Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
38 Akadimias Ave. & Omirou Str.
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Academias Autograph Collection Hotel
Athens, Greece, is a very desirable tourist destination with millions of travelers arriving each year, especially in the summer months.
Nowadays there are numerous luxury hotels with some old-line, iconic 5-star properties dotting the center around Syntagma Square one of the city's hubs; others, more modern properties, are strategically located either near important areas or near archaeological sites or along the avenue that connects the city center with the seashore neighborhoods. Let us not forget that Greece has a global reputation for hospitality since ancient times, when the god of hospitality was none other than Zeus, the chief deity of the Olympian Pantheon.
The Academias Hotel, Autograph Collection, is one of the newer boutique properties where I spent a couple nights during my recent trip to Athens; it is located in a repurposed building at the corner of Akademias Avenue and Omirou Street – Academias is one of the main thoroughfares that connect the area around Syntagma, the Greek Parliament, and the National Gardens (previously known as the Royal Garden) to the rest of the city's hubs. It is at the edge of the very upscale Kolonaki district, about 4 minutes walk from Syntagma; if it was in New York City it would have been at the equivalent of 6th Avenue in the mid-50s. The hotel is also very near, about a city block, to where my family's last office and retail business was located and where I had my office before I came to the US. Actually, during my stay, I went and visited the storefront which is now a bar offering Italian food, wines and beer, and had a glass of Peroni beer for old times sake!
One of the things that I should mention is that the hotel had exceptional amenities; a spa, a nice indoor pool, , Symposium – the breakfast restaurant on the 2nd floor - and Nyx, the rooftop restaurant with excellent Japanese and Asian dishes and a spectacular, though distant, view of the Acropolis over the city’s rooftops. The staff was friendly and efficient. With a total of 60 rooms and suites and surrounded by Athenian landmarks, the hotel gave a nod to the literary history of Greece with quotes engraved or gilded on the walls of the reception and ground floor from such notable minds as Socrates, Plato, Nikos Kazantzakis and other Greek leading lights.
From Plato: Life must be lived as a play!
From Socrates: I'm not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the World; also, Wisdom begins in Wonder.
From Kazantzakis: If you disassemble Greece, all that will remain is an olive tree, a grapevine and a ship!
The bedrooms were spacious and well equipped; Plato's, the lounge bar at the entrance of the hotel before the reception, was well stocked with top shelf liquors including a well-aged Metaxa brandy that I took a snifter of. There are also a number of dishes and noshes available at the bar including grilled haloumi cheese, burgers, pizza a nice mushroom risotto and a number of other items. The hotel was busy but not crowded, perhaps because it was the beginning of October, well after the height of the tourism season.
I was told that they celebrate Christmas and the Holidays at Plato’s with a couple specialty cocktails, The Polar Express and Santa’s Naughty List, while savoring an enhanced festive menu featuring warm Pumpkin Soup, Lamb Chops, and the mouthwatering Crispy Marron with Rum (chestnut with rum) dessert.
One evening I had dinner at Nyx (the Greek word's translation is Night) presided over by Executive Chef Dimitris Kotsalis, one of the younger Greek chefs that was very adept in presenting Asian cuisine. My brother was supposed to join me for that meal but he called and canceled last minute and I did not have time to invite a friend, another wine writer that was visiting Athens at the same time and was staying at a hotel in Plaka.
But I did meet with my friend the next evening at Taverna Saïta, in Plaka near her hotel, where we went for a classic Athenian dinner: deep fried bacalao in batter with skordalia -- thick mashed potatoes cooked with lots of garlic; a Greek village salad with feta; bread and lots of good white wine.
I was hoping to have retsina, the turpentine tasting white wine beloved by Greeks and both of us, but the restaurant had only bottled retsina which I would not touch with a ten foot pole, so we had unresinated wine from barrels in the back room that was from the top of the barrel (that’s considered the best); it fit the bill quite nicely and we drank a litter in a small glass carafe.
But, I digress!
The food at Nyx had a very distinct Japanese tone. I decided to have a branzino dish (lavraki in Greek) that looked and tasted like a South American ceviche, nigiri sushi and a couple rolls and I was not disappointed; the fish was very fresh, properly cut and the rice balls and rolls properly formed. There were numerous hot dishes on the menu, but I love sushi and ceviche, so it was natural that I would order that. I finished with the Crème Brûlée and I was as happy as a clam!
The Holidays are especially festive at Nyx when Chef Kotsalis designs a bespoke 5 course New Year’s Eve dinner featuring duck, lobster, Wagyu dry aged beef and a Canele Taittinger dessert, marking that meal as the epitome of a celebration of abundance!
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