Looking south from the observation deck on the Empire State Building; the sun setting over the Eiffel tower from the Palais de Tokyo; the Rialto Bridge at golden hour, in a gondola approaching from the southwest – there are views so special that they can’t really be transmitted through description or by photograph, too potent ever to be reduced to cliché.
I don’t know, I’m a city person and love hotels that are right down in the mix of a metropolis, so I will take your word on jungle, desert, beach, and mountain resort views. And I will take the Dolli every day.
In fact, it is difficult to think of a metropolitan hotel as immaculately appointed and luxurious being sort of outshined by its view, and yet. Built, unbelievably, as a private mansion in 1925, this rather substantial five-story building in sort of Athens-Deco, designed by the man behind the Greek Parliament building, became, in the 1930s, a kind of textiles department store.
After a significant refurbishment throughout the pandemic, the luxury hotel group Grecotel opened the Dolli at the Acropolis at the start of 2023. And the immediate neighbourhood seems to have simultaneously opened a variety of great new restaurants and wine bars, galleries and the like right in beside it.
I think you can probably tell a lot about a culture’s priorities by what it puts in its grandest buildings – in New York, for example, all the great old edifices that once housed banks are now Apple stores or gyms.
At the same time, I think hotels, and their lobbies and restaurants are to socialising now as cafes were to the 1950s, the hub, the kicking off point, the meeting place, the headquarters. And the Dolli is an incredible illustration of the first point, and potentially a wonderful addition to the Athenian scene on the second.
But I say that as a total outsider. In my mind, Athens is a place of intrigue, site of the social and political upheavals in Costa-Gavras’s Z, gathering place for the guilty and conniving in The Two Faces of January, or backdrop for the manic roughhousing of Jason Bourne, so I waded into ye olde cradle of civilization with thriller intensity on my first visit right around Easter of this year.
A dear friend of mine who runs a magazine in town met me soon after I’d checked into the Dolli and we went for lunch at the ancient subterranean taverna Diporto where the food is simple and phenomenal, and the people-watching complicated but invigorating.
My friend and I talked about the perils of mass tourism and cities having to commodify themselves to appease a broad spectrum of tastes, to fit the projections people like me want to hang on a place, having just seen, say, The Two Faces of January.
But wandering around central Athens, even as it popped to bursting with early season tourism, on a brilliantly bright spring day, was absolute heaven. Visits to the many brocante shops, to the wonderful fish market, meat market, produce stalls, and the best antique shop I’ve ever seen were wildly inspiring.
Back on the roof of the hotel I admired again the vantage points, marvelling at the layers of the city apparent from my position knee deep in the infinity pool.
There, on the left shoulder of the acropolis – where in ancient times the cult of Dionysus might’ve begun their revelries as they made their way to a festival, a play, a party, a debauch in communion with their spirit – is a series of older dwellings that one of the hotel staff told me had been built by labourers who were brought in to complete one of many campaigns of construction and restoration in this city that reveals striations of human history almost everywhere.
When the mood strikes you to engage, to wander, to explore, to get lost or to lose yourself in the city’s endless wonders, The Dolli is incredibly well positioned as a portal into all of the action of central Athens.
But maybe more importantly, it is incredibly well designed to welcome you in from the sturm and drang. A cool, calming oasis, where everyone knows your name, a retreat from the buzz of the city.
From the first day, I seemed to know the entire staff, and they me, and the warmth that develops throughout a stay is quite something, where someone anticipating a request or an order feels more like the continuation of an inside joke, than it does like algorithmic planning.
And then again the view. Forever this view.
I spent hours admiring this view from my continent-sized dream bed in my room, watching cats lazily wander about rooftops in the foreground, while the shifting clouds and arcing sunlight played games with the monuments atop the acropolis. It was impossible to look away.
The acropolis works on your sense of space and time and orientation within both. It feels central, monolithic. Or anyway I thought so as I whiled away afternoons in my tub staring up at the ghostly white stone as it seemed to thaw, go gold with the setting of the sun.
At cocktail hour on the rooftop the acropolis appeared now another shade entirely, something like pale violet, as the sky above it went cotton candy, and then deep purple. In the all glass restaurant, which, during my visit was only available to guests and dinner party reservations, I felt like I had a private seat in the sky.
Chris Wallace is a forever-on-the-move writer – formerly US editor of Mr Porter, executive editor of Interview, and contributor to The Paris Review. He has recently turned his hand to photography, too, with work appearing in the FT’s HTSI, Departures, and Neptune Papers. His new book, Twentieth-Century Man: the Wild Life of Peter Beard, is published this summer.
All photography by the author