An Extreme Makeover: Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens

Athens used to be a rather scruffy, dirty place. But since the Olympic games two years ago, she’s blossomed with revitalized beauty.

The city’s showiest facelift belongs to the reigning monarch of opulence, the five star Hotel Grande Bretagne, which went through a $100 million restoration. Last year, it was voted one of the best business hotels in Europe by the readers of Travel+Leisure Magazine.

The 132-year-old hotel now glows again with the rich patina of the guilded age. The lobby-level bar, Alexander’s, is a wonderful place to lubricate your inner robber baron and quaff a cognac while gawking at the 200-year-old French tapestry of Alexander the Great.

The GB Spa, with a stunning couples suite, is known as one of the best in the world. All spa treatments over two hours include complimentary use of the “thermavium,�? a sparkling cluster of therapy rooms including the eucalyptus-infused amethyst grotto (to clear sinuses) and bubbling reflexology tubs to soothe exhausted feet.

I had not been to Athens in more than 20 years and I was astonished at the scrubbed roads, the gleaming white marble buildings, and the welcoming outdoor cafes that dotted numerous trendy neighborhoods. The air was fragrant with the sweet scent of wild chamomile (which grows all over the Agora), and the Parthenon shimmered. There was even a brand-new multi-story museum at the foot of the Acropolis.

It’s amazing what Olympic determination can achieve. These days, Athens shines.

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