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As I drove southeast from central Athens, the hustle and bustle of Greece’s famously busy capital started to fade away. Not long before, I was shoulder to shoulder with packs of tourists, sweating my way along the pedestrian streets in the Plaka neighborhood, under the shadow of the Acropolis of Athens. But less than half an hour later, I was on a private peninsula — one fringed with white-sand beaches and covered with lines of green pine trees — getting ready to relax in luxury while surrounded on three sides by the sea.
The Astir Palace in the neighborhood of Vouliagmeni was once an illustrious place, serving as the prime vacation destination for Greece’s rich and famous, who, in the hotel’s heyday in the 1960s, spent sunny days in its oceanfront villas. The property was home to world leaders, magnates and movie stars, from Frank Sinatra and Jane Fonda to Brigitte Bardot, who gave photographers a thrill as she strode across the sand in her pink bikini.
Inevitably wilting over time, the resort was eventually purchased by a new ownership group. It was then closed down in 2016 for three years; hundreds of millions of dollars later, the 75-acre resort reopened as a Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts property in late March this year.
I’ve stayed here twice — when the hotel was on the wane, not long before the closure, and then soon after its revitalization as the 300-room Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens. Guestrooms are now split into two buildings, Arion and Nafiska. I exited my taxi and approached the latter, finding it almost completely unrecognizable. The lobby had been completely rebuilt, and the entrance was moved to showcase another new feature: a labyrinthine, waterfront pool.
I spent sunny afternoons strolling along more than 1,000 feet of oceanfront boardwalk, walking a bit of the expanded pier, which will eventually serve as a jumping off point for guests to take daytrips to nearby islands. I tried out each of Four Seasons Astir Palace’s three private beaches. I also enjoyed dinner at on-site restaurant Pelagos, which serves the freshest catches of the day, cooked on a wood-fired grill, in a space styled to evoke a 1960s-era yacht — complete with ropes, old leather and chrome.
What’s more, the renovation added a number of features that are essentially, irrevocably Greek. All the new materials for building and furniture were sourced in Greece (the renovation reportedly caused a minor marble shortage in the country). I don’t smoke, but I spent a little time swilling Metaxa, a Greek, family-distilled spirit similar to cognac, in a cigar lounge named in honor of a former, frequent guest, Aristotle Onassis, who was a famous Greek shipping magnate. (The property has a barrel of Metaxa, from the 1920s, on hand.)
Gardens grow herbs — rosemary, thyme, lavender — that chefs use in the kitchens. And I tucked into mezzes and meatballs at Taverna 37, the hotel’s restaurant that’s set right on the boardwalk and serves up all-time favorite Greek dishes.
Later, at the spa, I enjoyed a massage in a room overlooking the sea. Here, therapists are trained in the methods of ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and his philosophy of holistic health.
I had planned on exploring more of Vouliagmani, the surrounding neighborhood. On previous visits to the area, I had dined at sidewalk cafes and tapped my foot at the upscale, outdoor nightclubs that draw the city’s young and fabulous to party here until dawn. Everything is just a five-minute drive away.
Instead, I took some time to read in a poolside cabana, then relax on the cushy outdoor couch — part of my spacious patio in the Nafiska building (all Nafiska rooms have one) — and the next day moved to one of the hotel’s 61 renovated villas.
Sitting by my own private villa pool, I felt a long way from the crush of Plaka. And I know that I’m not Aristotle Onassis, but, sipping a little more Metaxa while overlooking the Aegean, I started to feel a little like him.
The DetailsFour Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athenswww.fourseasons.com/athens