Let's take a ride to Vouliagmeni and Varkiza.
Driving along the coast to get to the land of the south. It takes only 45 minutes to leave the city center, all the heat and all your troubles behind. As the road widens the old apartment buildings give way to modern houses and I get into vacation mood. Everybody here is extremely cool and calm and only visits downtown Athens once a month at the most to do chores. The palm trees run along the middle of the road and the pine trees on the left make everything look greener and prettier while I know I am approaching Vouliagmeni because I can see the sea right in front of me. Right about there I am beginning to feel the special vibe of the place, all the different frequencies.
Flip-flops, sunglasses and bathing suits are absolutely necessary in order to spend the day at this very high end spot of the Athens Riviera. You can go for a morning swim or a walk and a coffee, an evening cocktail or lunch. Vouliagmeni is a day trip, a one day holiday for us city kids. It is located 19km from the center of Athens and owes its name to the lake of the same name created when the ground caved in, hence the name. (Vouliagmeni = sunken)
The lake is its trademark. Nights with music and views of the beautifully lit rocks, a swim in the warm waters, romance and ambiance. The lake is included in the National NATURA 2000 list but also recognized as a place of exquisite natural beauty by the Ministry of Culture. This place is a hidden pleasure you have to discover. The scenery is breathtaking, the rocky sides giving shelter to the lightly salted waters are actually a very rare internationally renowned geological phenomenon. Although the lake waters are warm all year round, they do get renewed by the sea and underwater hot springs giving you the ultimate thermal spa experience.
And the experiences keep on coming. Right after the lake there is an underwater labyrinth that no one knows where it ends. It has been explored at a length of 3.123 metres, it has 14 tunnels one of which is 800 metres long, the longest in the world. Apart from all the action taking place in the water, the Faskomilia hill above the lake is a land oasis where you can go trekking in a beautiful area with wonderful views and paths.u drive through
When I say that Vouliagmeni is a proper day trip combining all sorts of things I really mean it since the area is also of great archaeological interest. You have many choices only a few kilometres away, the Temple of Apollo Zostir at Asteras, the Archaeological park at Kavouri, Saint Nicholas temple and if you go a bit further the magnificent Poseidon Temple at Sounio.
If you want something more relaxed, romantic and the best views, the Lemos peninsula is one of the best kept Athens common secrets. Winter or summer the scenery is enchanting and you can't believe you are only a few kilometres away from the city center. After a drive among the dense trees, park your car on the side and stare at the big blue at the end of the peninsula. A walk through the rocks, alone if you just want to think, with your friends and beers when you want to relax or you two together watching the sunset because that is the way it is supposed to be.
The beaches around Vouliagmeni are the finest around Athens. They are exotic with palm trees, fine sand, music and anything you might want right at your feet. There is the high profile Astir Beach offering high end services. There are also much cheaper ways to spend the day but not as glamorous. There is the Vouliagmeni Beach and all the small coves you can see on your right while walking towards Varkiza. For water sports go to the Vouliagmeni Sailing Club and for food go anywhere. In Vouliagmeni you can find anything from very expensive sushi, original Italian made by an Italian chef but also souvlaki and of course delicious ice creams and legendary waffles.
Varkiza: The Cote d' Azur of the South
I always loved these places even when I was very young and my mom advised me against coming here. It feels like the French Riviera or the coastal roads at lake Como. In a little while you will see all the ladies with their fashionable beach wear and fit couples out for a run. In the old days this is where everyone who was someone in Athens had a vacation home and before that that's where the fishermen lived. Today everyone comes to Varkiza. A mini day trip for swimming, eating seafood or dancing through the night in extravagant clothes.
There you will find fully equipped beaches and the renowned Limanakia, all great places to swim. Among the best around Athens. They are popular among the nudists, you can access them only on foot through narrow paths which lead to the small coves. On the other more organized side of Varkiza you can find more than sun decks and umbrellas. There are 25 acres where you can do anything from massage to any water sport, you can eat, drink and if you feel like it throw your party there right next to the sea.
After swimming you can enjoy great Mediterranean food in the many restaurants around the area. And when it gets dark the night life here is a classic. There are many luxurious clubs right on the sea similar to the ones in Cannes or Monaco. Yachts with famous national and international stars come and go as well as many many cocktails. If on the other hand this is not your style the open air cinema at Varkiza is the pace to be under the stars.
Kavouri. Megalo Kavouri has a small island at the center and is a very shallow beach with lots of people. On the other hand you can enjoy your coffee practically on the beach at a very reasonable price. Ideal even for night visits. Before Megalo Kavouri you can find many more smaller coves that are a lot quieter.
