Posted in Projects on 29 April, 2024

One&Only’s debut in Greece beckons the revival of Athens Riviera’s bygone era of mid-century glitz and glamour

Words by Jess Miles

Athens has long been boxed off as a site-seeing city destination, and a gateway to the sun-soaked shores of its island counterparts. An option perhaps lesser explored, is that travellers can revel in the best of both worlds without the hassle of hopping on a ferry or domestic flight. One&Only’s ultra-luxe resort has landed on the Athenian Riviera, giving all the more reason to stay a while and cancel any onward travel from the Greek capital.

Just a thirty-minute drive south from the city centre brings you to the old-school glamour of Glyfada, where One&Only Aesthesis is tucked away on a 21-hectare peninsula reserve lined with 2.2-kilometres of glorious beachfront. Dating back to the 1950s, the original site of the iconic Asteria Beach Club is where the new resort takes its stylish mid-century design cues from. Back in the day as part of Greece’s extensive rebranding efforts spearheaded by the Bank of Greece and the National Tourism Organisation, three then young and eager modernist architects, Vourekas, Dekavalas, and Georgiadis, were tasked with designing the initial beachfront amenities, cabanas, and bungalows – a blueprint and architectural language that the present-day incarnation faithfully honours.

Today, the destination feels like Athens’ best-kept secret. But post successful rebrand, and with the arrival of the ‘golden age of travel’, the Athenian Riviera was once a hotspot for the jet-set and stars of the 60s and 70s. Graced by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bridgette Bardot, and Jackie Onassis, many of the most exclusive spots along the stretch were christened with a Greek denomination of ‘star’ – where you’ll find beaches and bars aplenty named Astir, Asteras, or Asteria. Despite its former splendour, the Athens Riviera never quite reached the same level of renown as its counterparts, such as the Côte d’Azur or the Amalfi Coast. Instead, it has patiently flown under the radar for the past three decades or so – until now. As several luxury hospitality groups establish their presence along the coastline, One&Only Aesthesis rides at the crest of the current wave, signalling the dawn of a revival reminiscent of the area’s glamorous past.

In homage to the location’s illustrious history, Kerzner International and Grivalia Hospitality assembled a cadre of design talent for the property’s renaissance. Tasked with bridging the gap between the Asteria Beach Club roots and the contemporary One&Only Aesthesis vision, were three celebrated Athens based architecture firms – AUDO, A6Architects, and K-Studio – in collaboration with London based studio Muza Lab, whose founder Inge Moore, took charge of the interior design. The strict regulations that required that new designs adhere to the historic layout, paired with the timelapse between the then and now presented a challenge for the new visionaries – the site having endured years of neglect and exposure to elements. “If you take a look at the original plans and drawings of Asteria and see the simplicity, the authenticity of the ideas, in its prime era, it was a kind of a magical place because it had a magnificent interplay between the technique, the artificial environment, the built environment and the landscape,” Nasos Antachopoulos of A6Architects says.

Cocooned by sun-soaked mountains to the east, and the lapping waves of the Aegean to the west, the 127-key resort feels ultimately secluded and sprawling. Leaving the bustle behind the clean white perimeter gates, a landscape of low-rise villas, bungalows, and residences disguise themselves in the privacy of bougainvillaea, rosemary, palms, and olive trees. In contrast, the resort’s central hub shows no signs of coyness, with all paths leading to the dramatic white stone structure peering out to sea. A gentle slope wrapped in more Mediterranean flora meets the first-floor entrance, allowing the building to lie low and curved into the landscape like a Palm Springs masterpiece. Matching the façade, white slatted screens emerging between the two levels of the exterior, inspired by traditional Greek claustras offer both privacy and a soft, filtered passage of light and air.

Take time to marvel at the spaceship-esque structure later, for a flurry of smiling staff in duck egg blue uniforms are eagerly waiting to greet you, perfectly assembled as if they were a team of synchronised swimmers. The interior is just as fascinating though – with bridges, walkways, platforms, and staircases sweeping into one another seamlessly. Light beams through the panoramic windows that wrap the check-in lounge, whilst two skylights flood the atrium. A rising olive tree and gem-like blue and green pendants glisten in the light, drawing the eye down to the lower level, where Alelia bar and Ora by Ettore Botrini restaurant are located, and a myriad of pool terraces begin. Once entirely open for the summer season of 2024, the resort will boast a total of six bars and restaurants, including El Bar de Paco Morales by the eponymous Michelin-star chef, alongside three poolside spots: Manka, Minima, and Thimisi.

Whilst there are a limited number of rooms housed in the main building, in keeping with the original layout most of the accommodation is spread widely across the grounds by way of villas and bungalows – which means that in true star style, buggies are waiting in the wings to whisk you to and from your room at the drop of a WhatsApp message to your personally assigned butler. Asteria’s original modernist cabanas and bungalows provided the perfect canvas for contemporary indoor-outdoor dwellings. Low-rise structures allowed for immersion into the landscaping, whilst plenty of space between each made room for new expansive outdoor areas that blur into the interiors. Dimitris Karampatakis, Co-Founder of K-Studio, says, “We had to be very, very careful about using the exact same footprint for internal spaces, but the freedom that we had with that in-between space, that Goldilocks moment between indoors and out, was what gave us the opportunity to stitch the architecture into the surroundings, and kind of elongate that moment of stitching.”

The slatted claustras reappear here overheard, reaching out from the roof over both the front and rear outdoor spaces. Prime for hot Athenian summers, guests can while away the day by the private pool, and as dusk beckons, make their way across to the outdoor bar that rests atop a sleek stone fireplace. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors lead inside, where the combination of rough stone, textured linen, soft shapes, and punches of Aegean blue, make a revitalising respite from the sun. “We wanted to create a sense of soft luxury that specifically spoke to the Greek Riviera. It has that nostalgic touch, with the use of blue and white, the warmth of the marble and the olive wood, and the beautifully textured linens hand-designed in Greece,” says Inge Moore of Muza Lab.

As with all One&Only resorts, sustainability is integral to the design narrative, evidenced here by its LEED and SITES certifications. Renovated with locally sourced materials, most buildings feature timber construction. To preserve the natural environment, existing trees were carefully relocated during construction, and around 200,000 Mediterranean and native species were planted for their low water needs. The Epos and Topos Residences feature living green roofs for insulation and landscape integration. And energy-efficient systems for heating, cooling, lighting, and water conservation only amplify the resort’s sustainability credentials.

If guests are not spending their time relishing in their private sanctuaries or frequenting the many delectable dining options of the main building, they might be found at the standout Guerlain Spa nestled somewhere on the grounds between the bungalows and bougainvillaea. As expected for the luxury beauty house’s first spa in Greece, treatments are one-of-a-kind experiences, tailored to each individual’s needs, set in a want-for-nothing Guerlain oasis of its own. Though private beaches and protected forests may be enough for some, the One&Only team are poised to organise effortless trips to the city centre and its historic sites. They also offer exclusive experiences such as private yacht excursions to secluded islands, along with workshops on traditional jewellery and sandal making.

While the allure of being among the first to experience the glamorous revival of the Riviera is enticing, it’s the duality of One&Only Aesthesis that truly presents a compelling case for Athens as a destination appealing to both sight and sun seekers alike. But what really seals the deal? The prospect of seamlessly transitioning between One&Only Aesthesis and nearby Kea Island, where Greece’s second One&Only resort is set to join the lineup this summer.

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