In Thessaloniki, time is less linear, more of a spaghetti junction: with a cutting-edge arts festival held in a Roman Agora, monuments to a 4th-century emperor overlooking a bustling shopping district and bars beside Ottoman baths, it tends to double back. And, revived boutique stay On Residence embodies this era-straddling feel; formerly elite eatery Olympos Naoussa has been given back its Twenties’ grandeur, with tiles, cornices, wallpapers and a swish-down staircase restored, and modernity comes in the shapely form of curved-in-the-right places furnishings and bronze and velvet embellishments. But, dine and drink under the deco chandeliers amid Grecian Gatsby-esque glamour, winsomely watching the gulf, and you might feel like time has taken a few steps back.
Get this when you book through us:
Smith guests get 10 per cent off food and drink; GoldSmiths also get a bottle of wine
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £136.70 (€161), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 0.5% per room per night prior to arrival and an additional government tax of €4.00 per room per night on check-in.
Rates usually include a buffet breakfast and a welcome drink.
First built by French architect Jacques Mosse in 1926, the Olympos Naoussa building was the height of elegance, and a crack team (French designer Fabienne Spahn with the Diversity Group and Dimitris Thomopoulos architecture firms) – under the eye of the Greek Ministry of Culture – have given it the kind of forensic restoration normally reserved for more ancient ruins. The grand staircase has been polished and garnished with a chandelier that drops 15 metres; cornices, stuccoes, ironwork and the façade have been revivified; vintage wallpapers have been recreated by hand; and floor tile-fragments matched and remade. It’s a testament to Grecian craftsmanship and acts as a gentle reminder that preserving the more present past is important, too.
At the hotel
Small garden terrace, lounge for work and play, gym and wellness space, concierge, charged laundry service, free high-speed WiFi. In rooms: 50-inch flatscreen TVs, Nespresso coffee machines, teas and kettles, minibars, bathrobes and slippers, kimonos, soundproofing, air-conditioning and Codage bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Rooms and suites strike a delicate balance between antique and modern – Thessaloniki’s calling card. Textured wood and glass panelling, sinuous silhouettes, flashes of brass and velvets from coral to mint to teal bring deco decadence up to date, while some rooms have intricate stucco (taken from casts of those found in the original building), photos of vintage parties taken from Aristotle Univeristy’s archives and owner Konstantinos Tornivoukas’ own collection, and delicate floral patterns. The Grey Room, a Junior Suite Seafront with the only furnished balcony, also has a mural which has been retouched by hand after the original was unearthed. If you want more of a hop-in-time feel, the first three floors are the original building, although the modern extension is beautifully done, with a fabulous penthouse suite; and you’ll want a view of the gulf – on a clear day you might be able to glimpse Mount Olympus.
There’s no spa, but the fitness room has stylish Nohrd equipment (a bike, treadmill, weights and pulleys).
Fans, fascinators, floor-scraping strings of pearls, elbow-length gloves and a hat box for your cloche – well, where else can you wear them?
There are three Classic rooms suitable for guests with mobility issues. Public spaces are easily navigable and there’s a lift too.
Docile doggies (under 25kg and must be deflead) can stay. But, they cannot enter the restaurant, spa or bar or run in private areas and must be caged if left alone. A €35 cleaning charge applies and a bed, bowl and towel will be provided. See more pet-friendly hotels in Thessaloniki.
The stay’s more for grown-ups having a gay old time, but some rooms sleep three or four and extra beds are free for under-6s, 20 per cent of the room rate for 7–12 year olds. Babysitting (€10 an hour) can be arranged when booked 24 hours in advance.
On Residence is a very personal project for Konstantinos Tornivoukas, the CEO of Tor Hotel Group. In 1925, his grandfather founded the high-society Mediterranée Hotel close by; it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1978, so when the Olympos Naoussa building, a neighbouring building of the same era, came up for auction, he wanted to rebuild in the spirit of the Mediterranée as an ‘act of gratitude from our family towards our beloved city’. The TLC involved in the restoration shows in the spectacular art deco interiors: original wallpaper designs were replicated by hand, tile fragments were matched and remade, and photo prints from Aristotle University’s archives and Tornivoukas’ private collection have been hung on the walls. The upper floors are part of a modern extension, but it’s sympathetic in style and fits seamlessly with the original building. And, looking to the future, plastics are banned and recycling is carried out with care.
Hidden away is a garden terrace; Thessaloniki’s first cinema once stood here, and a waterfall feature wall pays homage. Or book in advance and take your place at the chef’s table.
Dropped waists, gentle finger-waves and deco diamante. Gents, hoik up those high-rise trousers.
