Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Contemporary chic city perch is redolent with history
It's that time of year, in the middle of August, when Athens temporarily becomes the strangest Greek island under the sun. Everyone who could leave already has, to decamp to the actual island or mountaintop of their choice, leaving the dusty boulevards empty of traffic as the little Athenian platias, or squares, that define the capital's DNA as much as the ancient ruins explode with rare silence. The normally tourist-choked Plaka is a postcard graveyard of pastel facades and hot breezes. The entire city takes on the atmosphere of the Parisian cemetery Père Lachaise, a place where you really ought not to be but that is so pregnant with the cultural weight of the world should you find yourself there, you just can't pull yourself away.
And so, there you are.
If the late great French flâneurs taught us anything, it's that the best time to peel away the layers of distraction and find out what really makes a city tick is when everybody else is asleep. When you're not really supposed to be there. As in the middle of August, when the grandes villes of Europe thin out almost beyond recognition. Even in the wretched summer of 2020.
Not exactly the optimum time for a new hotel to open, you might say—but then some of the most enduring French movies were made while the Nazi flag was draped from the Hotel Lutetia. Paris, New York, Moscow...Athens. Cities can be the oddest places, and on the best days they don't make much sense. After all, why should they?
MY FAVORITE TEMPLE IN ATHENS...
...is the Hephaisteion, or the Temple of Hephaestus, pictured above (in the distance, between the two columns). Hephaestus was the god of fire and really hot days in cities. The sanctuary is located on the northwest side of the ancient Agora, below the Acropolis, and as far as I know it is the best-preserved ancient Greek temple in mainland Greece.
The thing is, unless you are specifically seeking it out you rarely see it—the setting in the agora is rustic and much unchanged over the centuries; where the olive trees don't obscure the view of it the urban crush of modern Athens does the job instead.
The temple was once called the Theseion, and gave its name to the neighborhood I found myself wandering about, Thiseio. It's a charismatic slice of old Athens, with a mix of ancient monuments and more than whiff of the sort of light-industrial side of the Athens of a century or so ago. Very central, not at all touristy, and now home to one of the most remarkable boutique hotels I've seen since Ian Schrager ditched disco for real estate, inventing the boutique hotel in the process. Yes, Asomaton is that original, and took a lot of work; the only difference is that here the backstage isn't Madison Avenue but the Acropolis of Athens and—as you'll see—the Hephaisteion.
Three years in the making, Asomaton was. The building was made from wood and stone in the early 1900s, initially functioning as a carriage wheel repair shop. It went on to become an elegant townhouse but had been abandoned for the last 20 years, so in close collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Culture, the historically registered building was transformed the newest luxury boutique hotel in the Greek capital.
Here history blends with contemporary interiors, with all furnishings custom made in Greece, and a modernist tilt; the building’s original stone was meticuously refinished but also an indoor plunge pool created. And rarely seen, spectacular views of the ancient Athenian cityscape terrace are pried open from the roof terrace. In the 19 airy rooms, lofts and suites, pop art by New York based Greek artist Philip Tsiaras...think Callas, Onassis, Jackie O and Monroe with a bit of a Warholian touch.
Some context: Athens was and remained for a long time an industrious city of predominately small shops producing a wide range of consumer goods. In the early 1900s when the streets Ermou, Aiolou, and Athinas were opened, the industrial zone was here. Shops and workshops developed mainly from east to west, the industrial zone northwards and eastwards being constrained by the "upscale" areas of Omonoia and Syntagma respectively. Consequently, the west side of the city was the only possible outlet for the industrial zone with the Aghion Asomaton square serving as the terminus for carriages and all kinds of land transport arriving from from the port of Piraeus; the addition of the railway station here in 1869 (where there's a metro stop today) helped make Thiseio the main logistics hub of Athens by 1900.
The entire area was filled with facilities serving transport needs: the older pack-saddle-makers, fodder-chandlers etc. and the newer carriage-makers’, carpenters’ and metal workshops. It was these carriage-makers’ workshops that pioneered the expansion of the industrial zone to the west.
It also bears mentioning that Asomaton is practically on the doorstop of Kerameikos, the sleeper hit of ancient Athenian sites. This is a very a large and now mostly green stretch of land slightly northwest of the Acropolis that was the potter's quarter in classical Athens. Its where the word "ceramics" comes from and chances are pretty good that that beautiful black-figure vase depicting Greek heroes at work, play or #whatever was turned out from an ancient potter's workshop here. It was also the location of the main cemetery of ancient Athens as well as, in another section, the most important of the city gates. The ruins of Kerameikos are the stuff of Homeric sagas and swashbuckler cinema (it just takes a bit of imagination), and all this is literally down the street from the hotel. Which doesn't really feel like a hotel at all.
In the toxic summer of 2020, the famous hotel breakfast buffets that were so long a signature of many larger hotels in Greece are...well, let's just say it's "so long" to those for the foreseeable future. Which is fine for a boutique hotel like Asomaton, really, as it's not so much about chowing down as it is about stepping back, and above. Because when you see the panorama from the terrace, with not one but two iconic temples in full and direct view, your thoughts will turn less to food and CNN sludge and more, perhaps to Dionysus and a glass of fine Greek wine. Or hell, just drink up that view.
OUR FAVORITE ROOMS AT ASOMATON ARE...
The Acropolis Loft with Balcony, (20 sq.m. / 215 sq.ft.) which accommodates up to 2 guests, features a king size bed, mini-bar, single sink, shower and a flat screen smart TV. Complimentary Wi-Fi, espresso and tea.
The Lofts with Terrace (20 - 27 sq.m. / 215 - 290 sq.ft.) accommodating up to 2 guests, features a king size bed, mini-bar, single sink, shower and a flat screen smart TV. Complimentary Wi-Fi, espresso and tea.
...and The Experience Suites (27 - 29 sq.m. / 290 - 312 sq.ft.) with room for up to 2 guests, features a king size bed, mini-bar, single sink, shower and a flat screen smart TV. Complimentary Wi-Fi, espresso and tea.