ΠΡΩΤΟΤΥΠΟ = ORIGINAL
“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” –Plato
It had been 25 years since my last visit, thus my uncertainty as to what I would find. Yet I need not have had any fear, as it was everything that I had expected.
My journey in Athens began at the Fresh Hotel, chosen for its location, radical design, close connection to the contemporary art scene in Athens and appeal as a retreat from the city’s busy streets. It is to be my permanent home base for my return trips to Athens between my voyages from one island to another.
Upon arriving, I am met by Eleni Farma, sales coordinator at the Fresh. The first thing I notice is her titian-haired beauty, as vibrant as the white and sunset coloured walls of the Fresh Hotel itself.
“Beauty comes with simplicity,” is the first thing she says when asked about the hotel, a fresh approach mirrored in its sober yet sumptuous design, one that immediately calms both mind and spirit. Indeed, every detail gives the impression of having been chosen for those very soothing qualities.
There are its walls in pale white and grey, the carefully chosen art pieces used to highlight rather than dominate the space and last but not least, the cunning use of various dashes of colour here and there in order to capture the mind’s imagination and reduce the starkness of the otherwise sleek open-spaces.
ΦΙΝΕΤΣΑΤΟΣ = SUBTLE
“Nothing in excess” Inscription, temple of Apollo at Delphi
“Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess” Socrates once said. That is the secret of good design. It is a simple enough idea at its roots, albeit one apparently difficult to achieve. Yet, the Fresh Hotel has managed to do so.
How? The answer is actually quite simple as well. To put it concisely, the reason why the Fresh Hotel has triumphed where so many others have failed is because, of all the new design hotels currently scattered in and around Athens, they are it seems the only ones who have clearly understood the true meaning of Socrates’ statement.
Firstly, it is a matter of taste. Unlike many of its competitors for example, there is nothing ‘επιθετικός’ or aggressive about design at the Fresh Hotel. To the contrary, it has been decorated with the utmost subtlety and refinement.
Secondly, there is the matter of aesthetics. By this, I mean an appreciation of true beauty and concern for its defining principles.
Thirdly, because they have realised that achievement requires hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easy and this is mirrored not only in their Fresh approach to design, but also its dedication to providing exceptional service.
ΦΡΈΣΚΟ = FRESH
“The good/beautiful things are difficult to attain. There is naught without labor.” – Plato
Such a task is not easy, however. Yet along with the Fresh Hotel’s design team of Tassos-Georgiadi and Associates, owner Ada Yfanti has managed it effortlessly by paying a great deal of attention to making the public and private spaces of the hotel both exceptionally appealing and comfortable.
This is evident in the use of select designer pieces by Paola Navone, Stark and Eames in the lobby to highlight the high ceilings and light spaces. Each floor of the hotel, being in a different shades, has its own unique ambiance as well. As to the 133 rooms themselves, what they offer is an avant-garde, urban form of luxury.
The standard rooms are the smallest, although bright, exceptionally well laid out, and lovingly decorated. The palette is muted and the art subdued, yet eye-catching, and the double-glazed doors leading out onto the individual terraces make them airy and open.
The executive suites are slightly larger and include delightful private libraries, select artwork and fresh orchids that make it feel like home. In addition, the seating area is large enough to soak up the sun on warm Athenian afternoons.
The superior suites are by far the largest and come complete with a good-sized separate lounge with a dividing door from the bedroom that allows one to peacefully work if two. The bedroom is spacious, with a freestanding bath next to am opaque wall-to-wall window, which means one can look out whilst enjoying a soak without the worry of any passerby’s looking in. In addition, each comes with an enormous en suite walk-in-rain shower with a wide range of bath products provided.
Furthermore, they have the advantage of an extra-large terrace to provide the perfect out-door living space if in the mood to enjoy the luxury of sunbathing alone.
ΔΗΜΙΟΥΡΓΙΚΌΣ = CREATIVE
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
A meandering tour of the rest of the hotel reveals precisely the same level of careful thought throughout. There is the pool, restaurant and rooftop terrace that each offer a stunning 180-degree view of the city, the Acropolis and surrounding area that would be hard to surpass. In addition, there is the smell of the hotel’s own, herb garden and the olive trees scattered around the terrace, as well as the wondrous sight of palms, pampas grass and bougainvillea swaying in the late afternoon breeze.
Particularly riveting is the symmetry of the setting. As with the olive trees in the glass-enclosed terrace, the tables, chairs and service sets are grouped in three, creating a magical triad that represents the beginning, middle as well as end.
