Travel: Aphrodite’s Secret Lake of Love

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Lake Vouliagmeni

The bus careened past what looked like a colossal cave entrance sliced in half with a wide emerald lagoon in front of it and the blue sea on the other side — I asked my interpreter what it could possibly be and she replied, “That is the sacred place where Aphrodite was born.”

“I thought Aphrodite was born on an island,” I said.

“No, she was born in Greece,” she corrected. “Then, she floated to an island on a seashell.”

Apocryphal or not, the explanation worked for me; after all, Lake Vouliagmeni, just 15 miles outside bustling Athens but a world apart, invites thoughts of ancient myth and invocations to love goddesses. The geological jewel of the Athenian Riviera, the lake was called Eschatiotis in antiquity, which meant it was the last point of known land. It certainly retains an air of mystery. The current moniker derives from the Greek word vouliiazo, which means “submerge” and, indeed, the mesmerizing lake formed when a huge underwater spring let loose and caused a massive cave roof to collapse. For anyone familiar with Yosemite’s El Capitan, add a pristine thermal spring-fed lake filled with healing waters and a breezy al fresco restaurant and you have some idea of the extraordinary natural setting here at Lake Vouliagmeni. 

The waters have therapeutic value due to the high concentration in salts and minerals. That, along with high water temperatures — averaging around 78 degrees, higher in summer and fall — means a plunge into the lake can help mitigate all manner of dermatological and other ailments. It’s also just a lot of refreshing fun, so much so that a couple hours might not suffice. It didn’t for me, so that’s why I stayed overnight at the Vouliagmeni Suites Boutique Hotel, the ideal sanctuary for a stay of any length on the Athenian Riviera (vouliagmenisuites.com). My comfortable room had a spacious balcony with a view over the Mediterranean and from the lobby it was an easy three-minute walk to the lake. A short bus ride takes you to the sandy beach at Varkiza, which retains a Greek island flavor. Speaking of flavor, a three-minute walk from the hotel in the direction takes you to a string of fantastic, tourist-free bars and restaurants, my favorite among which is Souvlike, where you will more than like, but love and swoon over, the best souvlaki you’ve ever had. 

Of course, more great Greek food awaits in Athens and that’s where you’ll find one of the most original hotels in the Greek capital. Like Vouliagmeni Suites, the Pallas Athena (grecotelpallasathena.com) is part of the Grecotel group, which has some of the most unique hotel and resort properties — not just in the Athens area, but throughout Greece. In fact, many of the ingredients used in the hotel’s restaurant are sourced from Grecotel’s own farm in Crete. There’s mm-good Cretan honey at the amazing daily breakfast (included in your room price!) and also a yummy “Cretan corner” with traditional products like dakos, apaki, mizithropitakia and other organic Hellenic delicacies to which addiction is wholeheartedly approved. The Pallas Athena is openly artsy, with an airy, modern art-filled lobby and guestrooms featuring quirky decorative touches (mine had a shiny ceramic yellow pig as well as a chandelier) and sometimes unique graffiti-style elements. The hotel is not in the touristy Plaka area (though it isn’t too far) but closer to the Psirri and Monastiraki districts, which is where Athens’ younger, more creative verve (and lots of interesting shopping) is headquartered. So, it makes an excellent base to explore ancient Athens and its more modern side, too. 

 

For more information about the Grecotels mentioned, visit grecotel.com.

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