Grecotel Cape Sounio: far from the Athens crowds
The ideal launch pad for a low-stress visit to the Greek capital
Visiting Athens can be an intense experience. The crowds, the traffic, the heat reflected by ancient stones - they all take their toll. But venture into the city’s rocky hinterland and you will find tranquility in abundance.
It deepens as you round the coast, and suburbs give way to fishing villages. Then, 25 miles south of the Acropolis, you’re at the very tip of the Attic peninsula, where the Grecotel Cape Sounio sits in an acre of landscaped gardens.
Set into the terraced hillside and screened off by hedges of bougainvillea, its airy suites and villas feel private and secluded. The main building, by contrast, is meant to stand out, with grand arcades and columns aplenty. Its classically inspired architecture sits across the bay from the real thing: the Temple of Poseidon, built in the fifth century BC. Perched 200ft above the sea, it is a constant companion for guests at Cape Sounio.
What to do
Apart from the temple itself, which is open to visitors, Attica offers more than enough to satisfy the energetic traveller - while the hotel caters for those seeking a respite from activity. The Elixir spa, with its terraced lawns and pools, is the epicentre of indulgence. A large seawater swimming pool, surrounded by sun loungers, and a private beach with waiter service, provide the opportunity for small doses of exertion.
Then there’s Sounio National Park, with its trails for hiking or cycling, and the little town of Lavrion, a few miles away. It is home to a small archeological museum, as well as several cafes selling honey-rich baklava. Village Bakery’s is the honiest, and therefore the best.
Another few miles up the coast is the Theatre of Ancient Thorikos, an impressive if only partially intact amphitheatre dating from the 6th century BC, surrounded by the ruins of the town it once served. The view from the top row is worth the climb - and one which you may be able to enjoy in solitude. Despite being the world’s oldest surviving theatre, Thorikos is neglected by tourists.
Although you could easily spend a long weekend in Sounio and its surrounds, Athens is likely to lure you from the coastal idyll, at least for a day. The easiest way in is to drive to Elliniko at the end of the metro line, park in one of the multi-storey car parks there, and take the direct, 25-minute train ride to the Acropoli stop.
The Parthenon will be crowded - there’s no avoiding that - but, outside peak season, the wide pedestrianised streets below are quiet and unhurried. So too are the cafes at the western end of Areopagitou Street, between the Acropolis and Areopagitou Hill, one of the best (and quietest) vantage points from which to see the skyline, ancient and modern. After lunch, the airy Acropolis Museum will put it all in context. Then stroll through the National Gardens towards the Hellenic Parliament, have a drink in Syntagma square and a pie from Ariston, a traditional bakery around the corner, then rejoin the metro at Syntagma station.
What to eat
Grecotel Cape Sounio prides itself on the food it serves, and rightly so. Even the buffet, sometimes a lazy option for restaurant managers, is nothing of the sort. The salad table alone, piled with roasted vegetables, hummus, feta, olives, taramasalata, artichokes, would be more than enough - but numerous fish and meat dishes (and a whole table of deserts) complete the offering.
The Restaurant, Cape Sounio’s premium dining room, serves an a la carte menu with Greek, French and Italian lineage - grilled seafood, lamb and beef make regular appearances - while So Oriental has an Asian-fusion flavour. Lunch is available at the poolside Aegean grill, or down on the beach at Yali, which serves casual bites during the day - and, when the weather permits, becomes an intimate white-linen restaurant for the evening.
Photo by Grecotel Cape Sounio
When to go
Summer in Athens is hot, with average highs above 30C from June to August. The few months either side of the peak are often the most rewarding - October and April temperatures reach the mid 20s, on average. November to March are cooler and wetter.
How to get there
Direct flights link Athens to several UK airports in just over three hours. Grecotel Cape Sounio is a 45-minute drive from Athens airport.
Photo by Grecotel Cape Sounio