Review: Arion, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Part I

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Now that we know that the Astir Palace complex is going to be turned into a Four Seasons, I thought you might like to see a review of a hotel stay at the property before the renovations began.

Before the partnership with Four Seasons, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide operated the Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort, and the Arion Resort & Spa Astir Palace.

The Astir Palace resort in Vouliagmeni today has one main entrance, but once you are on the grounds there are actually two hotels – the Westin and the Arion. Both share the same waterfront area although folks staying in the bungalows of the Arion get a specially roped off swimming area.

Interestingly, there used to be 3 hotels open at the Astir Palace. The Arion, Nafsika, and the Aphrodite. My best guess is that Nafsika is the property that was last known as the Westin. The smaller hotel Aphrodite, which was inaugurated in 1984, has been out of operation for several years.

The Four Seasons Press Release about the property mentions the development of 13 luxury villas. What it doesn’t say is that the Aphrodite Hotel is the one that will be renovated to create the luxury villas.

Background

Back in the 1930’s was a time when the area of Vouliagmeni belonged to a quiet monastery. The monastery had built some small rentals and restaurants around the lake, hoping to attract investors. WWII put development plans on hold, but afterwards, the Greek National Tourism Organization turned their focus once again on bringing in tourists.

In 1953 the Bank of Athens merged with the National Bank, and suddenly the south coast was seen as an investment opportunity. The ASTIR company was founded in 1954, and the Astir Palace opened in 1958.

The property quickly became a favorite of the international jet-set, and was frequented by some of the most well-known dignitaries and celebrities over the years.

Guests might casually see Brigitte Bardot walking on the beach, Frank Sinatra enjoying Egyptian pistachios and coconut milk, King Saud of Saudi Arabia handing out gold watches as tips, and ballet star Rudolf Nureyev dancing in the disco. John Wayne even stayed at the hotel!

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Arrival and Check-In

Driving up to the property, a mandatory check was done by a staff member first to make sure we actually belonged there. About six months prior, my husband and I had been in the area and decided to stop by on a whim to have lunch at the restaurant. We were stopped at the gate, however, and were not allowed to go further without a room reservation. This time, after checking our names against the guest list staying at the hotel for the evening, we were permitted to proceed.

Hotel complex checkpoint

Valet parking was available but as self-parking was right across from the entrance to the hotel it was just as convenient of an option.

Front of Arion hotel

Dragging into the hotel shortly after 7am (after having taken a 4:30am flight requiring an alarm set for midnight the night prior), I felt pretty tired. The front desk hostess was pleasant and already had everything arranged to make check-in as smooth as possible. As the suite was not ready yet, she had another room that we could take a nap in. Brilliant.

Arion Lobby

The room was 1110, which was just one floor up from reception.

Room 1110

The room looked out over the parking lot and front of the hotel. It even had a little balcony, and I kept the sliding door open to let in the cool, fresh air while I organized our belongings.

Balcony

The room plunged into darkness as I closed the curtains, and it was nearly 1pm before the alarm went off that we had set. We had been able to rest undisturbed. A quick shower and we were ready to continue on with our day.

Bathroom

After my husband left for a meeting, I received a call from the same front desk hostess, wishing me a good morning and letting me know that our suite was ready. A bellman came to assist with the move, and provided me with new keys.

Guest Room

The new room/suite layout was completely different, and the room didn’t face the front of the hotel but had large sliding glass doors leading to a huge balcony that overlooked the water, and I could hear the lapping of the waves at the shore below. There were no rooms to the left, so the corner location offered gorgeous views of the water and later, the sunset.

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The entryway had a master light switch, as well as one for an electronic Do Not Disturb sign. There were buttons to automatically pull the drapes closed, but someone had manually pulled them apart at one point so they needed to be reattached before working again. They pulled closed just fine though, and there was a filmy white curtain as well as a heavier blackout type.

Filmy white curtain

I switched the air conditioning on, and it cooled the room well with minimal noise.

Thermostat

There was a separate toilet room and shower/tub combo, and there was also a huge walk-in shower.

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The bellman had carefully arranged the suitcases in the walk-in closet, which was just the right size for leaving both of them opened up.

Closet

After unpacking I looked around for the complimentary bottles of water but didn’t find any. I made a call to inquire and housekeeping arrived shortly afterwards with a couple bottles. It was only later that I found the original two bottles that had been tucked away in the minibar fridge. Oops!

Minibar

The bedroom was decorated in the same natural tones and had blue accents to match the water outside. Cubbyholes next to each bedside lamp had outlets for charging, and there were several drawers as well. The door pulled shut softly between the sitting room and the bedroom, and there were no annoying lighting panels on the walls.

The bed was pretty comfortable, but the top edges felt a little odd. Pulling back the bedding I discovered why – the pillowtop cover was larger than the mattress, so it tended to be a bit bulky on the edges as it pulled down around the mattress. I figured that the mattress was a bit older, so this was their way of making the bed extra comfortable without having the extra cost of replacing all the mattresses.

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When it was time for bed, the room was dark and cool once all the drapes were shut. No noise could be heard from the surrounding hallway or rooms.

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Breakfast

Breakfast went until noon, which was a treat for lazy folks on holiday who like to sleep in. The first morning of our stay we were up early and enjoyed some time on the quiet balcony just looking out over the water and the hills beyond.

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We went down to breakfast around 8am as we had a full day offsite planned. With Platinum status, we enjoyed full breakfast with hot and cold options. It was quiet in the breakfast room, with plenty of seating both indoors and outside on the patio.

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The buffet choices were expansive, with cheeses, meats, pastries, and tons of bread options. I especially liked that there were lots of local specialties labeled for those not familiar. I tried mizithra, spinach pies, and fresh honey from the honeycomb (which was a popular option).

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There were large bowls of fruit, several yogurt choices, and assorted jams, nuts, and seeds. Guests were welcome to squeeze their own oranges if they wanted, using a fresh juice machine. A pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice sat nearby, for those not wanting to take the time to do their own. There was also a waffle and pancake station.

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Waitstaff was quick to come around and take orders as well as deliver items, and the whole experience was enjoyable.

The second day of our stay we went downstairs around 10:30am for breakfast. Compared to how quiet it had been the day before, the breakfast room felt like mayhem. Guests were shoving too many oranges in the fresh juice machine, which caused it to function slower. When it was pointed out that a pitcher of freshly squeezed juice was there for convenience, the group of people overloading the machine with oranges ignored it and continued on. A smushed cherry lay in the middle of the floor getting flatter and flatter as people stepped on it until a waiter could scoop it up. The pancake server was working as fat as she could, and the noise level was quite high. There were a ton of people working there, and I felt a bit sorry for them to have what seemed like a bit unruly of a crowd.

Busy breakfast

The food was every bit as good, albeit served in a busier place. There was another breakfast option available to us. There was a Club Level where breakfast was served buffet style for Platinum guests. It was more of a light breakfast option though, as just some of the selections were available with full breakfast downstairs.

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After breakfast a swim in the pool was in order.

To be continued with Part II, showing the pool, grounds (including the inside of one of the bungalows), and restaurants.

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