Forget the sleepy suburban hub of old … Voula is now Athens’ Most Improved suburb with a great village vibe, writes long-term resident Amanda Dardanis
EIGHT pm on a balmy late summer’s eve at Cava Faydon, opposite stately Agiou Ioannou church, in Voula.
The bubbly rhythms of French gypsy jazz tangle with happy squeals of young children in the adventure park across the road.
It’s an unremarkable Tuesday night. But already, the dozen-odd stools outside Cava Faydon are occupied: mellowed-out locals who’ve clearly come straight from Pilates or the beach; couples lingering over a post-work vino; two stylish mums with designer prams, sharing a heaped platter of cured meats, tangy cheeses and chutneys. Voula residents stroll past on their evening volta, clock familiar faces, and drop-in for a spell.
I’m here with a group celebrating a friend’s birthday over several perfectly-chilled bottles of Whispering Angel French rosé. The fact that it’s standing room only at this hugely popular new southern suburbs wine bar merely stokes the convivial mood.
Something is definitely going on in Sleepy Little Voula of late. Wedged as it is between its more famous neighbours, Glyfada and Vouliagmeni, Voula is often over-looked. But thanks to a wave of internationally-flavoured new openings and recent improvements to the town square, Voula is transforming itself from slightly run-down residential hub of old into one of Athens’ most cosmopolitan and buzziest seaside hamlets.
I first moved to Voula from London almost 10 years ago. Back then, Voula Platea was a very handy but parochial mix of psistaryies (grillhouses), hardware and carpet stores, matronly boutiques and butchers. And pavements in rather desperate need of repair. Voula was where you went to run your errands, meet friends for a quick coffee at Starbucks before the school run. Or enjoy a lazy Sunday taverna lunch at either Naiades or Andonis (depending on your loyalties), while the kids belted around on scooters and scrambled over the cranky old rocky fountain.
Visit Voula these days and you’ll encounter a dramatically altered scene. Starbucks is long gone. And that ghastly old fountain has finally been exhumed; replaced with freshly laid lawn squares, new benches, and a smart marble water sculpture of leaping dolphins. Naiades has gone too. In its spot, a spritely all-day modern bistro called Family where you can luxuriate with a goji berry smoothie, cocktail, or chocolate pizza.
The spirit of Old Voula still lives on at Platea stalwarts like Dio Mio cafe, Italian brasserie Fontanina, and at elegant La Merise patisserie on Agiou Ioanni. But scattered among them, in 2015, is everything from sushi bars, gourmet delicatessens, designer butchers with in-house DJs, and Irish gastro pubs; to chocolate artisans, chic fashion boutiques that wouldn’t be out of place in Mykonos, hip wine bars like Faydon, and contemporary tavernas like Steki Kalamaki where you can park yourself on a leafy cobbled pavement and drink from a range of rare micro-brewed Greek beers.
Little wonder that many southsiders are now forsaking nights out in Glyfada to head to Voula instead for its great variety and village vibe.
‘Voula needed uplifting,’ says Mike Fragkos, owner of Steki Kalamaki, a new breed of breezy taverna that kick-started the now humming pedestrianized precinct on Poseidonos. ‘People were tired of the same old boring places.’
‘Now suddenly we’re seeing innovative and up-to-date new concepts in Voula. And each one offers different things. People have a lot more choice now so they can move around. Before they couldn’t. ’
The perfect Voula sortie these days may start off at a wine bar like Faydon (or at other vibrant newcomer Cava Vegera), flow into a meal somewhere like Steki, Koi or Masati Grillhouse, then end up at Irish pub Nelly’s or Family for nightcaps.
Shortly, there will be yet another exciting new neighbourhood option to choose from. Opposite Steki, a striking, architecturally-designed all-day venue called Oppen opens its doors on Poseidonos (September 15). Formerly an old burnt-out house, Oppen will serve an American-style menu featuring gourmet burgers, brunch and cocktails.
‘We never feel that new places like this are competition,’ says Steki’s Mike. ‘The more restaurants and venues that come to Voula; the more people who will come to Voula.’