At the restaurant, they serve up a sumptuous variety of both Mediterranean and traditional Greek, along with a choice of delicious specialty cocktail drinks and desserts. The restaurant’s soothing music creates a low-key relaxed atmosphere.
The breakfast room is a charming mélange of cutting edge design and bright hues that lend cheeriness to any gloomy morning, but the days in Athens remain sunny anyway during my stay. Indeed, the selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, meats, pastries and bread on the buffet are enough to tempt even the most self-willed or please any epicure’s appetite.
The friendly staff efficiently cater to needs, contributing to the ambiance’s conviviality.
Indeed, like Athens, the hotel is a creative mixture of the old and the new: a post- modernist structure in an ancient neighbourhood of the city that still clings to its roots.
“Success is dependent on effort.” – Sophocles
The market for up and coming artists comes to life in the hotel’s ArtWall, the Fresh Hotel’s creative venue for the upcoming contemporary artists in Athens. Eleanna Balesi exhibition Golden Aid was being featured at the time of my stay and I was fortunate enough to meet both Foteini Kapiris, manager of the gallery, and Stratis Pantazis, the curator of the show.
Golden Aid involves a series of works influenced by daily life issues that take place in our immediate environment. These issues are connected – but not entirely – to the unequal distribution of wealth, and to the overall crisis, which beyond economic, is mainly moral. For the artist, quest for a better future, and values such as freedom and equality are seen through the prism of contemporary culture. She engages in these values through an anthropocentric-based approach, reflecting on the division between the materiality of things and its absence.
Balesi’s artistic practice derives from the overall relationship of her artwork to the general instability associated to social change and structure. This ephemeral reality serves as a stimulus and a cause for her choice of materials used in a series of experimental work, in which she combines organic, inorganic, processed and unprocessed elements. The artist’s work, formulated within the recent years of the crisis, serves as an outcry in the vast, subversive sociopolitical and economic surrounding from which it originated.
Balesi’s Golden Aid was part of the Offspring Young Artists for the cultivation and facilitation of new generation artistic practice.*
ΤΟΛΜΗΡΟΣ = ADVENTUROUS
“Well begun is half done.” – Aristotle
Too fatigued the first night to venture far, I decide to explore what it has to offer. Vangelis, my driver, had pointed out several landmarks on the way, such as the traditional meat and fish market, for their authenticity and reflection of the heart of Greece, so it is in that direction that I head.
There, I am confronted with life, as it would be if I were to live here on a day-to-day basis. There are few tourists. It is mostly filled with residents from the area going about their business in a leisurely way. The hawkers are hawking and buyers are buying. In essence, it is exactly as everything should be.
My hunger and a later appointment have me rushing back to the hotel, but the sight, sounds and smell linger with long after and as I fall to sleep that night in soft comfort, I realise that this is the Greece I have long been seeking.
I arise early to explore the city. That being said, unlike most travellers to Greece, I have come for its art and architecture rather than its archeology and historical monuments.
The first day, I therefore venture to the B & M Foundation to see their permanent collection of paintings by Spyros Papaloukas, a Greek modernist painter. As a member of the ‘Generation of the 30s’, his riveting landscapes were and still are legendary for their revolutionary form and for having captured the beauty of Greece and simplicity of life as it once was.
At once I am mesmerized, for in his work is all that I longed to find and everything that I thought I would never see. There is the land of Plato, the countryside of Epicurus and Socrates. I spend an hour in that one room alone examining each brushstroke and the distinctive use of color.
In many ways, their effortlessness and clarity of his work remind me of that of the Fresh Hotel. Likewise, there is nothing ostentatious about it, its beauty has been created in the clean ‘brush strokes’ similar to those of Papaloukas.
The warmth of his work is reflected in the greeting I receive upon my return to the hotel. One feels immediately embraced into the closeness of the family bosom, so to speak. This is an especially wonderful feeling when, like I, one happens to find oneself in a new city.
I venture out to visit the Stavros Niarchos Foundation about which I have heard so much. After the gastronomic delights of the Fresh breakfast, I ask the reception to the closest metro station and set off.
Taking the trolley turns out to be the best advice given, as it gives me a chance to get a good overview of the city and the neighborhoods to which I have not yet been; in particular, those lying along the coast.
Both the gardens and residential houses are manicured and well kept and give a glimpse of another, quieter side of Athens that I might never have seen. It is a pleasant discovery.
One could say the same for the area’s newest addition, the Foundation. It is slightly daunting upon first approach, a monumental structure of stone and glass that towers over all the over structures lining the streets of this quiet residential neighborhood.
