Savouring City and Sea in Greece’s Past and Present Capitals


The monuments of the Acropolis date to 5th century BC 
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

There’s no city quite like Athens. We’ve arrived late at night, but as soon as we step onto the terrace of our suite at the InterContinental Athenaeum Athens the sight of the Acropolis illuminated in golden light is enough to take our breath away.

Designed as a citadel in the 5th century BC, the Acropolis sits on a limestone hill that soars skyward over the sprawl of modern Athens. Said to have been continuously inhabited for more than 5,000 years, the city of Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities.

But the largest city in Greece hasn’t always been its capital. After the War of Independence, the coastal city of Nafplio served as the capital of modern Greece until 1834. Today, each of these two capitals – the old and the new – offers much for visitors to experience.

Ancient Athens


During a Walks city tour in Athens you’ll see sights such as the Acropolis without the crowds  
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

The best way to experience a city is by walking its streets and this is especially true in Athens. To get the most out of our time in this sprawling city of 3.1 million people, we book a Best of Athens, Ancient Agoras and Plaka tour with a local expert at Walks, part of the City Experiences Group.

It includes first-entry access to the Acropolis so we meet our small group at 8:00 am to begin our ascent before the cruise ship crowds arrive. The Acropolis is an elevated plateau with many ancient structures including temples, sanctuaries and theatres, but the most famous of them all is the Parthenon. Built during the Golden Age of Pericles in 5th century BC, its graceful marble columns once sheltered a 12-metre golden statue of Athena, the goddess for whom the city is named.


Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard ceremony in Athens  
Photo: Deposit Photos

Our guide points out several other buildings worth a closer look. The six statues of maidens known as the Caryatids on the Erechtheion temple are especially beautiful in the morning light. Five of the original Caryatids are kept within the Acropolis Museum while the one looted by Lord Elgin is in the British Museum. Nearby, the Ancient Agora on the north west side of the Acropolis, the marble Temple of Hephaestus (circa 449 BC) is largely intact and served as a place of worship up until 1834.

Another highlight is the Changing of the Guard ceremony in front of the Greek Parliament building and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square. It takes place every hour on the hour but is especially memorable on Sundays when the Evzones, an elite regiment of the Hellenic army, perform an elaborate ceremony in full regalia.

Aquila Yacht

Explore the coastline aboard the luxurious Aquila Yacht
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

A striking feature of their Sunday uniforms is the fustanella, a kilt-like garment worn by Greek fighters during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829). Its 400 pleats represent the liberation of Greece from years of Ottoman occupation, while the red of the uniform’s cap evokes the blood of those who fought for freedom. Today, the uniform is a symbol of Greek national identity.

Nafplio and the Peloponnese Peninsula

Next, we head to the small city of Nafplio, the Greek nation’s first capital, a 90-minute drive west of Athens. It’s located on the Peloponnese peninsula, a massive piece of mountainous land that was once the heartland of the War of Independence.


Venetian fortresses and medieval castles add to the charm of Nafplio  
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Today, the seaside town is a favourite weekend getaway for Athenians. It draws visitors with its stone castles, pretty harbour and charming Old Town of narrow streets lined with posh boutiques, upscale restaurants and mansions.

We begin our explorations aboard the Aquila, an elegant 121-foot superyacht built for adventure and comfort. The glossy yacht offers luxurious accommodation for up to 12 guests and features generous outdoor seating areas. We sip cocktails and enjoy mezes while taking in views of the azure waters of the Gulf of Argolis.


Boutique in Nafplio, one of the most beautiful cities in the Peloponnese
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Due to its strategic location, Nafplio is home to three fortresses. The smallest, the Bourtzi Fort, was built in 1471 during the Venetian occupation and stands guard in the bay.

Back on land, we climb stone stairs to a lookout in Old Town passing a fascinating mix of Byzantine, Neoclassical, Venetian and Ottoman architecture. With its pastel buildings draped in bougainvillea, wrought-iron gates leading to hidden courtyards and inviting wine bars, the narrow streets are the perfect place to wander and get lost in.

History looms large here. In addition to its fine Archeological and Military Museums, several monuments, such as the equestrian statue of General Theodoros Kolokotronis, commemorate heroes of the Greek War of Independence.