New Voula’s Greatest Hits
Cava Faydon (Agiou Ioannou, 28) and Cava Vergera (Poseidonos, 11)
Voula’s two new wine bars have changed the game for this once stagnant coastal enclave. Everyone has their favourite: but at both, you can imbibe on mid-range or special edition wine varieties (where you’ll pay just a few euros more than cava-price for corkage) in a relaxed, hospitable setting. There’s also a giddy range of imported goodies – from Reece’s peanut butter cups, designer Belgian beers and deliciously puffy marshmallows; to fatally hot English mustards and exotic dried fruits.
Nelly’s Gastro Pub (Plastira, 3)
The closest thing Athens has to Boston’s famous “Cheers” bar (where everyone knows your name), Nelly’s is an unpretentious hang-out with a strong expat following who come for the sociable atmosphere, reasonably-priced drinks, themed sports nights – and knock-out bangers and burgers.
Koi (Vasileos Pavlou, 98)
There was much rejoicing in the streets when Syntagma street sushi brand Koi came to town in 2014. Now, with a newly extended interior and foreyard this summer, Koi is even more of a hit. High notes are the great value prices and the creative daily and seasonal specials like the famous dragon roll, salmon rose delights, beef tataki, and fresh wakame salad. Sit at the bar and order on their slinky new edition iPads while you sip on a mini-bottle of prosecco (for just €5) or a reviving Sapporo beer.
Rey Pablo’s (Vasileos Pavlou, 89)
It’s worth trekking those couple of extra minutes beyond the Platea for Rey Pablo’s fab smoothies, terrific brunch, and vibey music. A cool all-day haunt, where the old Migato shoe shop used to be, that draws a young fashionable crowd.
Family (Vasileos Pavlou, 74)
Healthy living almond and mango smoothies vie with wicked cocktails and chocolate pasta confections at this newest addition to the Voula landscape that’s particularly popular with families and 20-somethings.
Drakoulis Meat Open Project (Vasileos Pavlou, 103)
It is a nightclub? Is it a gourmet emporium? Or is it Athens’ most glamorous “meat boutique”? Drakoulis is all of these things and more. Splurge on the high-end imported cuts of cow, such as striploin, Wyagu or Kobe, that can run for up to €350… browse the wonderfully-stocked pantry of international smoking sauces and posh pastas. Or make a weekly habit of their utterly moreish befteki at around just €2 each. You’ll plan to pop in for five minutes, and end up staying an hour. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Read about Voula’s tastiest new arrival, Ballaro HERE:
Troufa Chocolate Bar (Vasileos Pavlou, 80)
Heaven on earth for chocoholics at this prime Platea bolthole – an offshoot from Kifissia – that specialises in all things chocolate. Don’t miss the caramel salt or Cointreau-infused truffles (at €26 a kg); while true choc aficionados go to swoon over their signature profiterole galaktos cake.
Coconuts (Vasileos Pavlou, 67)
A purveyor of “Nuts and Specialties”, Coconuts is the place to stock up on your quinoa chips, organic granola and acai berry & green tea when the snack cupboard runs bare.
10ten and little dallas 10 (Plastira, 10)
Next to the old post-office, in what used to be a fourno, is this uber-chic boutique (with an adjoining children’s annexe) stocking gorgeous contemporary labels including Sophia Moutaki, Mila, and Molly Bracken. It’s as if Audrey Hepburn and Alexa Chung got together and opened a clothes shop.
South-Native, The Lifestyle-Fashion Shop (Poseidonos and Plastira, 9)
Sassy streetwear from hot Australian brands such as thefifth, Afends and One Teaspoon abound at this well-edited collection of Antipodean treasures.
little things, Home Décor & Gift Shop (Plastira, 9)
You’ll go gift-hunting – and then be unable to resist some splendid curio for yourself at this delightful shop filled with temptations like modern ceramic Greek charms, hand-hewn Indian sandals, and colourful one-off totes from Thailand with authentic tapestry panels.