St. George Lycabettus, Athens

From afar, the St. George Lycabettus is a typical urban 4-star boutique hotel. The decor is textbook chic, slightly outdated, but on the whole comfortable. While the hotel breaks no new ground in this department, the exceptional service transforms one’s experience here, raising it far beyond the predictable and into the cutting-edge.

I arrived at 6 am into Piraeus, bleary eyed and hopeful of an early check in. The St. George was fully booked so I couldn’t go straight to my room, so instead headed up to the Sky Bar for breakfast. Thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows the top floor restaurant and bar area offers panoramic views of the city (the hotel sits atop a hill, which elevates its six storeys to more impressive heights). Aside from the spectacular scenery, I was blown away again when one of the friendly staff told me that breakfast was on the house.

It’s impossible to imagine that a hotel’s staff truly cares about its clientele — that’s ridiculous as a concept: how can you care about a stream of total strangers? — but the St. George’s front-of-house team does as convincing a job as I’ve ever encountered. This isn’t the deferential, backwards-walking, button-pressing awkwardness of five-star establishments (one of the most uncomfortable elements of a Four Seasons property, for instance); this is thoughtful, unobtrusive little touches that are as satisfying as they are surprising.

I booked an entry level room but was upgraded at least two categories to a large double room with a balcony overlooking the Acropolis. The bed is enormous and light streams in through the huge windows. There’s a luxurious bathroom with a nice sized bath and overly complicated shower.

Up on the rooftop another surprise is in store: only after six days at the hotel did I discover the outdoor pool. The weather was changeable and my schedule packed, so I never got a chance to use it, but on a sunny day this little oasis would be a dealbreaker. There’s an art gallery onsite showing a roster of contemporary exhibitions, and during January a whole floor of rooms are transformed into artworks. The restaurant is reasonably priced and offers a decent selection of inventive and well-presented local and international dishes.

Athens, it seems, is a destination on the up, and the St. George Lycabettus is leading the way. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better base while spending time in this captivating and dynamic city.

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