A Postcard From… The Athens Riviera

The black and white stripes on the walls and floors of the entrance to Divani’s private beach might strike guests as inspired retro-design but in fact the light in Greece in late summer is still so alive that these are simply the razor-edged shadows cast by an overhead pergola. As the sun arcs from its midpoint, slowly, the lines change minutely. You only notice details like this when you’re properly relaxed.

Here in the suburb of Vouliagmeni, just 20 minutes by car from the dusty heat of Athens centre, is the Aegean – a limpid, sparkling aqua-green – clean and clear and unchanged since the Gods took their seats on Mount Olympus. In the 1950s Elizabeth David dangled her toes towards this bit of sea as garlic-and-lemon-scented steam rose from a nearby taverna, inspiring in her a veneration for al-fresco dining and the pungent tastes of anchovy, vine leaf, seared lamb and thyme.

The Athens Riviera is Greece, but not as we mostly know it. Not the slow island-pace of the Sporades or Cyclades but containing the slightly quicker spirit of a capital’s suburb. Yet all the bounty of the sea piles up here ready for dinner, and competing hotels – Four Seasons opened just down the road in 2019 – swoon with envy at Divani Apollon’s unique private beach: granted to the family-owned hotel long before the law outlawed private access for modern interlopers.

Divani’s thalassotherapy spa is the biggest in Greece and unique to Athens – a haven to which the wellbeing-cognoscenti have flocked for generations, where the massage therapists are trained physios and the nutritionist is attuned to all that is best about Greek cuisine and ingredients. Stay for a weekend or a week – indulge for a day or enrol in a full medi-programme with advance diagnostics and state of the art therapeutic equipment.  At Divani Apollon the subterranean spa, the private beach and the two outdoor pools combine in an anthem to the benefits of salt water in all its possible temperatures.

It’s the perfect spot in which to channel a dollop of 1950s glamour and to indulge in the food as much as the therapies. As the evening skies turn orange and the sea fades to deepest blue out come the baby clams, iced cucumbers, mounds of bread and multiple varieties of olive, haricot rissoles, crumbly mysithra cheeses and grilled octopus: a blend of tradition and innovation at which the Grande Dame Elizabeth David might have hurrah-ed.