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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tor Hotels: Greek destinations within destinations

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There are hotels that are destinations, and then there are hotels in destinations. Tor Hotels offer both.

Nea Paralia Waterfront Park, Thessaloniki & the White Tower

Macedonia – a name that rings with history – is most famous because of Alexander the Great, yet its provenance as part of the ancient Hellenistic world was legendary centuries before. The Tor Hotel Group anchors two of northern Greece’s most iconic destinations: Thessaloniki and Athos Peninsula. The comfort the properties offer may make it a tough decision as to just how much time to explore away from their luxury.

Alexia Lioki, sales manager Tor Hotels Group at their Excelsior Hotel

Greek hotels in general epitomize hospitality. Since classical times the gods demanded the fair treatment of guests and the reciprocal treatment of hosts, outlined in the concept of xenia. Xenia demanded utmost respect from both guests and hosts. In a classic example a disguised Zeus and Hermes are given shelter and food by an elderly couple after neighbors refused to accommodate the gods; the couple is subsequently rewarded.

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The City Hotel and Excelsior are Tor Hotels two boutique accommodations in the heart of historic Thessaloniki, a city with eighteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Founded 2,300 years ago by King Cassander, brother-in-law to Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki was intended, and remains, the most important port in the far northern Aegean Sea.

Despite wars, earthquakes and fires, Thessalonians are doing what King Cassander planned from the start. It is Macedonia’s largest city and the second largest in Greece. It’s a gateway to the Balkans and commercially connected to Asia Minor, strategically located on both the Spice and Silk Roads to the Orient.

This reality made Thessaloniki coveted over the millenniums by conquerors from Rome to the Ottomans, and their presence is palpable now. It’s under your feet; it’s towering over your head. Soon you’ll whiz by more of its history on the new state-of-the-art underground subway system.

Charlie D. Brasserie in the Tor Hotel Group’s Excelsior Hotel

The City Hotel and the Excelsior are directly across the street from each other and in the heart of the historic city. Everything is within walking distance – the Modiano Market, the nearly 2,000-year-old Heptapyrgion Fortress, Aristotelous Square and Thessaloniki’s charming two-mile-long Nea Paralia Waterfront Park with the infamous White Tower. Across the Aegean Sea fabled Mt. Olympus is visible on a clear day.

City Hotel

The compact, modern City Hotel features 125 rooms, gym, meeting facilities and the charming Green Bar. Interior design melds nature with urban sophistication. A garden motif dominates both rooms and public spaces with painted walls, rustic wood wall accents and hand carved birds resting on branches from the ceiling. Breakfast in the Green Bar is a flavorful buffet of Greek specialties.

Excelsior Hotel

Directly across the street the Excelsior Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has an exterior as elegant as its interior. Tor Hotels restored the 1924 building into a boutique gem. Built after the Great Fire of 1917 destroyed much of the city’s historic waterfront, the Excelsior, like most of the fire damaged city core, was designed in the French Neo-classical style. Graceful balconies and elegant marble staircases are accented by the contemporary design, art works and interior decorations of both private and public space.

An increasing number of boutique hotels in Greece feature fine dining restaurants. A relaxing dinner at Charlie D. Brasserie in the Tor Hotels Excelsior Hotel included an imaginative first course of smoked salmon on a waffle and a fanciful deconstructed cheesecake with mango. Charlie D. Brasserie exudes a 1950’s New York club atmosphere with its sleek dusty rose-tinted lines and crystal. Breakfast is served in the Roof Garden, with its relaxing atrium ambiance.

Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort

Tor Hotels Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort, another member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, enjoys an enviable location a few minutes from the picturesque fishing village of Ouranoupolis in Halkidiki on the Athos Peninsula. The Athos Peninsula is a two-hour drive from Thessaloniki and is the eastern most of Halkidki’s three fingers of land  (Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos) on the southern Aegean coast of central Macedonia.

