CULTURE

Grande Bretagne opens anew

Polished silver and freshly cut flower arrangements are the tasteful details that show that this Athenian establishment is back in business. This being the Hotel Grande Bretagne, however, means a new phase has begun for a city legend. Warm colors, rich fabrics, meticulous upholstery, elegant mosaics, among many more features, provide the hotel with a feeling of lightness. At the refurbished Grande Bretagne, new luxury is key: This is how a «Grand Hotel» becomes an accessible, welcoming place to enjoy moments of refinement. Following one-and-a-half years of complete renovation, based on a more than 70-million-euro budget, the landmark hotel opens its doors again today. «This is a soft opening,» said John Lagos, the hotel’s new general manager and managing director, to Kathimerini English Edition. A member of the Luxury Collection in the Starwood hotel and resort chain, the Grande Bretagne boasts 290 rooms and 35 suites as well as a Presidential and a Royal suite. Currently operating are 224 rooms, with the rest to be available at the end of May. The architectural plans were carried out by architect Pandelis Masouridis, while the interior design was undertaken by the USA’s HBA Hirsch, Bedner & Associates. Decorative details also mix old antiques from the hotel’s former period with antique pieces bought at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions, as well as Greek Ionia and Italian china alongside Bohemian crystal. The history Stathis Lampsas began his career as a helper in the kitchens of King George I of Greece before being sent by the king to study cooking in Paris at the famous Maison Doree. There he excelled in making oriental pilafs as well as French and continental dishes. By the age of 22, he was banker Armand Oppenheimer’s personal chef and later on married impoverished aristocrat Palmyre Palfroy. Having reached a certain age, Lampsas decided to return to Athens to start his own hotel business. Once back home, he found a partner in Savvas Kendros and together they decided to invest in the Dimitriou Mansion, a property leased for years to the French Archaeological School. Designed by Danish architect Theophile Hansen, the Dimitriou Mansion was built in 1842. Thirty-two years later, the Hotel Grande Bretagne opened its doors, ushering in new comfort for world-weary travelers. The establishment’s patrons included Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and the Kennedys, Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis, Winston Churchill and Princess Elena of Russia, who spent the rest of her life at the hotel after fleeing the revolution. But there were also truly dark times, such as the period when the Nazis turned the premises into their headquarters before the British moved in during the Greek Civil War. New look In the spacious area of the Grande Bretagne’s Winter Garden, a water fountain surrounded by palm trees is one of the hotel’s sensational new additions around which guests and visitors can comfortably lounge. At the adjacent, open Alexander’s Bar, offerings include a selection of sherries and ports, as well as hip frozen daiquiris and this winter season’s favorite mojitos. Eager old habitues have been joined by new lunching and dining blood at the hotel’s legendary GB Corner – now defined as a brasserie. A feeling of decorative lightness is also evident there, while an open kitchen picks up on the city’s current trends. The air of the hotel’s new era is reflected in the GB’s culinary suggestions: Mediterranean fish cauldron with garlic ciabbata; forest mushroom risotto with white truffle oil; the best of rabbit with mustard grains, polenta and sauteed red onions; dark and ivory chocolate terrine complemented by kumquat compote. A cellar featuring over 2,000 wine labels will also be available from the hotel’s cellar in the near future. In the spacious rooms, where most bathrooms are equipped with both shower and bathtub, guests are offered up-to-date luxury travel treatment, with amenities such as an Internet connection through the TV set, while details include Hermes (for the suites) and Neutrogena (for the rooms) toiletries. Exciting things are also happening at the hotel’s roof level, where an outdoor pool, a bar and the Athens Panorama restaurant – serving Greek cuisine and featuring live Greek music – will be completed by the end of May. A longtime favorite for receptions and conferences, the hotel’s Grand Ballroom may be divided into three smaller halls, similar to the Golden Room, which can also be separated into four smaller venues. And while the Winter Garden and the Grand Ballroom are regular fixtures of the hotel, the state-of-the-art 1,050-square-meter spa area – which will also welcome hotel guest members at the end of May – is a novelty. No less than 11 cabins will be available for treatments, complemented by an indoor pool. Attending to guests’ needs is a highly trained staff – dressed by Greek fashion designer Yiannis Tseklenis – characterized by «the right attitude, enthusiasm and commitment,» according to Lagos. They will prove pivotal as the capital moves closer to the 2004 Athens Olympics, and competition in the hotel market becomes more fierce. «The more luxury hotels open in Athens, the better for us,» said Lagos, adding that the renovation was not just carried out in view of the Games but also for the future. After all, the hotel is not solely focusing on travelers for business and leisure, but depends heavily on its loyal local market – a fundamental part of the hotel’s life, past, present and future. «I have already seen local visitors coming in and being visibly moved by the way the hotel looks now,» said Lagos, as he described more than a few happy tears. «So many people have gotten married, attended a function, come in for a coffee or a drink. Everyone has a memory from here.»