Finding its entry is also not easy, as the trolley stop lies a bit further than the main portico and there are no signs to lead one on. Nevertheless, once inside, I have to say that it was well worth the hunt.
Being relatively new, it has not yet been flooded by the hordes of crowds that are surely to come. This turns out to be a blessing as I take in the enormity of the grounds and exhibition surfaces. Although many parts are not yet open, there still remains quite a bit to see and do.
There is a park, labyrinth, outdoor gym, running track, western walk, water jets, sound garden, Mediterranean garden, the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera, the lighthouse, a canal replete with boat, the esplanade and the Great Lawn.
At first, I feel daunted by its sheer size. Then, based on a tip from the information desk, start off in the Spyros Louis room, where the first Marathon Winner’s Cup presented to Spyros Louis for his participation in the Olympic Games of 1896 is displayed.
Next, I head to the library and computer room, with its three story open hall and majestic wood and glass staircase dangling from the 2nd floor ceiling. The grounds outside are stunning as well, for the reflective glass face of the foundation and over the kilometer long canal extending down into the gardens and the esplanade.
My primary focus is the exhibition featuring Greek artists Yannis Moralis and Christos Kapralos, close friends in art as well as life. The gallery is located on the top floor of the main building and can only be accessed by an elevator that opens out onto a glass walkway offering a breathtaking 360 Degree view of the city. Like the wave of tourists in front of me, I stop to take it all in.
Even more draw dropping is the terrace outside featuring a display of Chirstos Kapralos’s bronze sculptures and the space-like floating staircase leading up to the Foundation’s rooftop surface.
It is far too chilly with the wind to remain outside long, so I move to the main exposé of the painter Yannis Moralis’s work. There is so much to take in that I tour it thrice, not merely once.
Before my trip to Athens and my stay at the Fresh Hotel, I had never thought about Greek art and that was my mistake, for it is in a realm of its own. The styles are similar to that of simultaneous artistic movements in the rest of Europe, yet with their own distinctive touch.
It is additionally one of the first times I can also not chose a favourite work, for they are all equally stunning and as I wander through the gardens later on, I think of all that I have learned.
Greece, at once so close and yet so distant, had for the first time revealed its most precious secrets to me in its budding avant-garde artistic movement, the warmth of the Greek people, and their kindness and tolerance. Furthermore, the astounding number of creative visionaries responsible for original works both in the past and present, like that of the Fresh Hotel.
It has been an eye-opening experience to say the least, and my stay at the Fresh the perfect beginning, as well as perfect, end of my own Homeric odyssey to Greece.
“Ever to Excel“ – Homer
· 24 hour front desk and concierge serve
· Multi-lingual staff
· Full bar and restaurant
· Breakfast, lunch and dinner à la carte
· Private dining
· Dietary food menus
· Sauna, gym and in-room massage (upon request)
· Yoga classes
· Outdoor swimming pool
· Private underground parking
· Convention centers for meetings and conferences
· Child and baby care
· Doctor on call
· Airport/ port transfer and limousine service
· Rental bikes
· Hand-crafted souvenirs by Greek designers
ΔΡΑΣΤΗΡΙΌΤΗΤΕΣ= WHAT TO DO
“Live hidden” – Epicurus
· Visit the Fresh Hotel Art Wall art gallery
· Take a morning Yoga class
· Treat yourself to an in-room massage
· Rent a bike
· Sunbathe / swim on the rooftop terrace
· Enjoy a spin and sauna at the gym
ΑΞΙΟΘΈΑΤΑ= WHERE TO GO
“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” – Plutarch
· B & M THEOCHARAKIS FOUNDATION (For food: food truck/Georgios Glinds)
· Stavros Niarchos Foundation
· The Fish and Meat market
· One day tour of Delphi
· Visit Cape Sounion
· Take a tour of the neighborhood for a taste of the real Athens
· Go on a one day cruise to Hydra
· Try bungee-jumping, paragliding and rafting for the more adventurous
ΦΑΓΗΤΌ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΤΌ= WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.” – Democritus
· Air Lounge Bar & Restaurant – for sophistication at home
· Ta Karamanlidika – typical small Greek restaurant offering local cuisine from different regions
· Restaurants in the Fish & Meat Market
· Aiolou Street for Bars
ΕΠΙΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ = WHO TO CONTACT
“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Diogenes
Sofokleous 26, Athina 105 52, Greece
+30 21 0524 8511
ArtWall Project Space
26 Sofokleous Str., 10552, Athens, Greece
Mrs. Fotini Kapiris
*Description from the Golden Aid exhibition at ArtWall Athens, Greece