Vouliagmeni Beach. Operating all year round on a daily basis it is 20 acres large and has a 650 metres long beach front. There are sun decks, umbrellas, tennis, volley and basketball courts, a playground, changing rooms and many more. Poseidonos Av. & Apollonos, 210 8960697, www.vouliagmeni-akti.gr
Lake Vouliagmeni. It is enlisted in the national NATURA 2000 and recognized as a place of exquisite natural beauty by the Ministry of Culture. You can swim around the magnificent rock knowing that where the lake ends, an underwater cave of endless tunnels begins. Free parking. Entrance fee €10 on weekdays, €11 on weekends, with changing rooms, sun decks, tables, a café, a restaurant etc. There is a lot going on at the lake that you can find out from their Internet site.2108962237, 2108962239, www.limnivouliagmenis.gr
Astir Beach. High end beach. Open 365 days, offering many benefits such as sun deck reservations and outdoor non smoking areas. In the summer the prices are: Adults €18, children 5-12 €10. Weekends €28 and €15. 2108901694, www.astir-beach.com
Limanakia Vouliagmenis. Possibly the cleanest waters you can find at this distance form the city center. At the second batch of coves you can take deep sea diving courses while it is a favourite spot for jumping off cliffs. The third batch is preferred by nudists and are generally hard to climb from.
Yabanaki. Families, groups of people, couples and loners all have a place here. Water slides, games, beach bars, restaurants and bungalows. The bungalows cost €60 per day in the week and €80 in the weekends. Weekday entrance fee is €5, €6 at the weekends, reduced (children 6-12, students, seniors) €3,50. On weekdays sun decks and umbrellas are free, on weekends they cost €10. There are also premium and VIP sets for those who seek grandeur. Varkiza, 2108972414, www.yabanaki.gr
Open air cinemas
There are two of them with standard sea breeze. Akti (Thisseos and Eolou, Vouliagmeni, 210 8961337) and Ria (Afroditis 8, Varkiza, 210 8970844).
Psarakia & Thalassina
You can find these restaurants at Kifissia, where it opened first and made it's name, at Varkiza with an exquisite balcony with a wonderful view of the sea and at Chalandri where you can find it in an old mansion with a wonderful garden. Pick the location according to your taste and get ready to dive into an ocean of taste. At the beginning the waiter brings you 8-10 hand made appetizers (home made dolmades, fresh aubergine salad, delicious house marinated anchovies, smooth fava etc.). You take your pick and continue with anything yoou fancy from the menu or the blackboard where you can find the fish of the day. Fish vary according to the season. What you will find here are three things, large portions, good quality and low prices. You can also find more than 15 different kinds of ouzo and tsipouro as well as quality house wine. Tip: at the end they always treat you to a dessert and you pay around €13 including the wine! Extra tip: You can arrange to have all kinds of receptions here.
Poseidonos Av 14, Varkiza, 210 9654138 / fb: Ψαράκια & Θαλασσινά Βάρκιζα
Κ. Varnali 5, Chalandri, 210 6855932 /, fb: Ψαράκια & Θαλασσινά Χαλάνδρι
Ilision 27, Nea Kifisia, 210 6203622,fb: Ψαράκια & Θαλασσινά Κηφισιά
This is a special grill house very much ahead of it's time. There are three levels inside and out with the outside resembling a ship's deck. The Vouliagmeni restaurant has a parer seagull as it's trademark and the one in Varkiza a paper boat while they are both blue. But let's talk about the food which is really great. All meat is carefully picked from Greek farms, the gyro is made in house strictly from pancetta, the pita is excellent and out of the ordinary: it is handmade, crispy made with pure olive oil! There are also great big juicy steaks and delicious burgers! Everything in this place is very well thought and taken care of. Even their dips. They are unique and diverse like the feta and paprika dip. You can find all this at their third smaller “brother” at Spata.
If you don't know Lambros, we would have to look back to 1889 to start the story telling. It has been in business since then giving food to dozens of ordinary and extraordinary people from around the world. It has been fully refurbished recently and has passed on to the next generation doing what they do best: fresh fish. You will be sitting at one of their tables with an amazing view of Vouliagmeni and whatever comes in your plate will be fresh out of the sea. The friendly staff is there to assist you to choose from all the wonderful seafood, big fish but also fresh salads and pasta for a meal you won't forget. New, revised menu and prices.
Poseidonos Av. 20, Voiliagmeni, 210 8960144, www.labrosrestaurant.gr
Philip by Artopolis
There was once a bakery famous for its freshly baked goods. At some point a coffee shop decided to move in with the bakery creating this original concept in a wonderful shop. First you choose from all the delicious pastries, sandwiches and hot breads and then you get a table overlooking the sea and you eat them while enjoying your coffee. If you get a bit more hungry you can order a pizza made right there in front of you in the store's open kitchen while if you fancy an ice cream there is a colourful selection to choose from and combine with all the fresh desserts made by Artopolis daily. It opens early in the morning to provide all the necessary supplies for the beach and stays open until late at night if you want to return for incredible cocktails and nice music. Tip: if you pass by Varkiza, stop by for a coffee at the original Philip (Poseidonos Av. 14, 210 9654138) to find out what the hype is all about.
Ermou 1, Vouliagmeni, 210 9670321, Fb: Philip by Artopolis