Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
Last spring, I enjoyed a sublime holiday in Greece. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens (today)
- Review: PHENOMENAL Amanzoe, Peloponnese
- Review: Kivotos Mykonos Hotel, Mykonos
- Review: Canaves Oia Luxury Suites, Santorini
- Review: Grace Santorini
Today (August 8, 2018): Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens.
- Location: Google maps
- Address: 1, Syntagma Square, Vasileos Georgiou A str, Athina 105 64, Greece
- Hotel website: Hotel Grande Bretagne
- Tip: get free VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso
The Hotel Grande Bretagne, a historic landmark situated in the very heart of Athens and established in 1874, offers breathtaking views of the famed Acropolis and Parthenon from its rooftop. This palatial hotel, featuring opulent artwork and precious antiques, has hosted esteemed personalities and heads of states who have experienced the renowned Royal Suite as well as the exclusive butler service. The multi-national guests of this majestic property enjoy the meticulous attention to detail of all the 320 rooms & suites through the perfect matching of old-world elegance with state-of-the-art facilities. All accommodations feature sumptuous fabrics, original artwork and restored antiques from Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Hotel facilities include two distinctive restaurants, two swimming pools (one indoor, one outdoor), a fully equipped gym and the multi-awarded Grande Bretagne ESPA Spa.
Hotel Grande Bretagne features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels & resorts in Greece.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Greece with my online Greece travel guide ***
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Hotel Grande Bretagne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, enjoys a central location right off Syntagma Square, the beating heart of Athens. The five-star property stands across the old royal palace which now houses the Parliament and where you can observe the changing of the guard. Most tourist attractions are nearby, including the National Gardens known as the former pleasure grounds of Queen Amalia, and the Acropolis which is about 20 minutes away on foot. There’s also an underground station just outside the hotel from where you can catch a direct train to the airport (travel time 40 minutes).
- The hotel’s intriguing history started in 1842, when it was built as a house for a man named Antonis Dimitriou, a wealthy Greek from the island of Limnos. A few years later, the house went to the Clados family and eventually became the French Architectural School. In 1874 it was bought by Efstathios Lampsas, who restored the residence and converted it into a luxury hotel known under its current name. By 1888, the hotel had electricity installed and it was also the first building in Greece to be equipped with airco. In 1896 the hotel became famous by hosting the foreign athletes and the Olympic Committee of the first modern Olympic Games. During the second world war it was the German command central, and later of the English. In 2003, Hotel Grande Bretagne underwent a €112-million renovation to restore it to its former glory.
- Although the Hotel Grande Bretagne is now outfitted with all modern amenities you can think of, the property has successfully retained most of its period décor behind the neoclassical façade. This is especially true in the majestic, oppulent and marble-clad lobby. The oversized space with crown molded ceilings, Parthenon-esque pillars and mosaic floors features a separate reception and concierge desk with a number of seating areas consisting of plush Victorian chairs and couches. It connects to the hotel’s piece de resistance, the Winter Garden, a beautiful atrium space under a stained-glass ceiling where potted palms add a whimsical touch to the décor. The dark corridors and stairways are lined with antique fixtures and paintings in gilded frames taking you on a fascinating journey through the history of Athens.
- Hotel Grande Bretagne features 320 plush rooms and suites. The rooms are divided into classic and deluxe rooms based on the view (classic rooms look out onto a courtyard, while deluxe rooms enjoy more open street views). The suites come in seven different types, including one Presidential and one Royal Suite if money is no issue. During my visit, I stayed in a ‘modest’ deluxe room which – although on the small side – featured a smart layout with enough space for a mini bar, working desk, and closet. The room had a small balcony with two seats and views of the Greek Parliament, although one had to ask a key to the staff to open the door to the balcony. The green-marble bathroom featured a waterfall showerhead, one sink, a bathtub, and high-end toiletries from Gilchrist & Soames.
