a day’s outing.
For more information on luxury holidays in Greece, visit ba.com
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