Updated: Aug 10, 2020
IF YOU'RE A TRAVELER of a certain age, you may remember the late ’70s James Bond flick Moonraker and a scene where Roger Moore discovers the Amazon jungle compound of the madman Drax, a lush lair where everything and everyone is impossibly gorgeous. Such is the heady perfume that greets you, figuratively speaking, when you pass through one of the artfully designed security gates of the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens —which is not in the city center but rather perched on the sybaritic, pine-clad Lemos peninsula in an area often called the Athens Riviera (a drive further up the coast brings you to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon).
This is the same location as Astir Beach, famous as the onetime sandy stomping ground of celebs like Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Joan Collins, the priciest sliver of sand within the orbit of the Acropolis and still very popular with a well-heeled Greek and international crowd. The Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens actually has within its fold three small private beach areas, one of which is adjacent to (but less busy than) glitzy Astir Beach. The massive Four Seasons compound comprises structures built in the late ’60s and ’70s (the former Astir Palace Hotel) that have been completely remodeled and renovated. There’s Nafsika with 110 rooms and 28 suites, Arion with 102 rooms and 20 suites, plus 58 private sea view bungalows. There are three large pools, upwards of eight separate restaurants, an indulgent spa inspired by Hippocrates, a 984-foot private boardwalk and, of course, the beach areas. I will now describe the experience of an afternoon's idyll by the Four Seasons seaside.
My colleague Kostis—an Athens-based architect and designer who had not been swimming in over a year— and I arrived in my gleaming white Citroen C1 from the friendliest car rental agency in Athens, Kosmos Car Rental. Security was a breeze—the TSA should take lessons from Four Seasons— as they were expecting us, but the temperature checks reminded us that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. I was curious to see how the hotel, as part of one of the world's preeminent luxury brands, had adapted to the new rather dismal new reality foisted upon us by some rather unfortunate Chinese realities. In fact, Four Seasons properties around the world have been working with Johns Hopkins Medicine International to guide their health and safety protocols. “Within this new environment, our singular goal is to provide guests, residents and employees with the confidence and assurance that their health and safety is our first priority,” says John Davison, President and Chief Executive Officer of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
As I would find out, that is no empty quote: read on.
We self-parked (a Californian's true preference) and were then escorted by golf cart to a small sandy cove near the delightful beachside Greek taverna—the first time I dined there, by the way, Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece, was seated at the table one over from mine. Driver Dimitris wore a mask, despite the heat. Deciding to amble about a bit, we settled on a somewhat more secluded beach area beyond the cove.
This is the part that actually extends all the way to Astir Beach, but there is a discreet divider between the two sections. The Four Seasons portion itself has two parts to it: in one direction there's a small sandy beach area closest to Astir while in the other a small number of paired sunbeds, all with a suitable amount of distance between pairs, positioned by water's edge so you can sun as you like and then take a dip directly in the sea: no sand, you just cross over a small, immaculate wood deck and immerse yourself in the sparkling aquamarine water.
The shimmering water here is shallow too, making it ideal for swimming, and the sea bottom here is sandy and smooth—no need to look out for rocks and such, as you do on many other beaches near Athens. With the green pine trees stacked up by the luxe bungalows behind you and the contours of Saronic Gulf islands on the soft blue horizon, the location is simply and refreshingly indulgent and it invites lingering. Being American I ordered a non-alcoholic Kyma Lemonade, while being Greek, Kostis ordered a freddo cappuccino; both were excellent and my lemonade came with a sprig of fresh mint: hallelujah. The watermelon mojito with rum, mint and lime tempted and I do love lime but hopefully another time.
The drinks were served by an excellent and cordial member of the staff named Achilleas, who like other outdoor area staffers I noticed was wearing a plastic face shield-type mask. He brought paper-wrapped straws, one for each drink: we didn't even have to ask. This brief interlude gave me the opportunity to reflect on one of the ironies of luxury: it's not always about having more, but rather about having less, as in less distraction, less noise, fewer people, more space to oneself. And more time. Yes, there are any number of water sports options at the resort should you like to try any of those, but this was more about finding a few moments of that commodity so hard to find in the city: just some—think of it!— peace and quiet.
So after a brief dip it was back to the sunbeds, shaded by a square white umbrella and, I should mention, covered in fresh clean towels that Achilleas had lined them with as we arrived. There were also two beach towels, individually wrapped in plastic. Also, and even before those expertly prepared libations came, he brought a small blue fabric cooler packed with two chilled bottles of mineral water. After the our first swim, two mini bottles of Coola suncreen spray and two mini hand sanitizers by Greek brand Papoutsanis (maker of the signature Karavaki soap) materialized seemingly out of nowhere, placed on the little side table between our sunbeds that resembled a tree stump. Thusly provisioned, there was nothing else to do but laze about and, hallelujah again, think about nothing at all except what else to order for seaside nibbles.
Normally I would not order food by the beach because I prefer to swim and not sit, but the gods of hunger persuaded me to make an exception. I opted for a hamburger and Greek salad. That hamburger was the best one I have had anywhere in Athens, well-done exactly as I had asked, and topped by a broad strip of lean, crispy bacon.
The presentation was just as delectable: affable Katerina, wearing face shield and gloves, brought the food in two covered blue plastic boxes, one for the burger and one for the salad. The boxes double as serving trays, with separate compartments for silverware and napkin and ample room for condiments and a side of fries. A word about the Greek salad: exceptional, with some of the fattest, juiciest capers I have ever tasted. Excellent tomatoes (both red garden and cherry yello) & tangy feta, too.
Bottom line? There is no urban Greek seaside experience like The Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens: you're not just in another element here, you're in another world. #nowifonlywedidnthavetogobacktotherealone...
Your Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens Athens Riviera escape starts here.