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The Rise and Buzz of Athens

June 28, 2017

View of the Acropolis during Sunset

In the last few months I have visited Athens twice on assignments. The first time was an assignment for Virtuoso Life Magazine, in which I shot the Night and Bar scenes in the Greek Capital, and the second time was for Conde Nast UK, in which I shot some of the city’s new spots. While I’m writing these words, I am planning my third visit to Athens. This time it is a shoot for an in flight magazine. Stay tuned. Being in Athens on assignments for two of the trend setters magazines, was a sign for me that the city is ‘on the rise’, getting trendy, and soon, will be packed with tourists.

For a lot of people Athens serves as a stop – over before flying to one of the Greek Islands,  but if you are already planning a trip to Greece, I highly recommend to spend a few days in Athens and explore its culture and city life.

Recently, Athens is being praised as the “New Berlin” since artists and curators from Europe are moving in, attracted by what is considerably a cheaper cost of living, edgy nightlife and a vibrant and upcoming cultural scene. Even though much has been said about Greece’s recent economic troubles, you hardly experience it in Athens. From Kolonaki, Athen’s affluent neighborhood, to Plaka (which is more touristic) the local Athenians fill the sidewalk cafes and restaurants and pack the city’s bars. Very recent, the Art scene in Athens got a boost with the 630 million euro Starvos Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which hosts the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera and a huge park around it. There is a new wave of creativity in the city, not only in the Art scene, but also in the culinary and hospitality scenes.

If you are up for exploring the Greek Capital, here are some of my recommendations:

Sleep on a Customized Mattress

Imagine stepping into a hotel and choosing any kind of mattress you want to sleep on? Sounds like the best deal for me.
The Greece’s premium mattress company, CocoMat has opened a 4-star hotel in Kolonaki, Athen’s upscale, wealthy and chic neighborhood. The hotel is located above the mattress store, where you can buy your customized mattress, bed sheets, pillows and other bedroom’s accessories. The hotel’s motto ‘Home is where your Bed is’ describes well the benefit of choosing the kind of mattress you want to sleep on. Beside comfy beds and relaxing experience, the hotel also offers a great and rich breakfast and a nice rooftop with a wide city’s view.

CocoMat Hotel, Kolonaki, AthensUrban Suite, CocoMat Hotel, Kolonaki, Athens, Greece

Where the Athenian Hipsters go for Brunch

Bel Ray Bar is a great hipster-ish brunch spot in Koukaki, the new art and nightlife district in Athens. What used to be a car-repair shop, is transformed into a bright space filled with wooden chairs and tables, indoors and outdoors. On a Sunday you can find party-goers who just woke up and need a caffeine shot, young families who want to have a lazy breakfast where the kids can run around, and some locals who are just happy to have an open place so close by. The menu can vary; from an Asian-Thai food to Croque Madame toast with a twist. I can swear I had the best frappe there, which made it worthwhile to hassle all the way there.

Bel Ray Brunch Spot, Koukaki, AthensBel Ray Brunch, Koukaki, Athens, Greece

The Hottest Table in Athens

Nolan, the Greek – Japanese fusion from one of the city’s hottest young chef Sotiris Kontizas, is a small cornered restaurant but with a long waiting list to be seated. With a Greek father and a Japanese mother, Sotiris has developed his own hybrid cuisine such as soba noodles with smoked salmon and tahini, shrimp and anchovy in rice paper, or mackerel with smoked bacon and beans (picture below). These unique combinations and flavors granted this little joint a great reputation and popularity among the restaurants in Athens.

The oldest Distillery in Athens

During one of my strolls in Plaka area, I came across an interesting and colorful Bar, called Bretto’s. I made myself a mental note to come back during the evening hours, when the bar is more alive. And indeed, it was worth it. With an impressive bar back illuminating hundreds of colorful bottles, this bar is also the oldest distillery in Athens. They have created their own ouzo since 1909, and some types of ouzo are sold only there and nowhere else. Beside that you can try raki and brandy or try a wine tasting during the day. If you can choose and plan, have an after dinner drink at Bretto’s.

Brettos in Plaka, Athens

Getting Artsy

The Museum of Cycladic Art holds over 3,000 crafts of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot in the galleries of the museum, over four floors. One of the museum wings hosts temporary exhibitions (when I’ve visited there was an Ai weiwei exhibit) and the museum has recently gone under light constructions in the cafeteria and the book and gift store.

Atrium Cafe, Museum of Cycladic Art, Kolonaki, Athens, GreeceEntrance Hall Exhibits, Museum of Cycladic Art, Kolonaki, Athens, Greece

The Acropolis Museum is a must, when visiting Athens. It is like being in New York and not paying a visit to the Metropolitan museum (in my opinion). It is an archaeological museum which holds and houses the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis and its surrounding slopes. I highly recommend to dedicate a full day visiting the Acropolis site (get a guided tour if possible) and then pay a visit to the museum. These two sites compliment each other perfectly. It has been a while since I read some of the Greek Mythologies, but visiting the museum made me feel as walking inside of a Mythology book.

