Hashtag Life visits the majestic Grande Bretagne Hotel, Athens.
“Do you ever get used to it” my friend asked as the butler who had introduced us to the lavish suite at the Grande Bretagne closed the door behind him, and I clearly, still looked calm and collected in his wake. I heard the words and snapped out of it, as it was once more safe to squeal. “No, absolutely not, I’ve just learnt to contain myself.” As we gazed around us at the sumptuous creams and yellows of the room, we took in the antique furniture of the sitting room and it’s balcony overlooking Syntagma square (home to the Greek Parliament) from which I had expected to hear the echo of protests, but instead I was pretty sure I could make out.. yup, techno… only in Athens. Although we couldn’t wedge the door open (probably something that a man would laugh at as he’d the door handle in a motion we hadn’t even considered, to open it), I stood at the floor length baroque curtains and gazed ahead from the garden. The view was breathtaking, and abuzz as the surroundings below us were full of motion; whereas it felt like a Parisian balconette, I knew that there was something different here; before me lay a city even more alight with life. I couldn’t wait to explore. Further in from the sitting room, was the throne-like poster-bed which awaited us, leading into a modernized, wide, his-and-her style bathroom, with a separate bathtub and shower plus bespoke toiletries.
I came out of the Narnia-sized bathroom and had lost my travel buddy. Looking around in pure confusion for her I realized there was yet another door to this room. Of course, the walk in wardrobe. As she unpacked (I’m the awful/brilliant sort of traveler who has just resigned to always living out of her suitcase), I began to examine the bed, but sat up immediately as she emerged from the closet. My inner-traveler, awake since 3 am was still lying on the bed, drawing snow-man shapes with my entire body out of pure exhaustion. My outer self, was nodding in agreement to the suggestion that we should get to sightseeing. In truth, the worst thing about such beautifully laid out hotel rooms, is that you never want to leave them. The best, is that they pave the perfect ideal for what the rooms of your Austenian day-dreams will look like forever more. I had found the scenery and setting for my dreams going forward; and it looked a great deal like a room at the Grande Bretagne, Athens.
I marveled my around the entire hotel; so much so that when we’d popped downstairs to examine the SPA ahead of our treatment the next day, we managed to lose ourselves entirely on a floor which wasn’t ours. That’s not because the hotel looks the same; but relative to its absolute grandeur. Referenceable rather as a palace than a hotel, it was built in 1842, in neo-classical style, intended to reinforce its Greek identity, and mark a departure from the Ottoman Turkish influence. The beaux-arts lobby, with more marble than even my own marble-obsessed mother has seen, is spacious and royal, laid out in neo-Baroque furniture, Persian rugs, and potted Palm trees. The hotel is perfectly situated, to see all the sights – a walking distance from everywhere that’s anywhere, and even has a metro station at its foot, with direct links to the airport.
After several hours of walking (uphill) and appreciating how fit Athenians really are to walk everywhere (uphill!!), we were well and truly ready to visit the hotel Spa. What we weren’t prepared for was the outstanding variety of its offering.
The Grande Bretagne Spa offers a thermal suite, complete with herbal bath, grotto, ice fountain, couples retreat and indoor pool. You can even indulge in ouzo oil massages – yes, you read right, ouzo! You have four different “grottos” or sauna rooms, with fresh herbs and plants which are fired up and infused into the intense heat of each room through central furnaces. Move over Dorothy – you are no longer needed, the incredibly intense Laconium would effortlessly melt away the wicked witch of the west, as it did with all stress and tension I had carried in with me. Whilst at first you instantly panic, unable to breathe through the thick, hot hair, you are soon inhaling the restorative, relaxing, herbal haze of this truly powerful room. The Amethyst grotto, with infra-red penetration to work well into the sub-cutaneous layers of your body, was my favourite as I maintained it smelt like orange starbursts. (I can still smell it as I type, which tells you all you need to know about my love for starbursts). We were treated to the GB Collection’s signature massage, which translated into 55 minutes of absolute harmony.
The house-made body oils to choose from come in a selection of honey, fig, or the GB signature scent which I opted for to compliment the Swedish massage designed to ease tension, relieve stress, nourish, regenerate and protect the skin. Whether it’s a day of pampering and massages, a stylistic revamp at the hair salon, a tip in the deep turquoise waters of their marble floored pools, the invigorating grottos, or even the 7th floor outdoor pool, I really recommend that you sample what it is to unwind at the GB Spa – you will forget thereafter all spas which preceded it, and liken every new encounter to this one of a kind experience. We walked out of the SPA and into a lift with normally dressed guests, a business man and a tourist, we nodded in utter sophistication, completely ignoring that our sole attire was the SPA-robes as we held our soaked bathing suits in our hands, and left a drip-drop trail of pool water leading to our rooms. A true sign of care-free and utter relaxation, if ever I’ve seen one. Of course, we were confronted with that awkward moment a few hours later as we stepped into the lifts in our evening-wear looking 300% more humanized, only to be greeted by the same sophisticated gentleman who’d given us an embarrassed smile as we all tried to act perfectly normal when we’d emerged in our robes.
I’ve intentionally left the GB Rooftop Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie for last, as it is truly something to behold. It carries a 1950’s New York vibe, as it is understated, classy, and seemingly undiscovered in that you will not find the usual view-hoarders clambering up to take a ‘selfie’ here and circulate it around their social media outlets. Instead, there is a cool, glazed interior and wide rooftop terrace affording you the best views of the Acropolis, and in fact, the city.
“You don’t want to leave, do you” my friend asked. With such a place that makes it so hard to leave, I was answering her initial question from the moment we had stepped into the Grande Bretagne, with renewed vigour; no, one never get quite gets used to place as majestic as this.