The Grande Bretagne is arguably the nicest, most luxurious hotel in Athens. Located on the side of Syntagma Square, I have had the pleasure of staying there a few times. The rooftop bar offers breathtaking views of the city. There is nothing like enjoying a finely crafted cocktail and gazing out to a view of the nightscape of a lit-up Parthenon! Somehow, having a view like that, makes having a cocktail all the more indulgent!
The Grande Bretagne Hotel has a Fabulous History!
Built in 1824, the hotel started as a private residence but has undergone many changes since. The original owner was Greek but had been living in Italy and after the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, he returned to Greece from Italy. At the time, he built the mansion, Athens was a small city and not considered a very important place to be and be seen. Despite this, he forged ahead with the build.
In 1874, the home was merged with the palace which was nearby and reopened its doors as a luxury hotel. Today, the hotel is a testament to “old money” in its decor and ambiance. When the residence was converted to a hotel, there was no running water and no electricity. With only two bathrooms, the original hotel was able to house 80 guests. It was at this time, that the name of the mansion was changed to the Grande Bretagne. The hotel began to cater to the rich and famous; royalty, ambassadors, politicians, and diplomats. As Athens grew to become a more relevant city, the hotel grew with the city.
In 1930, a new wing was added appropriately named the Panepistimiou wing. The specific purpose of this addition was to accommodate the more elite guests.
As with many European locations, World War II had a huge impact. The government took over the hotel and all guests were asked to leave. But in 1941, when Athens fell to the German Nazis, the hotel became the headquarters of the Third Reich. It stayed under Nazi control for three years until the British Expeditionary Force rescued the city in the Fall of 1944.
IT DIDN’T END THERE
A few years after World War II ended, civil war broke out in Greece leaving thousands of people homeless. The hotel, at this point, became a makeshift homeless shelter.
In 1956 when the Greek civil war ended, the hotel had four stories added to it and it was on its way to becoming the destination we see today. Turmoil in government brought yet another role to the Grande Bretagne’s history. it was from his 5th-floor suite, that Constantine Karamanlis organized the new Greek government. He lived there for about four months, basically in hiding, working on his plan for government reform.
Once the new government was in place, the Grande Bretagne moved on to being what it was; a hotel! Over the years, the property has been visited and boasts an impressive guest list of 40 kings, queens, and heads of state. Today it is the scene of heads of state and diplomats from all over the world coming together for meetings and official banquets.
I have had the pleasure of staying at the hotel a few times. I remember walking into the lobby for the first time and feeling like I had stepped into a world that was long lost. A world of elegance and sophistication. As I wandered the halls to my suite, I found it impossible to not wonder who had taken that same path before me; who had occupied the space that was now mine for a few days. It is truly one of those cases where “If the walls could talk”. The hotel is truly “grand”!
The following recipe was created for a guest staying at the hotel. I hope that the recipe will give you some thought about the metamorphosis of this grand location.
ABOUT THE GRANDE BRETAGNE NO 1
According to stories passed down throughout the last several decades, an un-named bartender who had previously and unceremoniously been employed at the Grande Bretagne concocted this now-famous cocktail. Whatever the story is behind this cocktail, it’s yummy! And to add to the Yummy, it’s easy to make!
It’s one of those drinks that you can’t just have one! When you visit Athens, I’m sure you will at one point, find yourself at Syntagma Square. Being just a short walk from the Plaka, you will feel the beat of the city. Whether you opt to stay at the Grande Bretagne or another hotel, I, without a doubt, know, you will find yourself having a fabulous time!
Shake, serve up in a cocktail glass with crushed or cubed ice.
Garnish with fruit or a mint leaf and leaf and enjoy!
It’s very practical to make a pitcher of this drink, having it ready for the inevitable refill!
I hope you are enjoying the newly added cocktails from around the world and will come back often for more destinations, recipes, and cocktails from my travels!
Until next time, friends, remember, “To Travel is to Live!”