Acropolis MuseumAcropolis Museum, gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis, Plaka, Athens, GreeceAcropolis Museum, Exterior and facade, Plaka, Athens, Greece

Get out of Town

You don’t have to go all the way to Lesvos in search of healing mineral springs. There is one only 30 minutes car drive from Athens, called Vouliagmeni Lake. The lake is well known as a thermal natural spa, rich with minerals such as potassium, lithium, calcium, iodine and more. These minerals are known for relieving bone and muscles pain, help with skin problems and other dermatological diseases. The beauty of this lake is mostly by its green water color and its surroundings of bare cliffs. We spent half day there on a Sunday. The lake is surrounded by beach chairs and umbrellas and there is a cafe-bar-restaurant that serves great food. We wanted to feel like the locals who treat themselves for a gateway from town.

Vouliagmeni Lake

Design & Lifestyle

Semiramis Hotel; By Karim Rashid

June 4, 2014

Since I first came across the NHOW Hotel in Berlin, designed by Karim Rashid, I keep looking for more hotels and projects he designs. I was lucky enough to meet Karim a few times in person; Twice in New York, (both in his old and new studios) and once in Tel Aviv, where he is currently designing a new hotel, planned to be opened in October. While I am hoping and planning to shoot the next hotel in Tel Aviv, I had the opportunity to stay it one of the first hotels he designed. The Semiramis Hotel located in one of the most affluent and leafy suburb in Athens, called Kifissia. I wish I had more time to stay in Kifissia and at Semiramis but I was on my way to Milos for a shoot. It is such a magical area that one of my close friends described it: ‘If I ever want to disappear for a little bit, I can easily go to Kifissia’. 

I arrived at the hotel on a Sunday afternoon after a long flight from New York in which I didn’t really have the chance to sleep. Regardless, I was anxious to walk around the colorful hotel and discover some of Karim’s signature designs and style.

When the description of the hotel goes like this..“Semiramis is what happens when you give a hot designer total control”…I need to see it in my own eyes and cameras

So let’s start with the Pool:

As a long time swimmer, I do tend to check out the swimming pools first when I check in to hotels. Even though the Semiramis pool is not a lap one, it was quite hard to ignore it. The pool is shaped in a fluid curved shape, typical to Karim Rashid’s style and colored in shades of turquoise and neon green. To complement Karim chose white sun-beds with pinkish color umbrellas, dotted with white. To be honest, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of this pool. I tried to cover every angle. A mosaic dark blue fountain adds a decadent touch and border between the pool area and the area around the hotel.

The Facade:

Only by seeing the colors of the Sun terraces (Lime Green) I knew I arrived at one of Karim’s playgrounds. The facade is totally different to the Greek typical style, and this is what I actually love about Karim’s style. His designs are ALWAYS extraordinary. To enter the lobby I had to walk through a glowing pink glass cube and to be warmly welcomed by one of the staff, offering me a glass of sparkling water.

The YES Lobby:

As Semiramis is part of the YES! Hotels group, the Artwork ‘YES’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster is definitely a great visual welcoming sign. The affirmative “YE$” sign presents the familiar dollar symbol in a bright display of shimmering lights flickering on and off before the viewer. I enjoyed watching this sign when I got back to Semiramis after an evening stroll in Kifissia. On a bright Pink wall the Artwork ‘VBGDW’ by Vanessa Beecroft is also a welcoming gesture. ‘VBGDW’ is a photo of Vanessa Beecroft’s wedding party in Portofino in September 2000. (Rumors say she is divorced now). The dark blue Wavelength Sofas designed by Karim, gave me a feeling as being under waves in the ocean.

The Bar and Dining Area: 

I just LOVE this bar and dining area. I felt as I was walking in one of the wings of a contemporary modern museum. And no wonder. Dakis Joannou, the hardworking owner of Yes! Hotels, is one of the foremost collectors of contemporary European art in Greece, and therefore is surrounding himself with objects that inspire him, from Art, Design and Architecture. I could spot two Artworks by Spencer Tunick, (The ‘New Vienna’ and ‘Krystl’) and the ‘Shutup’ Artwork by Michael Bevilacqua right above the seating area. On a Pink color carpet, Karim furnished the dining area with his signature Swing Chairs in addition to a lively lighting concept, especially commissioned from Focus Lighting in New York, under the direction of principal designer Paul Gregory. I love the Orange colored glass wall, which made a perfect dividing wall between the Bar and the Dining area. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really dine at Semiramis restaurant, as it was closed due to a private event. Well, it is a reason for me to go back…


Semiramis has three types of rooms; Standard rooms, 20 meters squared rooms overlooking the park of Kefalari. Queen bed and above bed- lighted murals offers a pop of color to the all-white feeling of tranquility of the room. The Superior rooms, 25 meters squared are overlooking either to the park or the great pool. (I was lucky enough to overlook the beautiful pool) and then there are The Pool Bungalows, 25 square meters, built as separate units alongside the pool and each bungalow has a King size bed  and a private small garden. I have stayed in one of the Superiors rooms overlooking the pool. I loved having a great afternoon light reflecting and glittering on my lime green terrace and watching the sunset over the hills around Kifissia. The hotel has its own sense of humor, which reflects well in the design; The rooms, for instance, don’t have numbers, but every floor has a color and each room has an icon. To find my room, I had to spot the icon across the hallway. Instead of the typical boring ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs, hanging on the door knobs, Karim decided to place electronic message boards at every room entrance, which guests can personalize from their in-room keyboards.

I’m really looking forward to see the next hotel designed by Karim Rashid, Sir Benjamin Hotel, coming soon in Tel Aviv.