The Hilton Athens was the Greek capital’s first international brand hotel. It was also the city’s largest hotel building and when it opened in April 1963 (described as the most beautiful Hilton hotel in the world” by its owner Conrad Hilton) it quickly became a hub for the local and international glitterati. From stars like Frank Sinatra, Igmar Bergman and Anthony Quinn in the golden age of cinema to scintillating personalities such as Mikhail Barishnikov, Placido Domingo and Willem Dafoe in more recent times, the hotel has consistently proven its expertise in graciously hosting the most demanding of guests. Today, the hotel retains an aura of cosmopolitan glamour and understated luxury blended with a relaxed, culturally-vibrant and contemporary flair. Apart from the impressive hieroglyphic-style reliefs created by artist Yiannis Moralis on the exterior wall - which make the hotel stand out from any other structure in Athens - the Hilton is decorated with artworks by Eleni Vernardaki, George Zongolopoulos, Chryssa, George Lappas, Aphrodite Liti, Pavlos and Theodore Stamos. With the statue of The Runner (O Dromeas) by Costas Varotsos right across it on Vas. Sophias Ave, these two landmarks mark a characteristic ‘key point’ of Athens. I recently stayed at the Hilton Athens, choosing this historic hotel as the first of GCT’s guide to presenting some of Greece’s best places to stay. Authentic Politeness From the moment I stepped up to the desk to check in to the moment I checked out, I was made to feel welcome and at home. But ironically the kind of pampered, special ‘at home’ that one can only feel in a hotel of this kind. The staff was polite, friendly, warm, professional, accommodating, efficient and non-intrusive throughout my 24 hours. Understated Luxury Upon entering the modern, minimally decorated lobby area that features light and neutral colours, plenty of natural light, wood, and glass, I instantly felt relaxed. Not too much opulence, no overload of artworks or furniture; an optimal and refreshing sense of openness and spaciousness. Easy Location Between Pangrati, Kolonaki, and Syntagma, the hotel (around five minutes’ walk to Evangelismos metro, which goes directly to the airport) is excellently located. Especially if you like to walk and explore the above-mentioned neighbourhoods in detail. Right across the hotel is the National Gallery, sadly still under construction, but once opened, an additional plus for guests. Beautiful Views of the Acropolis The hotel’s 506 rooms, each with a private balcony, face either the city or the Acropolis. I stayed in an Executive room on the 12th floor with a view of the Parthenon that just got better as the day wore on and was especially lovely at night. Elegant Lunch Guests can head to the Byzantino restaurant for classic-modern Mediterranean food or the Milos restaurant for upscale Greek cuisine. From May-October when the swimming pool (the largest in Athens) is open one can also order brunch or snacks from the Oasis Pool Bar-Grill while for a quick snack or light lunch guests can stop at the Aethrion Lobby Bar. Architectural Character Designed by Emmanouil Vourekas, Prokopis Vassiliadis, Spyros Staikos and Antonis Georgiades, the Hilton seriously stood out when it first appeared in the city’s urban landscape. Architect Ioannis Vikelas, who briefly worked on its construction, has said: “It was a project of great magnitude and quality... There is an obvious sense of nobility and elegance to be seen in the details as well as in more general forms.” However, he added: “Athenians saw the Hilton as something of a weird alien object. It wasn’t a matter of taste so much as bewilderment.” Lovely Pampering One of the things the Hilton has become well known for apart from its architecture and views is its top-notch Hiltonia spa. It has a large internal pool with several pockets offering ideal jacuzzi bubble therapy, and sauna and steam booths in the men’s and women’s changing rooms. Excellently-trained therapists use the luxurious Germaine de Capuccini product range for innovative beauty treatments and relaxing therapies, such as the deeply-relaxing aroma-massage. Glittering Dinner On the hotel’s 13th floor is the Galaxy Bar and Restaurant, with a long balcony looking out to a glittering cityscape crowned by the Acropolis. There are two choices for dining here. One is a menu offering refined modern Mediterranean/Greek cuisine, with dishes such as Black Angus steak with truffle-seasoned potato chips, or risotto with crayfish, pickled asparagus, rose-petals and basil oil. The other is the Sushi Bar, serving classic maki, nigiri and sashimi platters plus new additions like Scallop Tobiko roll with lime as well as Surf N‘ Turf with panko shrimps and beef fillet. The flavours from both menus are sophisticated and gratifying, and the view simply enchanting. Cool DJ Vibes The Galaxy Bar has been a busy nighttime hotspot ever since the hotel opened - not bad for a bar that’s been around for 55 years! The hotel’s grandiose reputation, its central location, and stunning views have made it a popular go-to place for a fancy outing. Over the last few decades, the addition of leading mixologists serving exciting cocktails and DJs hosting all-night parties has only served to add to the bar’s year-round appeal. In-Room Tranquility In between a delicious lunch, a reviving dip in the pool, spa pampering, starry-eyed dinner, and cocktails I loved retreating to my room. Elegant, modern and minimalist in style, with its view of the Parthenon, crisp white sheets and thick duvet and pillows, a walk-in marble shower and bathtub, it offered me a luxuriant sense of peace. After my breakfast, I had a few hours to kill before checkout and considered a swim in the spa pool. But the comfort of my room won. So I lay in bed reading a magazine and relaxing, just as I would at home.