Mount Athos

The peninsulas of Halkidiki are a summer playground of secluded beaches, postcard villages and forested cliffs plunging into the sea. Mount Athos’ conical shape pierces the humid sky at the southern end of Athos Peninsula. Yet continuing for three millenniums Athos remains “The Holy Mountain” from ancient days to the great 1,000-year-old monasteries that still cling to its flanks.

The Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort and its sister, the Eagles Villas, are set within lush gardens. Everywhere there is comfort from the luxurious lobby that invites one to sink in a chair for the day to the soft beaches, lounge chairs, elegant pools and ever-present sun-kissed Aegean Sea. Its 170 rooms and villas offer everything expected of a 5-Star resort.

Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort

The hotels have multiple dining options. In the resort is the Melathron for sumptuous breakfast and dinner buffets featuring Greek and Macedonian specialties. The Armyra Restaurant is a casual Mediterranean diet beach café. Vinum Restaurant is nestled within a stunning pool garden. The intimate, award-winning Kamares Restaurant offers imaginative international cuisine.

The newest addition to the Tor Hotels collection is the adjacent Eagles Villas. Eagles Villas, which opened in 2017, consists of 42 villas in a variety of sizes. Like the Athos monasteries, the sleek, modern villas cling to the hillside with unobstructed panoramic views.

Melathron Restaurant, Eagles Palace

The villa complex has two restaurants, Lofos, a fine-dining venue offers Mediterranean cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Italian themed Eleonas by Fuga. Private dining can be arranged as well in your villa.

For excursions, the hotel has a complimentary shuttle to the centuries-old village of Ouranoupolis with its quaint shops featuring Athos specialty foods, crafts and waterfront tavernas where the grilled fish and seafood is as fresh as it gets. The port is also the gateway to explore Mount Athos.

one of 20 monasteries on Mount Athos

For centuries pilgrims have climbed to the top of the 6,000-foot Holy Mountain Athos and hiked to its 20 monasteries, which are engineering marvels. Since the early 20th century, the monastery region is the Autonomous State of Mount Athos with special status within Greece and the European Union. Only adult men are permitted to apply for a visa to step foot on the mountain itself. Women and non-visa holding men can enjoy day excursion boat tours to view the magnificent architecture of the monasteries from a distance.

Captain Vasilis, Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort

Several islands off the coast of Eagles Palace make beautiful day excursions. Ammouliani Island is easily reached by a 15-minute ferry ride. I can assume that the god’s may have favored Ammouliani Island and wanted it for themselves. Its wide crescent white sand beaches are fringed with lush vegetation, wild flowers and craggy wind and wave formed rock outcroppings. The topography is gentle yet with hills of enough elevation to provide beautiful views of mist shrouded sacred Mt. Athos.

The Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort has a fast, sleek speedboat available to explore these islands including Ammouliani. Captain Vasilis knows all the small villages and beaches accessed only by boat. A savory picnic of Greek mezze and sparkling wine is a perfect pairing for a tranquil afternoon on the sun dappled Aegean.

Urban sophistication, award-winning gastronomy, luxurious accommodations and iconic destinations, the Tor Hotel Group offers it all.

In Ouranoupoli the Byzantine Tower of Andronikos was built in 1344 by the Mount Athos monastery of Vatopediou as a protection from pirates. Ouranoupoli is the port for pilgrims traveling to the Mount Athos Monasteries.

When you go: Thessaloniki International Airport (SKR) is served through major European hubs and Greek cities. Thessaloniki is connected as well by rail and coach bus within Greece and to the Balkans. The Athos Peninsula of Halkidiki is a two-hour drive from Thessaloniki and there is comfortable bus transportation to the main port of Ouranoupolis.

Special thanks to Sofia Bournatzi of Pass Partout DMC for facilitating my stay, Tor Hotels for their hospitality and to Athos Sea Cruises for providing the day excursion of Mt. Athos monasteries.

Travel with Pen and Palate to Greece and the world every month in the Hellenic News of America

sunset at Eagles Palace Hotel & Resort

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