Olympos Naoussa restaurant (named after a brewery that formerly operated on the site) is more than ready to re-enter society after a decades-long hiatus – and re-establish its throne as Thessaloniki’s high-society hangout – with its intricately patterned floor tiles restored, elegant banquettes and globe chandeliers installed, and the ceiling’s cornices and roses gently revivified. This lofty eatery, with two large mirrors gazing wide-eyed at the gulf, is a more modern iteration of the Twenties’ Deco darling, but it has a bright future of soft-lit evenings, flourishing romances and sparkling conversations. Although much of that back and forth will involve emphatic ‘mmm’s: chef Dimitris Tasioulas has juggled Jewish, Slavic, Ottoman, Turkish and Hellenistic flavours to craft a menu as poetic as some of its dishes names (‘soup of the Earth and sea’, ‘tastes and cultures crossroads’, the sea bed of Halkidiki’). Mackerel smoked in cedar and thyme comes with saganaki flying-fish roe and a waft of truffle shavings; shrimp simmers in a crayfish and sweet-wine broth; and for dessert there’s citrus-cream-stuffed galaktoboureko with sour cherry and cardamom ice-cream, or French toast with tangerine gel and yoghurt.
Laurelled mixologist Achilleas Plakidas (the mastermind behind Gorilla and Mahalo bars) has earnt his stripes in the Tiger Loop bar, taking inspiration from the Chinese zodiac to create a menu with surprises in store, and updating the Twenties’ love of Chinoiserie in the same way the decor has painted panels of each month’s animal. Of the 12 signature drinks, we like the tiger with ramen distillate, sake, lillet blanc and wakame; the dragon with tequila and curry- and ginger-spiced pineapple juice; and the wolf, with tsipouro, melon, aloe vera and fermented cucumber. Locally brewed beers are poured here too. A DJ delves into the Eighties and Nineties for background music, but the surroundings are a step further back in time. Before you end up on the floor (a lovingly pieced together mix of original tiles and handpainted reproductions), take a second to admire the elegant restored ceilings.
Breakfast is served from 7am till 11am, then you can dine from 1pm till 11.30pm. Drinks run till 1am Sunday to Thursday and 3am Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch is from 9am till 2pm.
If you get the munchies for meze, room service is available round the clock.
The grander façade of On Residence overlooks the deep blue of Thermaikos Gulf, stretching out in each direction, while another overlooks a pedestrianised section of Kalapothaki street. Aristotelous Square and the port’s arts institutes are both close by.
Thessaloniki Airport Makedonia is just a 30-minute drive from the hotel; in fact, this is the only international airport serving a northern city, with direct routes starbursting all over Europe. The hotel can help arrange transfers for around €25 each way.
Thessaloniki train station is just a 10-minute drive away; trains arrive direct from Athens in around six hours. If you’re interrailing down, you can ride here via Belgrade and Skopje.
Built BC, Greece’s second city is better suited to wooden boats or perhaps the odd chariot. Driving a car can be chaotic, but things ease up a bit outside of commuter traffic times, and private parking is available at the hotel for around €20 a day.
Thessaloniki’s port is as active as it has been for centuries, with routes running to Piraeus for Athens, several Greek Islands and Turkey’s west coast.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’d never know it to look at the placid waters of Thermaikos Gulf and watch locals breezily wander the boardwalk, but Thessaloniki’s history hasn’t been smooth sailing. Marauders and massacres, wars, fires, Nazi occupation, and a sharp economic downturn have forged it in tumult, but this scrappy second city has bounced back every time, and over millennia, pieces fell into place for its art and design scene to thrive, its more-bubbling-cauldron-than-melting-pot cuisine to mark it as a distinctly gastronomic destination, and old and new to come together in harmony. You can’t escape the past – the Greeks, Romans and Macedonians built things to last – but you can admire it from this distance. Byzantine walls and fortifications are the perfect sunset perch; the Arch of Galerius details the military exploits of a 4th-century Roman emperor and the domed Rotunda was to be his mausoleum; columns outline the Roman Forum ruins; a bevy of Byzantine churches stand decorously throughout; and the White Tower is a somewhat sobering totem of bloody back-in-the-day rule, as the site of many beheadings – it was known as ‘the Bloody Tower’ until it was quite literally whitewashed in the 19th century. Heptapyrgion, an ancient prison infamous for its brutality, which only closed in 1989, offers spooky tours; and, Aristotelous Square replaced the labyrinthine lanes of the old city after much was razed by fire in 1917. There are 15 Unesco sites – and a lot to learn, with a brainwave-ing 29 museums, dedicated to folklife, the Olympics, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the founder of the Republic of Turkey), war, water and wine-making, and more niche interests: plaster casts, selfies… In many ways, the arts have been the city’s saving grace and this is no more evident than along the lively waterfront, where you’ll find museums dedicated to photography and cinema, the screening venues for November’s annual Thessaloniki Film Festival and the Contemporary Art Centre, all crowding onto one pier. The Museum of Contemporary Art shows the city on fast-forward, further inland, the Costakis Collection and Teloglion Fine Arts Foundation pull together important 20th-century pieces, and smaller venues such as Toss and Nitra galleries onward march. The Biennale cultivates even the more unusual parts of the city, with some shows in slaughterhouses, churches and baths; and for an intro to the city’s dynamic design scene, come to Dimitria Festival (held in early autumn), which first started in Byzantine times; and Urban Pik-nik is a party with screenings and gigs held in the ancient agora. For surprisingly stylish souvenirs, head to hellofrom or trawl main drag Egnatia. Then ease off your day pausing for thought by George Zongolopoulos’s Umbrellas sculpture and strolling the shorefront’s gardens.
