It feels like Greece has been all over my Instagram and Pinterest feeds this year. You know what I mean: those dreamy photos of breathtaking ancient ruins, ooey-gooey desserts dripping with honey and covered in ice cream, and of course some fancy people eating breakfast on some little balcony overlooking the most stunning ocean views you've ever seen. The Greece travel-porn is everywhere. And I think it started to sneak into my subconscious, because when my husband and I started to plan our big anniversary trip this year, there was only one place I could think about. It had to be Greece.
When planning our trip to Athens, I expected to find a big, busy city full of culture and history, gorgeous architecture, and really old art. I also expected it to be bursting at the seams with tourists, as well as restaurants that cater to said tourists. You know the places I'm talking about; those mediocre, overpriced joints that a local wouldn't patronize except in a true emergency. I figured we'd have to do a lot of research to find the good food, just like here at home (although in a country without Yelp, I was a tiny bit terrified).
What we found upon arriving, however, was a very pleasant surprise: yes, there are an abundance of restaurants catering to the tourist crowd, but they're a far cry from the boring chains lining Hollywood Boulevard or Times Square. Instead, we found mostly family-owned joints serving up real traditional Greek food. A lot of their menus boast similar items - including souvlaki, moussaka, saganaki, and the like - but each seemed to include its own unique flair, and as far as we could tell they were all incredibly delicious. In fact, some of the tastiest food we had in Athens came from a little place just steps away from the Acropolis, where we were sweet-talked into dining by a very persuasive host (a fact that we were sure would not bode well for the food, and we were SO wrong).
All this to say, it seemed that Athens' dining scene could do no wrong. Every little taverna and café we visited served us delicious food, far better than any "Greek" cuisine we've tried in the U.S. We did our best to try all the classics, as well as some dishes we'd never heard of. One of my favorites was called dakos - a salad with a base of crisp barley rusks, almost like dried bread, layered with grated fresh tomatoes and delightfully tart grated feta cheese. And, like all good things in Greece, it was topped off with a drizzle of really good olive oil. So, so delicious.
Breakfast each day was enjoyed at our hotel, the Coco-Mat, not just because it was included in our stay, but because the folks at the Coco-Mat are clearly breakfast experts. Each morning, they set out an incredible spread of serve-yourself treats like the most luscious Greek yogurt, soft and flavorful breads, boiled eggs drizzled with olive oil, tangy cheeses, and homemade pastries both savory and sweet. And don't forget the delicious cappuccino from the fanciest Nespresso machine I've ever seen. As if that weren't enough, you could also order delicious hot egg dishes from their menu, like omelettes and scrambles.
The Coco-Mat also features a large roof deck with sweeping views of Athens - and they'll even serve you a meal there. Their menu caters to a wide range of tastes, featuring fresh and flavorful salads, traditional Greek dishes with modern twists, and decadent desserts. Everything we tried was so delicious that we made a point to stay in for dinner more than once!
No vacation is complete without eating something so decadent you wouldn't even dream about it normally - that something for me was obviously Lukumades. These little deep-fried balls of dough have been called a Greek version of donuts, and they'd been tempting me through Instagram for months. I absolutely couldn't not try them.
Friends, let me tell you that I was in no way disappointed. Lukumades are amazing. I went for a classic flavor, in hopes of tasting something more "authentic," but it was really hard to decide. You can have them topped with ice cream, sauces, or nuts, or stuffed with any number of flavored cream fillings. This is basically paradise for those of us with a sweet tooth! I wish I could go back.
Perhaps my favorite part of our visit was the Acropolis Museum, a modern and beautifully designed museum just steps away from the Acropolis itself. It provides context for the breathtaking ruins and historic sites of the ancient city, and has many original sculptures and artifacts on display. The best part is the top floor, where they have displayed the sculptures that once decorated the top edges of the Parthenon in original formation - mirroring the layout of the Parthenon itself, which is visible through the huge windows along the walls. It's breathtaking, and so well executed!
And of course, the Acropolis Museum has a cafe, where you can rest and recharge between floors, all while still ogling the beautiful Parthenon.
Here's a recap of the places I've mentioned here:
- The Parthenon, Acropolis
- Café Amoroso
- Liondi Traditional Greek Restaurant
- Piatsa Kolonaki
- Coco-Mat Hotel, Athens
- The Acropolis Museum & Café
All in all, Athens charmed the pants off of us. Who knew that the city that so many treat as a mere stopover to the islands is absolutely brimming with character, culture, and absolutely DELICIOUS food? If you can, do yourself a favor and spend some time here. It's absolutely worth the trip!
Check back in later this week for some highlights from our visit to the gorgeous island of Santorini. Until then... Sas efcharistó kai kalí nýchta efcharistó!