- The hotel has two restaurants, both offering excellent cuisine. A beautiful extension of the hotel’s historic lobby, the elegant Winter Garden is the more casual of the two dining options, serving European breakfast, light lunch, high tea and dinner accompanied by live piano music. The second dining venue is the stunning rooftop restaurant on the 8th floor, called GB Rooftop, offering uninterrupted views of the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill and the Parliament. In the morning, the GB Rooftop offers an extensive buffet to guests entitled to complimentary breakfast, while in the evening it is a picture perfect setting for romantic fine dining. The food at GB Rooftop is absolutely to-die-for and I highly recommend a dinner here, even when you are not staying at the hotel (but make sure to request a table in the first row on the terrace, since the other tables don’t enjoy a view at all).
- Sitting like a aquamarine-colored gem in the midst of the urban landscape, the hotel’s outdoor rooftop pool on the 7th floor is an idyllic spot to enjoy some relaxation in the sun without having to travel very far. In the warmer months, the adjacent pool bar offers refreshing cocktails, fresh fruit juices, and soft drinks set amidst a profusion of fragrant flowers and Cyprus trees. Chaise lounges and tables are scattered around the pool’s perimeter, while sun umbrellas provide welcome shade throughout the day. The pool is heated, so you can enjoy a swim even in the cooler autumn and spring months (the pool is open from April to October).
- The hotel features an outstanding spa facility in the basement below the Winter Garden. The spacious, award-winning spa attracts both hotel and external guests thanks to its world-class (but pricy) Ayurvedic-inspired treatments that blend traditional foot baths, warm oils, and relaxing point massage to evoke a deep state of harmony. The wellness center features several facilities such as thermal and herbal steam rooms, a mud chamber, an ice fountain, hair salon, barber shop, a fully equipped gym, and a stylish, 13 m (42 ft) long indoor pool whose sleek design evokes the classic feeling of the ancient baths of Rome.
- Not sure if this is a good thing (I am a non-smoker), but the hotel features the most up to date cigar bar in town. The sophisticated space is located on the first floor in the inner garden of the hotel and offers a nice colonial setting if you a are a fan of fine cigars (including Cuban cigars), wines, and/or liquors. Amongst others, the high level service includes cutting and lighting of cigars and their marriage with drinks.
- The legendary Grande Bretagne prides itself on its stellar service. From the liveried doormen to the sommeliers and the hotel maids to the front desk managers, service is phenomenal, classy and impeccable. A special mention has to be given to the concierge, who will contact you in advance of your stay to share recommendations and make reservations. Guests on the sixth and seventh floors also get a 24-hour butler service.
- Hollywood movie stars, royals and business executives have been choosing the hotel as their temporary residence in Athens for decades, while television correspondents from around the world regularly use its balconies facing the Greek parliament for live reports. Among the famous guests who have graced Grande Bretagne’s rooms are Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor, Sting, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Bing Crosby, Elia Kazan, Laurence Olivier, Henry Fonda and Umberto Eco.
- The property is managed by the ‘The Luxury Collection‘, a brand within the Starwood hotel chain, now acquired by Marriott. Most hotels in The Luxury Collection are smaller establishments in converted palaces or restored historic hotels. The Luxury Collection label not only guarantees an excellent product, but also means you can earn and/or redeem SPG Starpoints or Marriott Rewards points for any upcoming stay at the property.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Since 1842 the Hotel Grande Bretagne has been a landmark luxurious retreat in Greece’s capital, and it’s clear that tradition is still going strong. The property’s highlight is the GB rooftop restaurant: if you are looking for a dinner with the best view of the Acropolis this is the place to go! However, it’s not perfect and here’s what you need to know before considering this hotel:
- This is one of the oldest hotels in the Greek capital. Albeit meticulously maintained, the Grand Dame of Athens does show her age and is a little tired in certain areas. Also, the decor is classic, so if you prefer an airy and modern design, you may want to stay elsewhere (e.g. New Hotel or Fresh Hotel).
