What is the Athens Riviera all about? What is its face, what is its character? If anybody understands, please, let me know – I have gotten too confused.
It boasts large avenues with palm trees and marinas for luxury boats on one side, and outdoor vendors selling cotton candy like in old-school Greek films on the other.
Beaches requiring an entrance fee with umbrellas and sunbeds lie adjacent to popular beaches for Sunday excursions with friends.
On one hand you have the cabins on Astir and Asteras, two famous historical Athenian beaches, and on the other beer, backgammon, and a dressed table with kofta meatballs for the family to enjoy.
The strange thing about these opposite traits is that they do not each belong to a specific geographic “zone”: They are all mixed, one next to the other.
The place to best grasp the extent of the riviera’s multiculturalism is the Lemos peninsula in Vouliagmeni which gathers all of Athens’ different “tribes.”
You will see a businessman in a suit parking his expensive car next to a nature-loving explorer wearing shorts and sneakers who is walking past a group of students in bathing suits who are playing music sat on the rocks.
This mixture of people, ages, social classes and cultural influences gives me the impression that the Athens Riviera contains something deeply Greek.
The Riviera concentrates the habits acquired by Athenians in the last 50 years. It is a piece of the city that holds something for everyone and includes everybody.
Our walking journey below comprises 11 selected stops starting from Glyfada and ending at Anavyssos: Of course, we could not stop at every interesting point – there are so many on the riviera that you could write a whole book about it.
1. Glyfada: Archelon Sea Turtle Rescue Center
“We have to keep quiet, because the turtles hear our voices 20 times louder than we do,” says Katerina Papagiannopoulou, public relations officer at Archelon Sea Turtle Rescue Center (3rd Glyfada Marina, tel. +30 210.898.2600), which was founded for the rescue, care and release of wounded or sick marine turtles, and to inform and sensitize visitors.
Right now, there are around 15 turtles recovering in tanks at the center; they lift their heads out of the water every so often for a breath of fresh air.
The center is worth the detour to see these beautiful, ancient reptiles from up close – yes, turtles are neither mammals nor amphibians.
Learn about how they hatch on the sandy beaches of Kyparissia, Zakynthos and northern Crete, and how they must cross the distance that separates them from the sea on their own in order to strengthen their fins – so if you ever see baby turtles on the sand, do not carry them to the water. You can support them by buying a souvenir from the gift shop or by “adopting” a turtle.
2. Glyfada: A dip in Asteria
Asteria beach in Glyfada (entrance: 6 euros on weekdays and 8 euros on weekends) maintains a timeless beauty and attracts a faithful crowd of young people. But that’s not it: Along the beach you will find places like Balux Café–The House Project (tel. +30 210.898.3577, baluxcafe.com), which is hosted in a big house, has a warm atmosphere and is decorated with great imagination.
The varied menu comprises Mediterranean dishes, pizza, sushi, wine, signature cocktails and more. We tried the ice summer cappuccino.
3. Voula: Notos
Notos (12 Konstantinos Karamanlis Avenue, notos-cafe.gr) is a cozy and pleasant café/bar/restaurant by the sea with a fully loaded menu (hot drinks, ice cream, omelets, platters, wine).
The surrounding area, which consists in two beaches and a strip of grass, was named after it. This seaside park, comprising a playground, a lawn, small palm trees and paths, attracts Athenians who come here to lay their towels on the ground for a sunbathing session or to unfold their camping tables for a picnic.
Here, you get a taste of the riviera without having to leave Athens.
4. Voula: Ipirotissa
Ipirotissa (32 Varis Koropiou Avenue, tel. +30 210.895.3929, ipirotissa.gr) combines a bakery, patisserie and deli; it is the best place to get a revitalizing snack before the sea (muffin or apple pie) or for a quick meal after (pasta salad, gazpacho). Aside from the food served here, you will find fine products to bring home or to buy as gifts – such as biscuits, cheese, pasta, extra virgin oil, a variety of organic products and premium spirits.
5. Kavouri: Walking Paths
At the lifeguard tower, you will distinctly see remains of Kavouri’s ancient carriage road, which connected the municipality of Alon Aexonidon to the coastal front and which, according to findings, was used during the 4th century BC.
