When you ascend up through the 2,500 year-old gate at the summit of the Acropolis plateau in the heart of Athens, you’re a little breathless with anticipation. Then you come face-to-face with the mega-watt magnificence of the Parthenon, with its Doric columns and sculpted frieze bathed triumphantly in soft Aegean light. You come here knowing this is going to be special, but nothing prepares you for just how much. Like Petra, Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza, this is one of those handful of cultural landmarks that makes a trip to its host country an unforgettable experience all by itself. You can only stand there and stare, helplessly trying to contemplate your presence in the birthplace of Western civilization.
Just down the street about 15 minutes away, the 543-room Athenaeum InterContinental Athens features the largest rooms, ballroom and room count in Athens. The 10-story modern building is presently undergoing a multimillion dollar revamp of the guestrooms and halls. The new look is sleek and chic with Bauhaus-style lines, a vibrant Kandinsky-style color palette, a swiveling flat screen TV/armoire and full-service contempo desks.
“The old rooms were a little ‘Greeky,’’’ says Christopher Koleros, director of sales, who is one of the most gracious and enjoyable hosts we’ve ever met. He says about the new design, “It’s maybe not what you would expect in Athens, but our US clients are typically progressive and well traveled. They’re looking for something a little more modern.”
One of the reasons the playful décor in the guestrooms works so well is because the owners are serious modern art collectors, much of it Greek, with 350 artworks on display throughout the property. In essence, this is one of the primary modern art museums in Greece.
Several large art pieces punctuate the massive lobby that wraps around a gaping open space above the event facilities below. During two of the nights we visited, we witnessed a 1,000-pax dinner in the ballroom (hosts up to 1,500), and a gorgeous wedding reception that brought in a long procession of Athenian high society draped in floor-length gowns and tailored tuxes.
Guests booking the Club InterContinental floors have access to the top floor club lounge with an outdoor patio directly facing the Parthenon. You really, really want to take your morning coffee here during the milder months. At night, this hemisphere’s most important piece of architecture is lit up brilliantly with powerful strobes, which makes a nice backdrop for dining on the award-winning Mediterranean cuisine at the rooftop Première restaurant.
The InterContinental also manages the new Ethniki Conference Center next door, with a rooftop terrace suitable for up to 1,000 revelers. MTV Greece hosts all of its fashion shows here.
Plaka, Psyrri + Kolonaki Anyone who visits Athens finds their way to the old city of Plaka in the shadows of the Acropolis near the new Acropolis Museum (Prevue Nov/09). At night, we sauntered down the cobblestones among shops selling fine linens and crafts—this is a must.
Athens’ cafe society sips ouzo and shops for Mykonos jewelry in the Kolonaki district, about 20 minutes from the InterContinental. A couple of us stopped for Turkish coffee at the Da Capo cafe, packed with locals lining the little tables parked on the sidewalk. This is Athens at its most personal level.
For a true “Greeky” teambuilding experience, there’s Psyrri. On a late Tuesday night, the more adventurous of us walked among the friendly locals packing dozens of artsy clubs and restaurants. Check out Cosa Nostra where DJs spin Dean Martin classics in a Mafia-themed Italian trattoria setting. Speaking from experience, your group will be singing That’s Amore in unison in no time.