- Albeit the overall service was phenomenal, I did encounter a few service issues at check-in and check-out. I arrived at 3pm – which is the regular check-in time – but I had to wait until 4 pm before the room became available (not a good first impression). Worse was the issue I encountered at check-out. I had to leave the hotel very early in the morning to catch a ferry to Mykonos (5.45 am). The night before, the concierge informed me that catching a taxi would be no problem at that time. I was also offered the option of a transfer with the hotel car at 45 euros. I choose the latter since I wanted to be sure that a car would be available. At check out, those 45 euros had become 55 euros (which I did not like at all, but I did not want to get into a discussion and miss my ferry). I was even more disappointed that the transfer was done, not by a hotel car (there was no hotel car) but by a yellow city cab who was waiting in front of the hotel (for your information: the taxi fare from the hotel to the ferry is around 10 euros). I complained to the hotel afterwards, and they refunded the transfer. I believe it is bad practice to charge premium rates for private hotel transfers that are operated by local cabs.
- The rooms are small and dark, and the lowest room categories (classic rooms) don’t come with a view as they look out onto the hotel’s courtyard.
- The hotel has the reputation of being the most exclusive hotel in Athens and consequently charges high rates that are not always in line with the overall experience (especially when you end up in a room with no view). At the moment, there’s not a lot of competition in Athens, but with the new Grand Hyatt Athens and the soon-to-open Four Seasons Athens, this property will have to up it’s game to compete and justify the high rates.
- The hotel is located above a busy main road and intersection and traffic noise occasionally penetrates the rooms, especially during the day, so this is something to be aware of if you are a light sleeper.
- As mentioned above, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant offers a terrific view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon temple, but keep in mind that only those seated on the few tables in the first row of the restaurant while dine with this iconic vista, as the other tables don’t come with a view. So to avoid any disappointment, make sure to book or request a front row table.
- The hotel is very popular with cruise line passengers so it can get very crowed with often long lines during check-in and check-out, an excruciating process you don’t want to deal with after a long haul flight.
- The hotel is also very popular with head of states and politicians, given that it is just across the street from the Parliament. When a VIP guest is staying in the hotel, the security at the entrance doors is stepped up, and you have to pass via metal detectors and send your carry-on items through a machine that X-rays the contents each time you enter the hotel (similar to an airport), which can be a slightly annoying event as I experienced myself.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 7/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 7/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 8/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 7/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8,2/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Hotel Grande Bretagne (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one complimentary à la carte lunch for two).
- Save money: book your room with an additional 20% off making use of a Best Rate Guarantee.
- Save money: Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG) with Gold or Platinum status are well treated, with – amongst other benefits – free high-speed WiFi, complementary room upgrade (when available), early check-in or late check-out (when available), and free breakfast (SPG platinum). Read here my review of the SPG program (with pros & cons).
- Room tip: If you are a light sleeper, you should book a room facing the courtyard to avoid traffic noise. If you prefer a view, you should request a room which overlooks the Parliament or Syntagma Square. The higher floor rooms on Syntagma Square also offer an iconic panorama of the Acropolis but they are more expensive.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best times to visit Athens are spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), when the weather is nice, mild and sunny. In addition, crowds are thinner at these times and hotel and airfare deals are easier to come by than in summer. Though chilly, Athens’ winters are relatively mild and dry, thanks in part to Greece’s Mediterranean location, and can also be a nice time for a city trip. Summer is from June through August, and brings intolerable heat, hordes of tourists, and high room rates to the Greek capital, so exploring town is both uncomfortable and expensive during this time.
HOW TO GET THERE
Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) is an approximate 45-minute drive away from the hotel. Click here for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to the Greek capital. Alternatively, you can also take Line 3 from the airport to Syntagma Station , which also takes 45 minutes (the hotel is directly opposite the train station entrance).
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Great location and decent food, but not much else going for this hotel – we’ll past it’s prime but pretentious, crowded, tired space. Will give a try to GH instead until FS opens