In our latest Travel Greece article Mark Browne visited Vouliagmeni on the Athenian Riviera for some relaxation therapy.
Also known as the ‘Apollo Coast’, the Athens or Athenian Riviera is the name affectionately given to the coastal region stretching from the southern suburbs of Athens to Cape Sounio, the southernmost point of the region of Attica. It comprises several distinct areas, sharing a respective level of proximity to the teeming city of Athens and a coastal aspect, but each with their own character and some distinctive attractions. Vouliagmeni was the part of the riviera selected as the base for our visit.
An ideal place to relax, the coast is lined with fully-serviced sandy beaches lapped by the clear waters of the Aegean sea, while its luxury hotels also feature private outdoor pools for those who prefer to enjoy the benefits of poolside relaxation in the local sunny climate. Visitors can enjoy the area in its own right or use it as a base to explore the buzzing city of Athens, whose city centre is less than an hour’s trip away but whose packed streets and general clamour seem worlds away from the calm of this coastal oasis.
Greece is of course famous for its antiquities, and no trip would be fully complete without some related visits. However, while the renowned attractions of the Acropolis and the multiple historical offerings of central Athens are not far off, there are also interesting options for visitors closer at hand without the need to venture into the city. Cape Sounion is the southernmost tip of greater Athens and the spot where the ancient Greeks built the Temple of Poseidon in honour of the god of the sea. Situated on a lofty rocky headland overlooking the Saronic Gulf, it was built during the years 444–440 BC.
It is one of the major monuments of the Golden Age of Athens, making it well worth a visit in any event, and the fact that it affords a reason for a coastal tour far from any urban sprawl is an added bonus. Other cultural highlights in the area include the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, a large public space including the Greek National opera and national library, as well as a park spanning 21 hectares, making it the largest green space in Athens.
One of the main, and indeed unique attractions of Vouliagmeni is the lake of that name. Formed over 2,000 years ago following the collapse of a cavern in an earthquake, this small lake is framed by the surrounding Mount Hymettus. It has unique environmental features including warm water feeding in through underground channels and comprises a mix of sea and fresh water. The lake has functioned as a spa since the 19th century due to its rich content in hydrogen sulphide. It also features live ‘nibble fish” which tend to bathers enjoying its waters, but those wary of immersion can still enjoy the views and therapeutic ambience from the lakeside restaurant and recliners.
For those who prefer retail therapy as their form of relaxation and distraction, the adjacent coastal suburb of Glyfada offers a fantastic selection of options, as well as a host of bars and restaurants. Occasionally referred to as the ‘Marbella of Athens’, it is a lively spot and retains an Americanized atmosphere that endures from its role as host to a nearby American airbase until the 1990s.
The whole area is replete with an impressive array of dining choices. Vouliagmeni in particular hosts a great selection of chic seafront restaurants serving top quality fresh seafood with the added pleasure of a view across the water, facing the setting sun. It is certainly a pleasure to stroll under the pine trees lining the coastal strip, reviewing the menus on display, and deciding which of the alluring venues to select for lunch or dinner.
The marinas that dot the riviera can also provide an interesting focus for visitors. Boat rentals are available for day or half-day trips? allowing further exploration of the coast and affording views from the seaward side during a nautical tour.
Where to stay
The Athens Riviera has come to be well-served with hotels over the years and its attractions have drawn numerous celebrities wishing to experience its charms, ensuring plenty of high quality accommodation. However, among these the five-star Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso is certainly one of the finest. Boasting all the features one would expect of a hotel of this calibre, it is ideally located in its own gardens on a quiet seafront road in Vouliagmeni, with direct private beach access. The balconies from its rooms afford magnificent views over the Saronic Gulf as well as across the nearby pine wooded headlands framing the southern limit to this bay.
The hotel boasts one of the largest spas in Greece as well as the only thalassotherapy centre in the region. Those interested in the therapeutic powers of Lake Vouliagmeni may well find this a natural choice for accompanying treatments during their stay. The hotel is also within walkable distance to the lake along the pleasant tree-lined shorefront and its quiet location in Vouliagmeni makes it an ideal base for walking and cycling as well as swimming in the crystal waters of the gulf lapping its beach.
How to get there
Vouliagmeni is only 25 minutes from Athens international airport – the short transfer makes it ideal as a destination either for a short holiday break or for those wishing to rest a while in the vicinity of the airport before or after a long flight. However, it is also in close proximity to Athens city centre – about 30 minutes by taxi. The city can also be reached by public transport, including directly by bus or by metro or tram line from the nearby suburb of Glyfada. The tram runs right the length of the coastal suburbs of the Riviera before snaking its way inland through the city, affording travellers fine views over the gulf and a tour of much of the Athenian Riviera at a budget price. However the ‘Grey line’ open-topped tourist bus route also passes through the area, and with unlimited stop offs on a single daily ticket this may be an ideal choice for visitors wishing to explore at their leisure over the course of a full day’s outing.
In summary – a lovely place to visit, whether as a stop-off on a longer tour of Greece or as a destination in its own right for a short relaxation break.
Mark Browne was a guest of the Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso.