Whether you’re looking for a couple’s getaway, or taking a mid-winter break, February is the month to plan travels worth sharing. If you’ve never experienced the romance of train travel, climb onboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman. We also invite you to explore the latest in cruising, which has hit new heights of luxury and excitement.
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
After a few years of waning interest, Athens is now the top Greek destination for tourists. Our Kathy Chou recently visited to see why the capital is becoming a popular winter getaway too.
Why Athens in the winter?
Athens off-season is fantastic. With most of the tourists gone, we got to mingle with the locals, see the sites without the crowds, chat with the grandmothers, and enjoy a slice of daily life without the usual hustle. Winter temperatures hovered in the 60s during the day with plenty of sunshine, and in the 40s at night. We also took advantage of bargain airfare and a 30-40% discount on luxury accommodations.
If time is limited, how should plan your days?
This was my first time to Athens and I only had three nights. I knew I was surrounded by some of the greatest architectural treasures from ancient civilization, so I relied on guides to plan my days.
Were you able to pack in the main sites?
Yes, but you need a full day. I was amazed by how many ancient monuments, Byzantine churches (many still in use and open to the public), and archaeological ruins are right here in the old city. Our first stop was the Acropolis site, where we listened to the wonderful stories of Greek mythology heroes and heroines. From there we explored ancient Plaka. This charming neighborhood is full of interesting artisanal shops. We found hand-crafted Greek jewelry, gourmet foods, and high quality leather goods at fantastic value. After a lovely lunch overlooking the Acropolis, we sped along the glistening coastline of Aegean blue just in time for the drop-dead-gorgeous sunset at the Temple of Poseidon.
Would you recommend a food tour?
In my four-hour walking tour led by a chef, I learned (and sampled!) that Greeks are dead serious about what they eat. Tradition is ever-present. We toured a bread shop that still uses the same stone mill passed down from generations, sampled olive oil from a family orchard, and watched proud butchers present their meat like sculptures of anatomy. I bought salt from a shop that resembled an alchemist’s lab, full of large glass jars filled with salts from different Greek isles. I was glad my suitcase has an expander zipper so I could bring home all the gastronomic goodies.
Where should you stay?
Hotel Grande Bretagne is a luxury landmark in the heart of Athens. It’s rich in history and offers beautiful rooms with Acropolis views. The New Hotel is a design gem at the edge of Plaka. Its stylish interiors began as recycled old furniture lovingly transformed into something modern and cutting-edge.
Any tips for first timers?
Taxis from the airport are flat rate (€38, about $40), plentiful, with English-speaking drivers, but beware that many of them will also try to sell their guide services. The option is tempting but use an F1S-recommended guide to make your time worthwhile. Make sure you have extra room in your suitcase for those exotic spices, teas, and leather sandals that you know will be the object of envy next summer.