If you’re looking for a top of the range, old world luxury experience you can’t go more high profile than Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens. It is probably the best overall hotel in Athens. The classic gem with a rich historical past (it was built in 1842 as a home, transformed into a hotel to accommodate the likes of the world’s highest dignitaries and royalty in 1874, and in 1957 four more floors were added on) is also perfectly located. It has hosted notables such as Winston Churchill, Maria Callas and Umberto Eco, as well as an endless list of cinema stars, and continues to be a point of reference for top celebs. But if you are looking for a hotel decked out with high-tech amenities or decorated by risqué designers in an adroitly contemporary style, you won’t find that here.
If you opt for Butler Service, make sure you actively engage the butler (a note will be left in your room with contact details) rather than expecting the butler to come to you.
Beautifully restored 18th and early 19th century antique furnishings, plush carpeting, soft Luxury Collection beds, materials in taupe and cream accents, crystal chandeliers, original artworks and deeply upholstered armchairs are some of the features you can relish in, together with modern amenities such as a flat screen TV. Some rooms are a little withered and dated - the devil is in the details. Depending on your room’s location, you can savor capital views of the House of Parliament, Lycabettus Hill and the Acropolis. Basic internet is free, high speed at extra charge.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Some rooms are large and offer an open view onto Constitution Square and the Parliament Building in the distance, but some just look out to ordinary buildings and can be very small (especially those on the butler service floor, paradoxically enough).
Wall-to-wall marble, Gilchrist & Soames bathroom amenities, fog-proof mirrors, scales and soft cotton bath robes are all yours to enjoy.
YOU SHOULD KNOW In some bathrooms adjusting the water temperature is a bit of a chore.
More like entering an exclusive luxury institution than a hotel, the classically-inspired lobby is all glossy marble with elaborate antiquity-themed designs framing a black and white chequered square. The elaborate wooden reception desk is surrounded by gilded mirrors and classical style columns, and the sense of relaxing comfort is accentuated by plush furnishings like brown velvet sofas, leafy plants and Persian carpets.
Waiting for someone and have time to kill? Visit the GB Corner Gifts & Flavors shop that sells macaroons, chocolates, fine wines and liqueurs, china sets, home decor items and handmade clothes by the Zeus + Dione brand. You can also enjoy instore beverages and exceptionally made French pastries.
The hotel also has a swimming pool on the 7th floor, open between April and November.
This was Greece’s first hotel spa, and since it opened 15 years ago it has received several awards for its excellence. As luxuriant and palatial as the rest of the hotel, the spa has an indoor pool with an infrared sanitizing system and doesn’t use chlorine. Guests are encouraged to arrive an hour prior to their spa appointment to enjoy the Roman-style foot baths, three saunas, each using different Greek herbs for therapeutic effects, and the 65m squared pool. There are a multitude of aesthetic and therapeutic treatments on offer by highly-trained professionals, using ESPA and Valmont products. There is a hairdresser’s / barber’s and nail care service within the Spa.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The Spa is open to children, which is great for parents but can be a bit disquieting on busy days.
The fitness center is open 24/7 daily and has all the standard equipment such as treadmills, cardio resistance and weight lifting machines. Upon arrangement and at extra cost, a trainer can be booked to assist you.
Breakfast is served at the GB’s Roof Garden restaurant, where the spanning, uninterrupted views of the Parthenon, Lycabettus hill, the Panathenaic marble stadium help you start your day on the right note. Not too elaborate or creative, the breakfast buffet is nonetheless satisfying, made up of pastries, cheeses, fruit, cereals, bread and eggs cooked in various ways, and offering a la carte options at extra charge. At lunch and dinner, the GB Roof Garden serves creative, gourmet Mediterranean cuisine based on fine ingredients, from a kitchen led by Greek chef Asterios Koustoudis. On the ground floor you’ll find the Winter Garden, more suitable for champagne and caviar or an elaborate High Tea.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The dress code in all restaurants is elegant smart casual and no flip-flops, sandals or shorts are allowed.
Drinks with a view at the GB Roof Garden bar. The Wine Library, located at the mezzanine of the GB Corner, showcases the 3.500 wine labels of the hotel. The impressive 19th century table hosts private wine tastings that need to be booked in advance. Alexander's Bar and Cigar Lounge on level 1 features a rare 18th tapestry depicting Alexander the Great; its signature drink is the Mandarin Napoleon Select, a surprising mix of Dubonnet Rouge, Grand Marnier, gin and fragrant essential oil of Sicilian tangerines.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Prices are very high here and reflect the lavish surroundings.
There is a taxi rank right outside the hotel, and another, larger one, a little further on, at the top of pedestrianized Ermou St. The metro is a 1-minute walk and will connect you to the airport line (blue) on a 40-minute ride, as well as to all the other areas of the city. At Syntagma Square you can also hop on the tram if you’d like to head south to the coastal areas.
Try Japanese-Mediterranean fusion restaurant Nolan (5-minute walk) and find out what all the fuss is about, Cherchez La Femme for discreetly upscale Greek cuisine (8-minute walk) in a beautiful French bistrot setting and Avocado for vegan/vegetarian, organic world cuisine (5-minute walk).
Oinocent is a great place to try the best of Greek wines (5-minute walk), Ipitou The Bar (10-minute walk) is ideal for meeting local artists and trendsetters, while Speakeasy, a 30s style American Cocktail bar, and The Bank Job (both a 5-minute walk) offer excellent drinks and buzzy vibes. The Gin Joint (8-minute walk) is recommended for (what else?) gin afficionados.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Although not perfect, this is as close as you’ll get to the polished grand hotel experience in Athens. Its cosmopolitan history, excellent central location and classical splendor as well as advantages like great views and a fabulous spa make the GB an excellent, if expensive, choice for hotel accommodation in the buzzing capital.