The Greeks have spent the best part of 25 centuries perfecting the art of hospitality. In ancient times, people would gather in the "agora", a city's central gathering space, to debate, shop and socialise. Mealtimes weren't rushed, harried affairs; they were long, languorous celebrations with friends and family.
Ergon Foods wants to revive these timeless traditions. Founded by two Greek brothers in 2011, the company specialises in sourcing premium quality Greek products from small independent suppliers. In February, it unveiled a modern-day agora in the heart of Athens. The light-filled space comprises a baker, a butcher, a fishmonger and a delicatessen together with an all-day bar and restaurant. The following month, it opened Ergon House, a seven-storey boutique hotel above the agora with a communal kitchen on each floor. The idea is that guests can whip up their own gourmet feast using the finest fresh produce without the hassle of washing up. The hotel also holds regular cooking classes where you can learn how to prepare traditional Greek delicacies such as gruyere wrapped in kataifi pastry and vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs.
If you're like me and the concept of cooking on holiday fills you with anguish-inducing dread, you can admire all that lovely fresh produce from a safe distance and let the restaurant's chefs work their magic instead. Stays include a lavish a la carte breakfast accompanied by excellent coffee from award-winning local roaster Taf. One morning, I enjoy a plate-straining omelette filled with feta cheese, peppers and delicious Drama ham. On another, I'm rendered speechless by the simple delight of home-made granola with goji berries smothered in creamy Greek yoghurt and local honey.
The agora's decor is similarly impressive. The front section features a 25-metre-high glass atrium with a soaring vertical herb garden and a towering mural of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting. Guests dine at tables clustered around a 200-year-old olive tree next to a greengrocer with an adorable vintage Italian three-wheeler delivery van. Stroll past the wood-fired oven and you'll discover a second cavernous space with a deli, a marble-topped bar and shelves of high-quality Greek produce such as pasta, sauces, cheeses and wine.
The whole set-up is so disarmingly delightful, you might be reluctant to venture outside. You should, of course, because the property is located in Plaka, an enticing historic district of ancient alleyways, and is conveniently positioned between the main squares of Monastiraki and Syntagma.
On August 1, the hotel unveiled its crowning glory, an intimate rooftop bar with sweeping views of the Acropolis. It's operated by the team behind Athens' award-winning bar The Clumsies, and the menu features Greek interpretations of the classics, such as a negroni with black olives and oregano. It's particularly beguiling after dark, when it becomes a candlelit oasis of beanbags and fairy lights.
The property's 38 rooms are predictably stylish. My 24-square-metre "medium" room is a tactile medley of walnut, stone and unfinished concrete. There's a gushing rain shower and a gorgeous rough-hewn marble sink with brushed brass fittings. Other features include a cute baby Marshall speaker, an espresso machine and a well-stocked minibar of artisanal Greek treats. Complimentary water is a nice touch, although reusable glass bottles would be better than plastic ones.
In just five months, Ergon House has blossomed into that rarest of things – a conveniently located city-centre hotel that you actually want to hang out in. I find myself repeatedly lured back to the agora – for lunch, coffee, ice-cream and even a late-night gyros (which turns out to be the best I sample in Athens). It's a remarkable achievement born out of 25 centuries of practice.
Ergon House is in Plaka, Athens' historic heart. Rooms from $249 including breakfast; 23 Mitropoleos Street, Athens. Phone +30 210 0109090, see house.ergonfoods.com
With a maximum of 49 passengers, Peregrine's eight-day "Cruising the Islands of Greece and Turkey" combines visits to Mykonos, Santorini and the ancient Turkish city of Ephesus, with lesser-known gems such as Amorgos and Folegandros. Prices from $4374. See peregrineadventures.com
Rob McFarland was a guest of Ergon House and Peregrine.