Having been something of a free-for-all in the past, Thessaloniki’s cuisine has crossed many borders, with Roman, Jewish, Turkish and French influences and strong Macedonian base notes. It keeps things lively – take Extravaganza, a shabby-chic spot serving portfolio dishes such as radish risotto with smoked eel, poached pear and gorgonzola; chickpea meatballs with tahini and yoghurt mousse; and salmon on black rice in orange gazpacho. Full Tou Meze (‘full of meze’, a promise they keep), is a bright white space with strings of chillies and garlic hanging from the ceiling in good portent; load up all the breads and dips, and then go wild on dolmadakia, marathopita fennel pie, lasagna rolls stuffed with spinach and bacon, manouri cheese drizzled in honey, sausages, seafood and anything else you can manage. Mare e Monti throws Italian into the mix with classics and some locally influenced twists, say the baked pecorino with cinnamon, honey and walnuts. Try the linguine Rigoletto with parmesan, prosciutto and balsamic in a sauvignon reduction, or the fusilli della regina with strips of fillet steak, cream and brandy, flambéed. And, Igglis (a bastardisation of ‘English’) has Crittall-style windows and plants aplenty; the chefs keep it simple and traditional – the grilled lamb or steak with hand-cut potatoes, or smoky pork and thyme on mash are just-right. The pod of metal dolphins breaching through 7 Thalasses’ wall might be a little much, but there’s no flash needed when it comes to the food: prawn Caesar salads, shrimp tartare with green apple, and artful mouthfuls of caviar-sprinkled sushi.
Mia Feta Bar gives the tangy crumbly Grecian cheese its due. It’s in pretty much everything, whether crumbled over French toast, smoked and served with fava beans and mushrooms, saganaki-style with molasses and orange cream… And things don’t get much better for the lactose-intolerant at Bougatsa Banti (33 Panagias Faneromenis), where Macedonia’s famous phyllo pastry, filled with custard or cheese, comes in hearty sugar-dusted slabs.
Thessalonians are a sociable bunch, with people coming and going from the port for centuries. The night might find you sipping tsipouro (Greek grappa) as someone needles about on a bouzouki, clinking cocktails under rainbow lights or discussing the minutiae of microbrews. Aside from its neons, the Blue Cup isn’t all that blue – more industrial with its brick walls and ample wood – but their classic cocktails are on a level, unlike you after a few bands have wrapped up their sets here. Bord de L’eau Drinkroom is an avant-garde jewellery and art store by day and a sanctuary for the city’s cool crowd by night – if you like what the DJ’s spinning, you can buy vinyl here too. Local wine bar may be impossible to Google, but it’s worth the hair-tearing, because once you’re plonked under its greenery-shaded terrace with a glass of Domaine Skouras Viognier in hand, all stresses will melt away. And, To Palio Hamam’s rooftop overlooks the terracotta domes of Ottoman-era baths – which look especially magical lit up at night.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this glam-dunk hotel on Thessaloniki’s coast and unpacked their boxes of creamy bougatsa and recovered from their tsipouro hangover, a full account of their bygone break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside On Residence in Thessaloniki…
Don’t call it a comeback – sleeping beauty On Residence has just been taking a refreshing 40 winks for the last 30 years, in preparation for a whole new season of flirty cocktails, dinners that go on way past bedtime and stealing kisses along the seafront. Olympus Noussa restaurant may have been the Thessalonian high-society hotspot of the Twenties, but it’s still got plenty of roar in left in it, with an Asian-influenced cocktail bar overseen by laurelled drink-slinger Achilleas Plakidas where the menu is inspired by Chinese zodiac signs, and a restaurant with two huge blue eyes to the Thermaikos Gulf, cathedral-high ceilings from which only the most determined guests could swing from starburst chandeliers, and divine Deco gilding. Under the watchful eye of the Greek Ministry of Culture’s preservation arms, French designer Fabienne Spahn with the Diversity Group and Dimitris Thomopoulos’ architecture firm breathed life back into Jacques Mosse’s original building, cleaning stuccoes and zhuzhing up the facade, unearthing wallpapers and repainting them by hand, restoring the make-an-entrance central staircase and recreating floor tiles from fragments. Of course, it wouldn’t be Thessaloniki if there wasn’t a beguiling mix of vintage and modern – rooms are a showcase of the city’s knack for design, dining is a fray of culinary influences synthesised into the most stylish of eats, and a sympathetic two-storey extension has maximised the soul-stirring views. It’s caught up with the cosmopolis, but listen to the click of high heels over intricately laid floors, squint at the bands of well-dressed revellers, and watch the peaceful waters from your balcony and you’ll feel – in some ways – time really hasn’t moved very far forward at all.