Sitting pretty on the south-western foot of Mount Ymittos, about 40 minutes from the city, this luxe resort town has a year-round tropical vibe and is to Athens what Cannes is to the Cote d'Azur. There’s next to no graffiti. Palm trees, fountains and sunny beds of marigolds line Athinas Avenue, heralding your arrival at this most self-aware of southern suburbs whose main game is leisure. Kostis Georgiou’s bright zoomorphic sculpture Equus accentuates the near constant blue of the sky and the sweep of Vouliagmeni Bay, with its luxury yachts and members-only nautical clubs and marinas.
Fashionable types from Kolonaki and Kifissia once turned up their noses at this “remote backwater where one only went to dip one’s toes in the water”. Vouliagmeni still falls rather short on culture and shopping, but it does flaunt Athens’ comeliest free and paid beaches and finest seaside dining. Along Fleming Street (the area’s Millionaire’s Row) and in verdant Kavouri you’ll find some of the capital’s priciest real estate. On summer weekends, when this coastal enclave swells with tourists and townies seeking a city reprieve, locals have learned to avoid their own beaches and artisan ice cream parlours.
Almost hidden from view behind Posidonos Avenue is the beautiful sunken cavern of Vouliagmeni Lake, which lends this southern suburb its name (vouliagmeni means “sunken” in Greek). Open year-round, the lake is actually a flooded limestone cave, lined with tawny cliffs and fed by underground mineral currents that stay a constant 24° C. Many gripe about the hefty entrance fee (currently €12 on weekdays, €15 on weekends). But wading through the brackish grottos, with tiny black fish (kalogries) nudging your toes, conjures the feel of an exclusive spa. The lake is flanked by luxuriant lawns and sunbeds and there’s an all-day restaurant that hosts gastronomic evenings (spring to autumn), accompanied by live jazz and orchestral performances, under the illuminated rocks.
Swimming in Vouliagmeni
Elegant Vouliagmeni is more democratic than first impressions suggest: you’ll find all bases of beach covered here. High rollers head to famous Astir on the lush pine-clad peninsula of Mikro Kavouri. Once the summer playground of Jackie Onassis and Bridget Bardot, Athens’ most expensive beach offers manicured sands, waiter service to your lounger, designer boutiques and fine dining. Central Akti Vouliagmeni, where Posidonos and Apollonos converge, is one of the city’s best-groomed municipal beaches and a multi-tasking oasis that caters to all. For €5 entry, you have access to sunloungers, wide grassy strips for picnics and ballgames, tennis and volleyball courts, cafes and a playground, plus an aqua inflatable park.
Locals like to swim for free from the rocky piers outside of En Plo café or Sardelaki. Both provide access to the clear waters of the Vouliagmeni basin. Also free, Limanakia Vouliagmeni is the most popular of a run of rocky coves off the coastal road, just outside of Vouliagmeni. Bronzed locals chill out to music on a sociable deck before leaping into the deep blue sea.
Old Vouliagmeni—The Classics
As Athens Riviera’s fame has grown outside of Greece, so too has the number of expensive new restaurants and stylish cafés wanting a slice of the action. Vouliagmeni locals—mostly composed of families who’ve been here for generations—may experiment, but they largely stay loyal to the old guard. On the main café strip in Agiou Panteleimonos, opposite the seafront, that means aristocratic Aqua Marina café with its groomed grande dames, the Waffle House that’s been a lazy Sunday staple or after-school special for over two decades, and Rumors Lounge where the suburb’s bright young things go to kick-start their Saturday nights.
Directly opposite the lake, with its prime views of Vouliagmeni Bay, classy Labros fish restaurant has been a local landmark since 1889 and is still going strong. In a suburb strangely devoid of traditional tavernas, homey Louizidis on busy Ermou is an old-school neighbourhood go-to, especially during winter and on public holidays. High-end celebrity hotspot Ithaki—on a scenic perch overlooking Astir Beach—has fed and watered everyone from Leonardo di Caprio to Bill Clinton.
Big Crab and Little Crab—Kavouri
Vouliagmeni’s western half, from Athinas Avenue to the sea, is arguably the postcode’s prettiest face. It takes in the two, adjoining pine-covered peninsulas of Megalo and Mikro Kavouri (Big and Little Crab) and is host to lavish villas, unsullied swimming coves, the iconic Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel, scenic seaside promenades and the picture-book chapel of St. George. It’s here that you’ll find Vouliagmeni’s most revitalized pulse. One of Athens Riviera’s most popular promenades, the paved seafront path that starts just after Lasithi Café on Iliou Street, has been spruced up with new greenery and fresh eateries in place of the slightly seedy shacks of old.
Further down on Iliou, opposite the Divani Apollon Palace, established sunset haunt Garbi has been joined by the chic and breezy Agora Riviera (another recent refit of a once tired venue). But last summer’s talk of the town was the Margi Hotel’s new beach club, Krabo by the Sea, a high-aesthetic (and high-cost) outpost on stunning Koska Bay with canopy sunbeds, a resort wear boutique, and on-the-sand fine dining.
Nothing spells summer in Athens quite like an evening of cinema under the stars. Vouliagmeni denizens have been partaking of this seasonal ritual at Akti Summer Cinema since 1975. From May until late September, this modest neighbourhood theatre features just two films a week on a bijou screen in its bougainvillea-framed courtyard: usually a recent Hollywood release (in English with Greek subtitles) and a cult classic (often foreign language). There may be some low-grade chatter and dodgy acoustics to contend with—but it’s less about the movie, more about feeling part of this close-knit coastal community. Like most European cinemas, you can buy wine or beer to enjoy with the film.