3Sixty Restaurant

Stylish interior of 3Sixty Restaurant
Insert: Salad with local cheese
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

To wrap up our visit to Nafplio we refuel with lunch at 3Sixty Grill, a stylish restaurant located within a restored 1860 neoclassical mansion. The locally-inspired menu features dishes such as seafood risotto with fresh herbs, Greek salad with briny xlnomizithra cheese and succulent meats grilled in a Josper charcoal oven.

The artfully-prepared dishes come paired with selections from the Nemea wine-making region, notably agiorgitiko, a red varietal.

Athenaeum InterContinental Athens

An outdoor swimming pool is a rare but welcome property amenity in Athens
Photo: IHG Hotels & Resorts

Modern Athens

Returning to Athens, a sun-filled afternoon is the perfect time to relax at the outdoor swimming pool at the InterContinental Athenaeum Athens, a refreshing oasis that’s a rarity in a city where traffic seems to reign.

Later, it’s time to enjoy evening aperitifs and canapes in the Club InterContinental lounge on the 8th floor. Guests can enjoy club lounge access by booking an IHG Club InterContinental room or as a milestone bonus in the IHG One Rewards program for members. The outdoor terrace offers prime views of the Acropolis, the sacred hill and the Parthenon.

To experience Athens at night, we take a walk on the Filopappou Hill, a marble-paved path flanked with pine trees opposite the Acropolis. A favourite promenade of Athenians, it’s also home to the 860-seat, open-air Dora Stratou Dance Theatre. Founded in 1953, this theatre group includes 75 dancers, folk singers and musicians.

Dora Stratou Dance Theatre

Enjoy traditional Greek dances at the outdoor Dora Stratou Dance Theatre in Athens
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Over the next two hours, we enjoy dance performances from regions across Greece. Each features dancers in traditional costumes set to music performed by musicians playing violin and bouzouki, the 8-stringed mandolin-like instrument that epitomizes Greek music.

Some of the dance styles are rare, while others, such as the kalamatianos with roots that can be traced to the time of Homer, are well known. The billowing white blouses, kilts and embroidered vests are evocative of the uniforms of the revolution.

For us, the swirling costumes of the dancers, the plaintive sounds of the bouzouki and the soft summer air seem to bring ancient Greek culture to life. It’s past meets present in a living museum of dance.

Athenaeum InterContinental Athens

Soak up spectacular views of the Acropolis at the Athenaeum InterContinental Athens
Photo: IHG Hotels & Resorts

Travel Planner

Air Transat
Air Transat offers direct flights from Montreal to Athens International Airport. For extra comfort and convenience book Club Class, an upgraded experience in an exclusive cabin with spacious seats. You’ll also enjoy special amenities, gourmet cuisine and beverages, two pieces of checked baggage and priority services.

InterContinental Athenaeum Athens
The InterContinental Athenaeum Athens is a 553-room luxury hotel, with views of the Acropolis, that features a rooftop terrace, seasonal outdoor swimming pool, spa, restaurants and bars, that’s a 5-minute drive from Syntagma Square and the Acropolis Museum. IHG One Rewards is the loyalty program of the InterContinental Hotels Group. Free to join, it allows guests to earn reward points and redeem them for hotel nights and more. IHG Elite status includes benefits like room upgrades, late checkout and other perks.

Walks is part of the City Experiences Group of expert walking tours, food tours, sightseeing cruises, day trips, excursions and more. Book online well in advance.

Greek Dances Theatre Dora Stratou
This acclaimed dance group offers performances throughout the summer in their outdoor garden theatre. Book tickets onsite or online. Get more information at Greek Dance Theatre Dora Stratou.

Nafplio (Nafplion)
Official Tourism Site: Get information on events, attractions and experiences at Mythical Peloponnese.
Dining: 3Sixty Grill
Tours: Yacht for Charter

Michele Peterson is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in food, drink and sun destinations. Her work has appeared in major magazines, guidebooks, cookbooks and travel anthologies. Get recipes, travel tips and inspiration on her A Taste for Travel blog or via Twitter/Instagram @atastefortravel


Watch the illumination of the Acropolis from the Athenaeum InterContinental Athens
Photo: IHG Hotels & Resorts

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