It is the unusable path of the two that is found at Megalo Kavouri.
The other one is the modern path, that lends itself to a family stroll or a bike ride and has benches on which you can sit whenever you get tired.
Walking along the side closer to the sea you get a view of the bunker-islet. From the opposite side, which follows the grove, you will get smells from aromatic bushes mixed with those of the mezzes eaten by Sunday vacationers.
6. Vouliagmeni: chapels
The riviera has unexpectedly beautiful churches. In Vouliagmeni, you will find two unique chapels: That of St George Kavouri, a white, simple construction with curves and arches, which calms you down just by looking at it and has a paved area in front with pines, benches and lamp posts.
The second one is that of St Nicholas at Vouliagmeni, a small church, hand built entirely in 1947 by painter/sculptor Nikos Xenos – according to a marble inscription. The building is quite eccentric; made with stones and pebbles, with marble representations, fish, sailboats, and anchors, it seems to combine Byzantine architecture with popular aesthetics.
When you look at it, you may think that it could have been built by one of Theophilos’ students.
7. Vouliagmeni: ice cream
Aqua Marina (15 Aghios Panteleimonas, tel. +30 210.896.1214) is a landmark for those with a sweet tooth: although it serves meals, it is more famous for its sweets, which include Chicago or Black Venus ice cream, viennoiseries and homemade whipped cream.
Created by Epirote Vassilis Giogas, it is a timeless hangout for residents of the southern suburbs, which has enjoyed great moments of glory and still holds a piece of the old Vouliagmeni glamour.
8. Lake Vouliagmeni
Lake Vouliagmeni (entrance: 15 euros on weekdays and 18 euros on weekends) has a reputation of attracting only elderly swimmers who perform slow breaststrokes in its brackish waters, taking advantage of the healing properties of the underground springs that supply it.
In reality, people of all ages come to the lake, although the younger ones are mostly foreigners.
This year, with Covid-19 in the foreground, visits have significantly dropped, and those in charge seem to have taken the effort to reduce the spread of the virus seriously: upon entering, visitors have their temperature taken and are given a form to fill with their details in order to keep track of people who enter the facility.
Additionally, the lake recently received Covid Shield certification from TÜV Austria Hellas, which guarantees that preventive measures are being followed.
9. Vari: Outdoor Cinema
To reach Cine Ria (8 Afroditis & Vari, tel. +30 210.897.0844, cineria.gr), you must pass through Limanakia, with the legendary Lefteris’ Canteen (formerly Jo’s Canteen), which has fed entire generations, Island club and restaurant and Varkiza Square.
The name Cine Ria comes from Sotiria, the owner’s wife; he opened the cinema in 1963 and ran it with his sons, as his grandson Sotiris explains. Cine Ria is a warm family place, with clients who live in the neighborhood, as well as clients from all over Athens.
Projections include “European cinema, French comedies, Spanish thrillers” as well as “kid’s movies and blockbusters.” One of the best assets is a small bar named Bobina, located outside, that feeds spectators as well as “outside” clients with cocktails inspired by good – and mainly Hollywood – cinema.
Do you enjoy cognac, bitter almond and Ingrid Bergman? Try the Casablanca cocktail. We prefer rum, lime, and Hitchcock, so we ordered a spicy Vertigo.
10. Sunset at Saronida
Between Lagonisi and Anavyssos there is a place named “Mountain Peak.” If your car is powerful enough, you will almost reach the top, just like us – we arrived at a relatively high point where we enjoyed the calm and the sunset with a view of the horizon and the Arsida islet, located opposite the small bays of Anavyssos.
11. Ouzo sipping at Anavyssos
Shortly after Saronida you will find Mavro Lithari beach, loved by Athenians; on Sundays, it is usually filled with people.
The beach is quite long, has sand and small pebbles, free umbrellas and sunbeds, two beach bars with backgammon players, swings, and a 1980s carelessness in the air, which stands in stark contrast to the strict 2020 pandemic regime.
Close to Lithari, you will find Lavraki (tel. +30 229.105.5171), a hangout for fish eaters, with mezzes to choose from on a tray (fava, tarama, tzatziki, avocado), seafood and a selection of ouzo and tsipouro.