A Few Days In

A Greek Primer for a First Timer

by Pavia Rosati
The The Parthenon, looking good. Photo courtesy of The Dolli.
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On her very first trip to Greece (can you believe it?), Pavia had a lot of ground to cover. She mixed it up by:

  • Sampling the greatest hits: Athens and Santorini 
  • Playing on the B-side: Sifnos and the Athenian Riviera
  • And hitting the chart-topper: Paros

Let’s get into it: the scenes, the agendas, the hotels, the highlights.

Last September, I finally went to Greece for the first time.

I know, I know: How can I call myself a travel expert if I’ve never set foot in one of the most popular destinations on earth? Tired of making excuses and ready to see what the fuss was about, my husband and I decided to join the 36 million people who visited Greece in 2023.

But first I needed a plan. How can you do justice to a country with millennia of history — and almost as many islands?

You can’t. Which brings me to my first Greece tip: Don’t try to do too much. We decided to split our time between Athens and a few islands — and to vary the island experiences from sleepy to sceney. Deciding which group of islands to visit was its own dilemma. The lush and green Ionians (Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada)? The sunny and Byzantine Dodecanese near the Turkish Coast (Rhodes, Patmos, Semi)? What about Crete, easily deserving of a whole week? Since this was my intro trip, I settled on three stops in the famous Cyclades Islands — Sifnos, Paros, and Santorini. I knew this was the Greek equivalent of going to Italy and only seeing Rome, Florence, and Venice, but those are all great places, popularity notwithstanding.

Athenian Riviera

The Scene: Ironically, I got my first taste of Greek beach life on the mainland in Vouliagmeni, a half hour south of Athens on the Athenian Riviera. It’s a residential area, easily walkable, with lots of apartment buildings and open-air restaurants.

The Agenda: Astir Beach is the beach club of choice. There’s no need to do anything except flag down a waiter to bring you another bottle of chilled assyrtiko, but should you choose, you can explore the ruins of the 6th century BC Temple of Apollo Zoster, discovered by local kids while playing in the sand in 1924. 

The Hotel: We spent a few nights at The Margi, a stylish, family-run boutique hotel. (Family hotels would be a theme of this trip.) The pool draws a chic crowd of locals who stay into the night when the DJ starts spinning. The in-house restaurants include Malabar (casual but refined all-day dining) and Patio (gourmet, with a Michelin star and a green sustainability star), and the produce served comes from Margis own organic farm, a claim no other Athens hotel can make.

With two hotels, two pools, three beaches, and eight restaurants on 75 beautifully manicured acres, Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens is the impressive area resort, though newcomer One&Only Aesthesis up the coast in Glyfada is hot competition.

The Highlight: We had an amazing seafood dinner on the waterfront at Akti — sea bream tartare, potato chips from the gods — accompanied by a gold and purple sunset. Before we arrived, we had expected that our best meals would be at modest tavernas, but Akti set in motion what would become a pattern: The tavernas were surprisingly disappointing, while the finer dining spots — food we were not expecting to want on vacation — reliably blew us away.

Athens

The Scene: This town gets a bad rap, and it shouldn’t. I loved Athens. It’s a bustling city, the neighborhoods lively and diverse, the streets filled with outdoor tables and happy diners.

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