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Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for at least 7,000 years. I most enjoy the fall season in Greece, as the city is perhaps less crowded and one sees the true, hospitable and open, Athenian. It would be on a seasonably warm mid-October night that I would arrive in Athens historic center, at the comfortable Herodion Hotel, my digs for a four day sojourn in the city of my infancy and many summer visits. Upon arrival, I’m greeted at the front desk by an engaging young man whose name I catch as Grigoris. He immediately knows my name. “Welcome to the Herodion Hotel, Mr Kontis.” “We have been expecting you.” I’m stunned. Rarely am I greeted in such a professional manner. I would quickly learn that the key to success at this impressive property is a brand of hospitality that can only be called, “going the extra mile,” and making the guest feel right at home.
The stunning Parthenon view from the rooftop desk
The perfect location to visit the new Acropolis museum
A member of the Warwick International Hotel group, the Herodion could not have a better location in Athens. Conveniently located adjacent to the Acropolis and next to the new Acropolis museum, steps from the old town, Plaka district, and a mere 15-minute walk to the hustle and bustle of busy Syntagma Square and parliament. 90 contemporary and elegant rooms, some complete with Acropolis views. The perfect hotel for both business and leisure travel. Discreet luxury in a hidden Athens that not many visitors will ever experience.
The next morning, I wake up in my spacious room, and head to the breakfast area located in the lobby where I am greeted by the Herodion’s dapper sales manager, Panos Zismatos. Perhaps no one personifies the concept of working for a “family hotel” as much as Mr. Zismatos, with a lifeline and pulse to the property. I ask Zismatos, who has been with the Herodion since 1981, starting as a front desk employee and later working his way up to reservations and finally to his present day position as sales manager, what makes the property run so seamlessly? The ever so gracious hospitality veteran, Zismatos informs me, “we have an amazing group of people working here at the hotel.” “Each and every person working at the hotel is as important as the next.”
Later that same day I meet the hotel’s matriarch, the charismatic, Katia Tsimidopoulos. Katia and Anastasia Tsimidopoulos are sisters and the owners of this family business established by their father Michalis Tsimidopoulos in 1976. Like many Greeks, the story is a tale of travel and adventure for Tsimidopoulos. Having been born and raised in the east African nation of Burundi, the sisters came to Athens in 1976 with their parents.
I crave to learn more about this finely run property. I ask Mrs. Tsimidopoulos how she classifies her stunning hotel. “I do not particularly care for the words boutique hotel.” “We are a lifestyle brand hotel.” I further ask Tsimidopoulos if she has any formal training in the hospitality industry. As it turns out the reflective Tsimidopoulos informs me that she is Swiss trained at the Centre International de Glion, and later studied hospitality administration management at Florida International University. She continues, “In a sense there are two schools of hotel management philosophy, the Swiss and the Europeans are perhaps more service-oriented, and in U.S. they teach standards and techniques in quality control.” I leave our meeting satisfied that I have discovered the true meaning of a successful marriage in hospitality. Treating her employees like family truly seems to be a Tsimidopoulos family recipe for success. The vanguard director, Tsimidopoulos informs me, “we continued to do well even as Athens was not in the greatest financial shape, but I believe that the worse times are behind us now.” “Things seem to be recovering in Athens.”
As I spend more time observing this breathtaking property, I am curious to delve further into the staff, who are at the forefront of why everything seems to run so seamlessly at the Herodion. I return to the front desk where the gracious young man working the night shift, who greeted me upon my arrival is busy at work. Grigoris Andrianopoulos , perhaps best personifies the type of employee or “family member” that Tsimidopoulos brings on board. To get a take on the property from one of the many “team players,” I ask the young man, who I learn is from Kalamata in Greece’s, Peloponnese region if he could tell me more about his experiences working at the Herodion. Andrianopoulos informs me, “I have been with the hotel for almost two years now where I continue to learn new things every day.” Continuing further, the young front desk team player informs me, “Yes, I have worked at other properties, but this is different.” “Here we are a family and everyone gets along and is approachable.” I further ask the obtainable young man his biggest challenge. “Most challenging is always dealing with so many different types of people, but this is what also makes my job most enjoyable.” “When the guest is satisfied, it gives me a good feeling.” “Most exciting for me is seeing repeat guests, and when they remember my name, I’m most honored.” Just another one of the hospitality gems hired by Tsimidopoulos.
The crown jewel of this awe-inspiring property is the roof top, Point A restaurant. Complete with stunning views of the Parthenon and the new Acropolis Museum. The space is elegant, yet cozy in a sophisticated , but laid-back atmosphere. The deck was renovated in 2006 by industrial engineer Michael Anastiassiades. Point A offers diners a truly unique al fresco culinary experience that perhaps no other Athens hotel can mirror.
Salmon in smoked eggplant with citrus sauce and ginger
Plated to perfection – a Greek fusion of hand crafted unique dishes
Do not expect your typical Greek meal at Point A, where chef Manolis Mavrigiannakis, brings the flavors of his native Crete, mixing culinary styles from throughout Greece to create mouth-watering Greek meals fit for a Greek god. The dining experience is next to none, in an outdoor setting complete with Parthenon views. Truly Mediterranean with traditional Greek recipes perfectly united into a fusion, from throughout the regions of Greece. Expect an epicurean feast fit for Alexander The Great. Some of the hedonistic delights include: fried cod and beet root aioli salad, salmon in smoked eggplant in a sauce of citrus and ginger, a northern Greek recipe of mussels with saffron of Kozani, Fava from Santorini with octopus confit in Vinosanto wine.
After dinner I meet with lead mixologist Lefteris Sofantzis, who concocts his specialty drink menu. I try his famous ‘MandaGaskar The King.’ A blending of local Greek mastic liquor, mandarin, lime, passion fruit, topped with chocolate bitters. Sofantzis is also a connoisseur of fine Greek wines. I ask for a recommendation. Sofantzis endorses the Synoro Skoura 2008. As Sofantzis points out, “a red wine for special moments and exquisite gastronomic occasions.” “Plush and gentle, but strong and full simultaneously.” Sofantzis continues, “Synoro is for wine lovers with knowledge, aesthetics and opinion.”
Later I drink, laugh, and learn more about the Herodion and about Athens nightlife from bartender Nikos Diamantopoulos. The charismatic Athenian has worked for the property for two years, and once again, I am made to feel right at home. I ask the jovial and witty Diamantopoulos, who could bring his talents anywhere, why the Herodion? He informs me, “This is now home to me.” “Look at the view one has of the Parthenon in the background.” “I get to meet people from all the over the world.” “Why would I want to work anywhere else.”
At the end of my four day sojourn in the city of antiquity I leave refreshed. Athens is best traveled on foot. I always returned from long days of exploration knowing that I was staying with family. I was returning to my “home away from home” in Athens. Meandering through its maze like streets, sightseeing a past ancient world and shopping for treasures, knowing that the Herodion Hotel was there to provide me the perfect escape in an art, lifestyle atmosphere.
The recipe for a successful city break in Athens begins with your stay at the Herodion Hotel.