Around a year and a half ago I was given an opportunity to do something I had been secretly wishing for both as an Athenian and writer. I was approached by writer Diana Farr Louis to co-author the book The 111 Places In Athens That You Shouldn’t Miss, an ‘alternative’ travel book by the German publishers Emons that makes up part of a series of tens of books on cities around the world. Sold globally and aimed at readers who are passionate about travelling and discovering the real story and exciting vision of what lies off the beaten track, behind locked doors and even right in front of their unassuming eyes, the 111 Places books draw the reader into a deeper, more vivid and often more awesome understanding of each city and its life in the past and present.
My co-authors and I never arrogantly assumed we knew all there is to know about our city of residence, yet we were often dumbfounded by how much there was we didn’t know or didn’t have the full, or true story on. Our in-depth and dedicated research led us each to follow new paths and explore in all varieties of places, from alleyways in Psirri and buildings where Nazi soldiers tortured Greeks to flowery fields, quirky restaurants, innovative galleries and churches with hidden chambers. The core reason why I was so excited to be part of this labour of love was that I have always had an affinity for all that lies beyond the ordinary, or what the naked eye can see, but the soul yearns to know. To be able to immerse myself in developing a redefined intimacy with Athens and have her reveal to me so many of her astounding beauties, secrets, strengths, and vulnerabilities was deeply rewarding. And to be able to share that with an international readership of like-minded seekers just serves to intensify that sense of privilege. Here, my co-authors share their own experiences.
“Aside from the book’s concept, the best thing about this project was collaborating with Diana and Alexia. We have different backgrounds and different relationships to the city but share an abiding love for Athens – not as an ersatz New York or London or Rome but for what it is. That comes across in our book. It was fascinating for us to ‘discover’ places (or stories about places) through each other’s entries, despite being not only long-time residents but also considered experts about various aspects of Athenian life. I wouldn’t describe it as a guide for tourists but rather as a book for travellers.” – Diane Shugart.
“As soon as I learned about this series of eccentric city guides, I knew the Athens volume had to be my next project. Over the course of 45 years in my adopted city, I’d written many articles about it, but a whole book would be a welcome adventure. I also had two aces up my sleeve: Alexia and Diane, younger colleagues whose ideas and interests I admired. They did not take much persuading and as we began to compile our lists, we found to our delight that each of us had places in mind that the other two had not even heard of. We thought we knew our city well, but we were wrong. Now, though, after a year of research and exploration, we’ve discovered so much more about it that we could write a second volume. Meanwhile, my hope is that this one will encourage visitors to look beyond the ruins and the Trip Advisor stars and discover the city that we love and that never ceases to surprise and fascinate us long-time residents.” – Diana Farr Louis.
A quick peek at seven of 111 Places in Athens You Shouldn’t Miss
1. Diomedes Botanical Garden, Haidari
500 species, an arboretum with trees from five continents, a beautifully designed and tended setting and nearby a café with a menu by Greek celebrity chef Baxevanis. You will not think you’re in the city.
2. Diporto taverna, Psyrri
A basement eatery – Athens’ oldest taverna – with no signs outside but recognisable from the two trapdoors that give it its name. Barrels on the walls, retsina, and comfort food like chickpea soup and cod with garlic sauce.
3. Ayii Isidori, Lycabbetus
From outside, it looks like an ordinary church. But Ayii Isidori built into the rock on the west slope of Lycabbetus Hill was the façade for an escape tunnel linking Athens to Pendeli via Galatsi during the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s.
4. Akadimias 58A, Syntagma
Even when it was first built in 1870, Ernst Ziller’s house stood out among Athens’ other prestigious residences for the metal dragon that roared to passers-by from its first-floor balcony. Was it really the address for masonic ceremonies?
5. Junta Resistance Museum, Hilton area
The idyllic park setting is completely incongruous with the acts committed in the former military police barracks against opponents of the 1967-1974 dictatorship. Warning, the torture chamber may send shivers up your spine. Its full name is Anti-dictatorial and Democratic Resistance Museum.
6. Pagaki collaborative café, Koukaki
A traditional Greek cafe, with a difference, founded in 2010 by people who “wanted to try out a different type of work; one based on collectivity, relations of respect, comradeship and solidarity.” Friendly atmosphere and low prices.
7. Waterlily Farm/Nursery, Marathon
Not just water plants but also goldfish, desert plants, air plants and a mini zoo for the kids. A completely unexpected destination with a passionate, friendly owner to show you around. Can be combined with a visit to the archaeological site of Rhamnous.