My, what a difference a year makes. Did you ever think we’d be singing the praises of the Athens Airport as one of the best shopping and dining experiences in town? Now, with the dramatic overhaul of its passenger facilities, most notably in the Schengen area, AIA Eleftherios Venizelos has replaced its rather stale offerings of old with a vibrant and fluid new “Greek Neighbourhood”, where the only flight risk will be the one of you missing your plane!
If you haven’t yet been, the Schengen precinct has been completely demolished and re-designed to create a streamlined “flow-through” encounter that’s squarely aimed at coaxing passengers into a more enjoyable consumption-based sequence.
Whereas before, you had the dreaded security ordeal looming over your head while you shopped or grabbed hasty last-minute sustenance and caffeine, now the centralized check-in system dispenses with that right at the beginning. It’s a win-win situation for both the airport’s numerous new retailers and for travelers who’ll now be in much better headspace to browse and buy, linger and consume.
From locavore gourmet enticements and premium Greek winery pop-ups where you can enjoy a pre-flight food and wine pairing, to high-quality Greek brand ambassadors and coveted international labels, we recommend that you check-in for your flight a good hour or so earlier than usual on your next trip, to really soak up all the great new offerings.
In the new high-aesthetic environment (which models itself on a typical Greek agora), you can pick up cut-above Greek souvenirs such as herb-scented toiletries with funky greek writing or a contemporary art collectible; the latest electronic gadget or summer best-seller from Public to amuse you during your flight. Or treat yourself to a last-minute impulse buy of a stunning holiday frock from Greek design stars such as Zeus + Dione.
Do heed our warning though! With the new-look deconstructed layout, where restaurants and cafes stretch out invitingly into the gate waiting areas and jaunty mall-style tunes compete with the flight announcements, it’s all too easy now to lose all track of time and place!
Here’s how the new design operates, to help you get the most out of the improved Athens Airport:
To enter the capital’s newest shopping destination, your boarding pass is your open sesame. With a little patience (so far the new system has been operating very smoothly but it is summer after all), you’ll soon be rewarded.
Next, you’ll encounter the extended Duty Free area. A tip, do not linger too much in the huge duty free that you are obliged to walk through to join your plane. Another Last Minute duty free awaits at the other end of the Departures area, which is less crowded and more relaxed.
The right wing of the Main duty free, however, does offer a good range of Greek products of excellent quality, which we always find difficult to resist. They make superb and much-appreciated gifts for friends and family living outside of Greece. In particular, the Mastiha brand, which sells products based on mastic, the famous resin that evokes sea air and pine needles and is harvested only from the trees of the island of Chios.
The former Schengen shopping hall area has been re-constructed in a diamond formation scheme with white lights fashioned in a striking zig-zag arrangement on the ceiling (in the manner of the Anglo-Iranian architect Zaha Hadid). Everything gives a sense of harmony, style and symmetry. Here, you’ll find popular Greek cosmetic brands Apivita and Korres, followed by some twenty luxury fashion and jewellery stores including (Armani, Max Mara, Michael Kors and Links of London) that are accessible to all passengers.
For foodies, Hellenic Gourmet plies a marvelous range of cheeses, greek sweets, wines, olive oils and honey (try their wonderful Meligyris woodland honey with sage); while Terkenlis is your go-to place for traditional greek sweet fancies such as tsoureki and bougatsa.
If you’re in the market for a classy Greek collectible, Artpoint, in the Departures Level, has some terrific handmade, and limited-edition Greek memorabilia, such as museum replicas and innovative accessories, all showcasing Ancient Greek history, civilization and cuisine. Or if it’s a wearable collectible you fancy, head for the fashionista’s favourite Zeus + Dione for their earthy elegance rooted in classic Mediterranean semaphores.
But if you visit only one shop, make it The Greek Designers Store, where you’ll find a wonderfully-curated collection of sunshine-inspired clothing, shoes and accessories. It’s a microcosm of some of the hottest Greek designers of the moment (including Di Gaia, SunofaBeach – we can’t get enough of their beach towels! – and Salty Bag who cleverly re-use retired sails in their designs).
Cafes, bars and restaurants
Fun fact: There’s now a total of 30 dining spaces at the Athens Airport. The former Buondi café has disappeared under the abundance of new brands and old favourites that have been given a well-needed bit of spit and polish such as Everest and Flo Café.
We particularly love the stylish new Airti Coffee & Nuts outlet (just look out for the eye-catching Γάιδαρος – donkey sculpture) where you can buy delicious roasted blends, Greek mountain herbs for tea, chocolate-based morsels and dried fruits presented in large jute bags that you’ll most likely devour before you manage to give them away as gifts.
Meanwhile, for those of you departing from the Non-Schengen Area, which has also undergone a similar re-boot we highly recommend you take the time to stop and enjoy a glass of fine wine from the award-winning Kir-Yianni Estate at the chic new Kir-Yianni Wine Bar.
If you haven’t yet had your fix of archaeological wonders while in Athens, you can now take an 11th-hour culture trip while you wait at the gate. At the ground floor gates, there are large colourful pictures of ancient sites made by the famous Greek photographer Tassos Vrettos. By clicking on the hashtag at the bottom right of each image, you will know everything about the history of each of these historic places.
If there’s not enough time to discover all the great new stores and restaurants when you leave, all is not lost. In a radical re-think, there is now a staircase connecting the departures and arrivals levels which means you’ll be able to go back into the mall on your return. Also awaiting you in the Departures area – and accessible to all airport visitors – is Anamnesia, where you’re guaranteed to find that perfect funky souvenir or irresistible gift trinket that is quintessentially Greek (such as an apron bearing a deconstructed Greek salad, or cushion cover with a tangle of bemused squid). Right next door is the newly revamped Accessorize – a haven for teens, tweens and wannabe queens.
All shopped out? Simply buy the latest issue of Athens Insider at one of the new WHSmiths and sit over a Greek coffee at the new Espresso bar before re-emerging from this wonderful new world.
PICTURES: Heather Nomi Tshuma
Insider Weekly, June 7, 2017.