When you get to Athens, the main base for all the Spartathlon runners and crew is the seaside suburb of Glyfada, about 30 minutes by bus from Athens Airport. James Ellis of the BST spent 11 years there growing up as a kid, and his mum and sister still live in the town. Here he gives the low-down on what’s what.
When we first moved to Athens in the late 1970s, Glyfada was THE place to be. Right by the sea and only 10 minutes drive from the old airport, the population was then made up of local Greeks, American GIs from the old American base that was by the airport, US and Canadian oil riggers who worked in the Middle East, British lorry drivers who transported goods from the UK and various other ex-pats. With the islands not yet on the radar of most tour operators, it was also a key destination for British holidaymakers (hence the number of hotels).
My mum, Audrey, you might meet if you’re a first timer and certainly know if you’re an old hand ran an English pub called The Forge Inn, and the town was packed with British and American style bars.
Eventually though, the Americans left, fewer riggers worked in the Middle East and tourists discovered the islands. You’d think a town would struggle with that kind of exodus but Glyfada reinvented itself as a posh seaside suburb. The beaches are OK (but get better the further you go down the coast away from the city), but the streets are lined with fast food joints, cafés, tavernas and restaurants with a couple of decent local bars and lots of boutiques and high-end shops. All designed to cater for a relatively wealthy local clientele as well as Greeks who flee the city on hot summer nights for the (slightly) cooler coastal breezes.
Getting to Glyfada from the airport is a doddle. It’s about €40 in a cab, or you can pick up your hire car from the airport. A cheap and easy alternative is to jump on the X96 bus from right outside the arrivals hall. It costs €6 the last time I took it (Jan 2019) – and you can get tickets from the little kiosk next to the bus stop. The main stop in Glyfada is Glyfada Square (Plateia), which is a 10 minute walk from most of the hotels, alternatively, if you Google Map it, you can risk pinging the bell closer to your hotel.
All the main hotels are in a cluster about four blocks apart and outside the main town heading towards Athens (so coming from the airport you pass the Plateia first). The main hotels that teams stay in are the following, all are decent quality and of a similar level
Emmantina – pool and decent bar on the roof. Usual gathering place for the BST after returning from Sparta on the Sunday night.
Oasis – next to Emmantina, more apartment-style rooms (some with kitchenettes) and there’s a pool too.
Hotel London – decent hotel where you can convince the night porter to keep the bar open late in the days after the race.
Hotel Fenix – the place where registration and drop bags take place. There’s also a pool and a decent café. Beware, the queues for registration can be long at peak times.
The main road through the south side of Glyfada is Poseidnos Avenue – a long coastal highway from the eastern coastal suburbs to the port of Piraeus and the city centre. There’s also a smaller sea road by the beaches called Diadoxou Pavlou street. The hotels on the beach side of Poseidonos (Hotel London and Hotel Glyfada) are wedged between the highway and Diadochou Pavlou. The others, Emmantina, Oasis and Fenix are on the north side of the highway (or set back off it in Fenix’s case).
Glyfada Square used to be the heart of the town and still has a number of fast food places, restaurants, cafes and shops, but urban sprawl has spread the town south (to the north it’s bordered by Glyfada Golf Course and the old airport). Key streets southbound for shops, restaurants etc are Metaxa and Lazaraki streets.
There are several supermarkets in Glyfada. AB (Alpha Beta) has most foreign brands similar to the UK or equivalents. There’s a small central ‘local’ branch off the square on Maragou Street, a larger branch on the corner of Lazaraki and Pandoras streets and a ‘mega’ branch north of the town in the suburb of Hellenikon (you will need a car to get to this one).
If you just want fruit, try Milonas Market on Poseidonos Avenue, about a five-minute walk from the hotels.
For anything last minute, there’s a 24/7 garage next to Hotel London.
Glyfada has got everything when dining out and you’ll easily recognise the like of McDonald’s and KFC. Greece’s equivalent is Goody’s. Souvlaki – Greek kebabs with a soft pita, traditional streetfood – can be had from Laos kai Kalamaki and Grill n’ Wrap. Traditional Greek taverna food aplenty can be found on a street the locals call Biftekoupoli (Meatball city), but is actually called Konstantinpoleos. George’s Steakhouse is still probably the best. There’s all-you-can eat fish for a set fee at Psitos Bakalariaos.
For veggies and vegans, it’s worth noting that many Greek dishes are based on vegetables: stuffed tomatoes with rice, briam (Greek ratatouille), horta (stewed dandelion leaves or wild spinach)… but the one thing you can’t guarantee is that some kind of meat-based broth or stock will not have been used in the cooking, so that’s a matter of preference. There are vegan restaurants now springing up such as Avit and Crudo, but these tend to be expensive options.
You’ll find coffee shops selling pastries almost everywhere – Greeks nurse coffee for hours, so expect the service to be super laid back.
All the hotels have bars, and the Emmantina is a Sunday night tradition… but they’re not very authentic. There are several bars in Glyfada that are a bit cooler. Barley’s is a good option in the Arian Arcade – and usually where some of us hook up with the Irish contingent post the awards on Monday night. Drinks are relatively expensive in Greece – but for every third one you buy, the house usually shouts you a shot of some kind (this does not happen in hotel bars).
The beaches in Glyfada are… okay, but you won’t be writing home about them. A nice place to chill on the Monday is a place called Balux Café the House Project. It’s on a private stretch of beach that is much nicer than the rest, has sunloungers, a wandering masseuse offering rub downs on the beach and decent food and drink, plus wi-fi if you need to catch up on work.
Glyfada is a big, often bustling place…. Take time to wander round and explore and find some of own recommendations, but the above should be a good start.