When standing in the middle of the Plaka in Athens, surrounded by swarms of noisy tourists and overly excited hosts telling you to eat in their garden, it’s hard to imagine anywhere in this city where there is calm and food simultaneously.
This may in fact be true, with the exception of one of Athens’ oldest and highest sites: Lykavittos Hill. The hill is the highest peak in Athens, standing around 900 feet above sea level, and is home to the Lykavittos amphitheater, the chapel of St. George, and a newly renovated café and ouzery.
The experience that is Lykavittos begins with the journey there. I still remember my first time making the trek; I was 11 and my father had made us walk uphill for what felt like miles, keeping us moving with the fateful words ‘just a bit further…’ We finally made our destination and it was lackluster: a cable car station with a shaft that seemed to disappear into the rock. We all boarded and the car began to move into the darkness at a very steep incline.
At the top we got out and exited the tunnel, immediately bombarded with the brilliant Greek sunlight. Once our eyes adjusted, I could see why he had been excited… a 360-degree view of Athens: a dense sea of buildings stretching from the surrounding mountains all the way to the shining Aegean. Off in the distance was a magnificent view of the Acropolis, rising up like an ancient island in the seas of urban sprawl. He saw the look on my face and said, “You see? Not bad, eh?�?
I returned this past summer and the hill has changed, but only for the better; a feat that I would’ve previously thought was impossible. (For one, the station has had a spotless modern renovation and now has its own gift shop!)
At the top of the hill is the Chapel of St. George, which is a wonder unto itself. Outside there is a small observation deck with white washed stone and telescopes to get a better look at the breath taking view of the city. True to the character of Athens, there was also a nice Greek man with a stand who sells everything you might need at St. George’s from worry beads to a cold bottle of water (that, for the top of a mountain, actually isn’t badly priced) and post cards that you can later use to make your friends jealous.
The inside is the typical Greek Chapel; everything from the walls, to the pictures, to the water goblets is beautifully ornate and maintained perfectly. Although the top of the hill is calm and relatively quiet, a hush still falls over you as you enter the chapel. The cool air and magnitude of the ornamentation around you induce a spiritualism that transcends religion and forces you to just appreciate the wonders all around us.
When you have used the remainder of your memory card of your digital camera and may need a sit down from the climb to the top, venture down to Horizontes, the swanky restaurant/ café below. Newly renovated, the atmosphere is hip, relaxed and out of this world (which is to be expected for a café that sits high above the world.) The food and drinks are unquestionably a bit pricy, but in this case you are buying more than a meal you are buying an experience. Where else can you sit and sip ouzo and see Athens how the Gods must have done?