Hotel Grande Bretagne review, Athens, Greece: Athens' dizzyingly luxurious hotel with a big heart

Our rating

5 out of 5

If Athens' Hotel Grande Bretagne is an institution, as its owners claim, then kindly commit me. Kings, princes, premiers and prima donnas have passed and still pass through the doors of this wonderful 19th century hotel. Some have not been as welcomed as others – Goering, Himmler and Hitler.

Much of Greece's social, political and economic life has happened within earshot of its elegant environs. Geographically at the epicentre of Athens, the Grande Bretagne, also known as "the other Parthenon", overlooks the National Parliament, Syntagma Square, the Parthenon, Mount Lycabettus​ and the historic Plaka​ district. Like a benign elder statesman, it knows everything and everybody.

Despite this and its five-star status, there's nothing stuffy about the place that took its first guests in 1874 and has served, among other things, as the headquarters for the 1896 Olympics, for Greece's General Staff during World War II, for the occupying Nazis and for Britain's Expeditionary Force.

The staff is delightful, the suites are unconditionally comfortable, rather than modishly angular, children are welcome and the rooftop bar and restaurant offer one of the best views in the world – the Parthenon perched atop the Acropolis, a heady reminder of Greece's antiquity.

And in a tender display, the hotel does not shoo away an old stray dog that reclines beside the entrance. Instead, "Sweetie" is fed and cared for. As are some of Athens' more vulnerable residents – the hotel offers more than 50 free meals a week to the less fortunate and donates all leftover amenities to local reformatories.

We are fortunate with our suite, a "grand" one, we're informed, though there's a dizzying array of styles among the 320 on offer – from classic and deluxe rooms to suites – junior, deluxe, grand, grand deluxe and executive grand.

After that, you enter the troposphere with the 200-square-metre presidential suite boasting an imposing foyer, decorative columns flanking the entrance to the dining room and the dramatic oval ceiling panels.

And finally, stratosphere-bound, you arrive at the most luxurious 400-square-metre Royal suite with its multiple views of Athens, from the Acropolis to Mount Lycabettus. It contains the blue and white marble bathroom chaise longue upon which a near-naked Lady Gaga cavorted last year.

I personally have no use for a marble chaise longue and am more than satisfied with our sixth-floor corner suite, done out in classic shades of cream, gold and beige, sorry, taupe. I have no idea how many square metres it encompasses. My estimate: heaps.

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There's cocoon-like upholstery and feather-down bedding into which a person can sink and gaze around at the crystal chandeliers, original artworks, restored antiques from Christie's and Sotheby's or, balefully, at my iPad, which isn't working.

Free Wi-Fi is available only in the public areas and it's slow. The high-speed option must be purchased – $25 for one day, $39 for two or $55 for seven. This is my only quibble and a bit of a monotonous one, for there are many other high-end offenders. Free high-speed internet access should not be such an issue for upmarket establishments.

Oh well, back to the fun bits. Before exploring our suite, we must negotiate the temptations on the marble refectory table in the suite's foyer – chocolate truffles, a bottle of Tentura – traditional liqueur from Patras, a generous bowl of kiwifruit, grapes, bananas, apples and sweet green melon, plus pastries and excellent coffee.

The large sitting room has comfortable sofa and chairs, upholstered in heavy damask and silk, desk and side tables plus bowls of caramel toffees and roses, both looking good enough to eat.

French doors open onto a private terrace with manicured greenery and those views again – Mount Lycabettus and the National Parliament with its constant theatre of the changing of the guards in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And because it's Greece, we are also privy to a few well-mannered demonstrations, which a guest further along appears to be enjoying as a piece of theatre, complete with champagne in a silver bucket perched on the balustrade.

Our bedroom also has French doors onto the terrace, plus a second flat-screen plasma television. It leads to the spacious marble bathroom with double vanities and shower with steam option. The bath has a flat-screen television inset into the wall above. It doesn't seem to be operational but I'm happy just to gaze at it, up to my ears in Molton Brown bubble bath, like a small orang-utan with a shiny new unworkable toy.

Until the unsettling thought occurs that the TV is, in fact, the secret butler window, a convenient way for him to check toiletry supplies. What would Lady Gaga do?

Probably head to the GB Rooftop Bar for a Rakoon cocktail, whose main ingredient is rakomelo, a combo of Cretan raki liqueur and honey. Or perhaps a Mastijito – no, not a painful breastfeeding condition but a Mojito with mastic liqueur. The Parthenon glows pink and the Athens hills fold around the neoclassical houses of Plaka.

Breakfast on the roof is a wonderful way to greet a new Athens day – with fruit, pastries, coffee, eggs, yoghurt, accompanied by excellent coffee and that view. Plus a bit of star spotting: Andre Agassi slips past, skull newly polished, and the President of Cyprus is also in da house.

Don't miss high tea in the Winter Garden just behind the lobby – an extravagant area of light-coloured marble, stained glass ceiling and light filled-atrium, palms and lavish arrangements of orchids, hydrangeas, calla lilies and roses.

Scoff scones with clotted cream, Greek orange, strawberry and peach marmalades, homemade cakes, petit sandwiches with smoked salmon, crab, egg mayonnaise and roast beef, macaroons and fruit tarts.

Then head to the hotel's GB Spa to get someone to give your muscles a workout. Bliss.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

grandebretagne.gr

visitgreece.gr/

aptouring.com.au

GETTING THERE

Emirates flies daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Athens via Dubai. See emirates.com

STAYING THERE

Hotel Grande Bretagne, Syntagma Square. Doubles from $497 a night. See grandebretagne.gr

TOURING THERE

Full or half-day sightseeing Athens excursions with experienced guides, plus trips out of Athens (including Delphi and Cape Sounion/Temple of Poseidon)

See www.siva.travel/

The writer was a guest of APT