August 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)International Focus GREECE

Newly restored classic: Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens
Newly restored classic: Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens

Few places in the world can claim a richer history than Greece. The country nurtured some of humankind’s greatest thinkers, such as Aristotle, Plato and Sophocles. It is home to one of the great landmarks of ancient civilization, the Parthenon.

Mainland Greece occupies the southernmost tip of the Balkan Peninsula and is surrounded by more than 1,400 islands. While Ios, Mykonos and Santorini are big draws for sun-seeking Northern Europeans, in all only 169 Grecian islands are inhabited.

Athens, the capital, is busy putting on its prettiest face for the 2004 Olympics. The bulldozers are in high gear indeed, both in Athens and on resort islands, to prepare for the expected deluge of tourists next summer. Some key developments:

The 327-room Hotel Grande Bretagne reopened this past March after a $70 million restoration. Part of the Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the centrally located property has hosted visiting dignitaries to Athens since first opening its doors in 1874. The formal royal palace has a 4,450-square-foot ballroom, a health club and a spa.

The Hilton Athens was crowned the headquarters property by the International Olympic Committee this past May. Since November 2001, the hotel has undergone an extensive renovation and a 74-room expansion, bringing its total guest room count to 517. Meeting space also was expanded and now totals 63,600 square feet.

Grecotel, an Athens-based chain of 24 resorts and urban properties, has opened and refurbished several hotels. In Athens is the King George II, an historic property across from the Greek Parliament. Following a top-to-bottom rebuild, the hotel reopens this fall after being dormant for 14 years. The 118-room property offers a ballroom and three meeting rooms.

On the island of Kos, the Grecotel Kos Imperial opened in 2002 as a sprawling complex of beachside bungalows, landscaped gardens and a thalasso spa. A ballroom seats 320.

About an hour’s drive south of Athens is the 154-room Grecotel Cape Sounio resort, reopening this month after an extensive renovation. The property is perched on a hillside with vistas of blue waters and the ancient temple of Poseidon. Conference facilities include four breakout rooms and a main hall that holds up to 700.

In West Peleponnese, the Grecotel Olympia Riviera Resort is receiving a complete redo in preparation for Olympics fans. The hotel is adding 1,000 beds for a total of 1,310 and is renovating its spa. Work should wrap up next year.

To handle the Olympics crowd, organizers have contracted with several cruise lines to serve as floating hotels. Holland America Line will be moving two ships to the port of Piraeus, the 1,848-passenger Oosterdam and the 1,316-passenger Rotterdam.

Royal Olympia Cruises will provide three ships to house people during the Games: the 814-passenger Olympia Countess, the 836-passenger Olympia Explorer and the 836-passenger Olympia Voyager.

The 1,310-cabin Queen Mary II also will be in the port. Now under construction in France, Cunard’s huge $780 million flagship will recall the elegance of stately ocean liners of yore.

• By Carla Benini IMAGE
Lisbon’s 194-room Pestana Carlton Palace Hotel, formerly the Palácio Valle Flor, opened last year. The main building, a national monument, was restored to its grand 19th-century ambience, and two wings were added to house the guest rooms. The property has 15 meeting rooms, a fitness center, formal gardens and an outdoor pool. (011) 351-291-209100; Back to Newsline
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