The Simple Things
My City Athens
AUSTRALIAN-TURNED-ATHENIAN ANASTASIA MANGAFAS SHARES HER LOVE OF THE GREEK CAPITAL'S WILD BEAUTY AND UNIQUE CULTURE
How long have you lived in the city?
I’ve been visiting Athens regularly over the past 20 years before permanently calling it home in 2015.
Tell us what makes your city unique?
Apart from its rugged beauty and historical heritage, the past five years has seen a social transformation. In the midst of change, Athens is one of the most interesting cities to visit in Europe right now, with a vibrant food and art scene and full calendar of events. With its beautiful coastline and mountainous landscapes enhanced by fantastic weather for the majority of the year, it’s a city I never tire of.
What is it like in April?
April is a very festive time all over Greece due to the celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter, the most important festival on the religious calendar. It’s also associated with the first signs of spring. All are welcome to join the Good Friday evening processions by candlelight. There’s something really special about the city lit up in this way. Saturday night midnight mass is also held at all Greek Orthodox churches for the resurrection of Christ, which turns into a night of celebration with fireworks around the city.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, Lent is observed and most Greeks avoid eating meat and animal by-products such as eggs and dairy, so you will find an abundance of vegetarian and vegan food throughout Athens at this time of year, including delicious lentil soups and oven-baked vegetables filled with rice. Meat lovers can look forward to Easter Sunday, where a huge ‘meat-athon’ takes place around many public squares and tavernas around town, to celebrate the end of the fasting period. »
Cape Sounio, home
1 to the Temple of Poseidon and some incredible sunsets.
2 Early evening at the Acropolis is not too shabby either.
3 Inside the Acropolis Museum – a must-see, says Anastasia.
4 Frescoes at the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Dionysius.
5 Café culture in action on Agias Irinis square
*There’s no better way to get to the heart of a city than through the people who live there. Every month, we ask someone, clearly in love with their city, to take us on a personal tour and tell us what makes it so special. You may feel inspired to visit one day or to rediscover the charms of a city closer to you, but for now just sit back, relax and enjoy some armchair travel.
“Climb a hill to see glorious views that stretch to the port of Piraeus and beyond”
What time of day do you most enjoy?
Twilight: it signals the time to unwind. In Athens, that means being outdoors with friends at a plateia or local square until late, enjoying the warm evenings.
Tell us about the light and colours
There is a unique radiance particularly when you look at the city from above. The clusters of land mass against the bright blue sea has inspired many artists.
And what about the people who live here?
Resilient, brave, hard working, kind and hospitable. A great many Athenians are facing the burdens of tough austerity measures, yet they haven’t lost their zeal.
What’s the nature like?
The vivid sea against the mountainous landscape is a view synonymous with Greece and you can enjoy it in Athens, too. You will often find yourself climbing the many hilly outcrops including Acropolis Hill and Lycabettus (the highest point in central Athens) to take in the glorious views that stretch out to the port of Piraeus and beyond. On the ground, the fragrant smells of basil and jasmine will often stop you in your tracks, as will the friendly tortoises that appear around popular archaeological sites. Athens was built above ancient aqueducts and the Ilisos and Eradanos rivers, which were idyllic in ancient times and still attract these gentle creatures.
Where’s your favourite outdoor space?
Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the stunning outdoor theatre that sits beneath the slopes of the Acropolis. Despite being nearly 2,000 years old, it is heralded for its acoustics and is still used today for the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival (June–August). For daytime outings, Akti Vouliagmenis beach (20km from the centre) is ideal. It has tennis and volleyball courts, a kids’ playground, and elegant beach chairs with umbrellas. A short walk up the beach is a fish taverna that is ideal for lunch or dinner.
What’s your preferred way to get around?
Walking. I’m lucky enough to be close to the centre so everything is within a 5km radius. I’ve found some absolute gems this way because walking encourages you to be curious and wander off track. The metro system is also very efficient. It was given a preOlympics revamp and many of the major stops include huge displays of archaeological discoveries including ancient tombs and burial sites.
What’s the restaurant scene like?
Crisis or not, dining out is a way of life. The food scene has exploded over the past five years, with new
restaurants opening almost every week. Casual dining is a speciality* and you’ll find a great mix of traditional tavernas and ‘neo-tavernas’, which offer a modern twist to classic dishes. Then there’s the street food… Pie Works ( pieworks.gr) goes beyond the traditional
spanakopita or spinach pie; its breakfast pies are amazing. The bakalyaro fish burger at Food Str (14 Kalamiotou) is another stand out. Michelin-starred chefs are also offering well priced tasting menus, using local produce of exceptional quality.
What are your favourite places to meet with friends?
Drinking coffee is an important pastime here. You must try at least one Greek coffee in Athens. Mokka (see My Personal Tour), in the old market district, adopts the traditional method of heating a briki or small copper pot on hot sand to brew the coffee. Ask for sweet or medium sweetness.
How is it for shopping?
Athens is a great place to buy jewellery and handmade leather goods. Fashion designers such as Celia Kritharioti and Zeus + Dione have made a splash internationally and you’ll find these and many independent Greek labels in areas such as Kolonaki, Kifissia and seaside suburb, Glyfada.
Where do you like to escape to?
Around 70km from the centre of Athens lies the Temple of Poseidon at the end of the Sounion peninsula. The sanctuary is blanketed by vivid reds
1 venue, Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Eyes down to
2 spot some of Athens' oldest residents.
3 Akti Vouliagmenis beach, a pebble’s throw from the city.
4 Check out those ham strings: changing of the guard at Hellenic Parliament.
5 Rooftop bar Couleur Locale also has great views of the Acropolis
and oranges every day as the sun retreats and is one of the most magical and peaceful sunsets to witness.
What’s the city’s best- kept secret?
Its coastline, which is around 20 minutes from the centre. Thirteen beaches from the broader Attica basin were awarded ‘ Blue Flag’ status in 2016.
What do you miss most if you’ve been away?
Permission to sleep in the middle of the day! Actually, it’s the sense of freedom I miss most. You have a greater sense of your civil liberties here, something you need to visit Athens to understand.
What would surprise a newcomer to your city?
How sophisticated the people and lifestyle is. The other surprise of course is that we’re not in violent protest all of the time!
Where else would you like to live?
Any one of the idyllic Greek islands but I’m not sure how long I would last – I’m a city girl at heart.
Tzistarakis Mosque in
1 Monastiraki is now a Museum of Folk Art. Bell-shaped dolls
2 based on ancient figurines at the Attic Black Shop. Greek coffee the
3 traditional way at Mokka, brewed in a briki on hot sand