Glamorous Greece: Inside the Athenian Riviera, which is rediscovering its seductive past – with the help of some incredible (but pricey) hotels

In a scene worthy of the TV series Succession, a jet-black helicopter flutters across the sky to land on the deck of a gleaming white superyacht aptly named Dreams. Owned by Greek shipping billionaire George Prokopiou, the 350ft vessel is often seen anchored off Glyfada, a beach at the heart of the Athenian Riviera.

While many of us are drawn to Greece’s myriad islands, this 40-mile strip of pines and sand – stretching south from Piraeus to Cape Sounion – offers a different but equally enticing proposition.

These shores are no stranger to glamour. In the early 1960s, what was then known as Asteria, the Greek word for ‘star’, attracted another local shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, who would come here with American-born Greek soprano Maria Callas.

Today, the Athenian Riviera is having a renaissance that was ignited four years ago with the debut of the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel in Vouliagmeni. This upgraded and enlarged an elite getaway dating from 1959.

Now there is a fresh, post-pandemic energy as new hotspots open this summer.

Nigel Tisdall says that the Athenian Riviera, a 40-mile coastal stretch of land, is having a ‘renaissance’

Ancient and modern: Nigel checks into the One&Only Aesthesis resort on Glyfada beach

Ancient and modern: Nigel checks into the One&Only Aesthesis resort on Glyfada beach

Further north, Ellinikon, the site of Athens’ old airport, is the largest urban regeneration project in Europe. Driving past the construction site, I can see why this has been dubbed ‘Dubai-on-the-Med’.

On completion, it will feature the 650ft residential Riviera Tower, which will be the tallest building in Greece, along with a 400-berth marina, casino, coastal park and three hotels, including one by Mandarin Oriental. While that glittering dawn is some years off, the wealth, beauty and high society that defines any successful riviera is already much in evidence at the One&Only Aesthesis resort on Glyfada beach.

Here, low-rise bungalows and residences with mid-century interiors come framed in superb gardens planted with wildflowers and desert grasses. Elegant hosts in pale peppermint uniforms offer WhatsApp-driven butler service, while three pools are worthy of a Slim Aarons’ photoshoot.

Nigel reveals that nightly rates in summer at One&Only Aesthesis start at £1,613

Nigel reveals that nightly rates in summer at One&Only Aesthesis start at £1,613

Nigel recalls leaping from a speedboat into the 'bewitching blue sea'

Nigel recalls leaping from a speedboat into the ‘bewitching blue sea’

If there are grumbles, it would be the lack of privacy for some rooms and the shallow water – you need to wade a long way out for a proper swim.

So who checks into an ultra-luxurious resort where nightly rates in summer start at £1,613? ‘We get many from the UK,’ says general manager Yann Gillet, who worked in Cannes on the French Riviera.

After nearly a decade of austerity and reforms, the Greek economy is picking up with tourism arrivals expected to hit a record high this year. Affluent Athenians are flocking here to enjoy a £111-a-head Sunday brunch featuring live music and a bountiful buffet of oysters, charcoal-grilled lamb and almond cake drizzled with honey. The Greek capital is just a 30-minute drive north, in favourable traffic, and with a wealth of ancient sites and museums, it is impossible not to have a rewarding time.

Athens, home to The Acropolis, is just a 30-minute drive north of the Riviera

No visit is complete without a climb up to the 2,453-year-old Acropolis with its 360-degree view over the capital. It hardly matters you are one of 23,000 daily visitors – it is less crowded after 5pm – as this is a true wonder of the world.

Back at One&Only Aesthesis, there is plenty to enjoy after a hard day’s sightseeing, from hit-the-spot mango margaritas to a serene Guerlain Spa. Families are well-served by a complimentary kids’ club, offering art classes and junior Olympics.

Dinner could be at Manko, a Peruvian-style beach club that opens next month, or if you are in party mood, take a taxi south to Vouliagmeni and the beachfront restaurant Papaioannou.

The other essential is to get out on the water, cruising the Saronic Gulf to snorkel beside the island of Aegina or just pull into a cove then leap from your speedboat into that bewitching blue sea.

When I clamber back on board, feeling refreshed and exhilarated, a handsome crew member is ready and waiting with a bowl of strawberries and a glass of Greek sparkling wine. I imagine Ms Callas experienced something similar.


Elegant Resorts offers five nights’ B&B at One&Only Aesthesis from £5,465pp, including easyJet flights from Gatwick on June 22 and transfers (