Eftihia Stefanidi’s Insider Guide To Athens
The co-creator and creative director of Mona and Shila, Athens’ most exciting hotel openings in recent years, Eftihia is a voice to know in the city’s energetic new creative class. Having lived and travelled all over the world, she has now returned to the city she was born and raised in — and here, she shares her little black book of favourite places to eat, drink, escape and dream.
“The Athens I knew at a young age and the Athens I experience now are two different places; not only has the city gone through so many changes, but also I have returned to it with a different perspective. The current Athens is more open-minded and experimental. Visually, it thrives in combining the old with the new, the high-brow and the low-brow, all pinned under the unique Athenian light. I find it fascinating, this anarchic arrangement that somehow liberates you.
Athens is also a patchwork of its inhabitants: Greeks, immigrants, expats, foreigners in search of quality of life, all coexisting in pockets. There is an energy that is very Athenenian, a freedom and often an innocence.”
You’ve lived in several other countries and cities. How has that impacted your creative journey?
“It informed my practice, opened my mind, and developed my aesthetic sensibilities. At Oxford, I appreciated the scholarly depths and met incredible minds from around the world. London defined me professionally; I threw myself into the deep for the love of cinema and cultural experiences. New York taught me to appreciate being lucky in the right moment and place. Travelling for me feels organic and essential to creative work.”
Can you tell us a little about your background and how it led you to create hotels?
“I chose to study theatre dramaturgy, where I got exposed to film — it was like discovering electricity. I studied filmmaking in Prague, Film Aesthetics at Oxford and pursued film criticism, reporting from Cannes, Venice and Berlin. The turning point was joining Secret Cinema, a London-based live events company, at that time staging underground happenings in abandoned locations inspired by movies. It entailed location scouting, which led me to New York where I met Shai Antebi, the now owner of Shila and Mona. I find a very close correlation between building imaginary words for a live performance, or planning the scene for a film, with making a hotel — or at least the type of hotel we wanted to make. Both need a location, narrative, aesthetics, atmosphere and an experimental journey inside a space.”
How do you want guests to feel when they stay at your hotels?
“Transported, inspired, mentally and physically rejuvenated.”
How are Mona and Shila different?
“I would say Shila is a true, as they call it, “hotel particulier”, housed in this charming 1920s neoclassical residence. She feels like the home of some larger than life personality you’d want to befriend. Like you are invited to their home. The Shila world is a closed universe which seduces you internally. In contrast, Mona is an extroverted character, raw and open ended, she is very alive. The roughness of the industrial building of the 1950s and the bold energy of the area in Psirri add to her temperament.”
Are there plans for any more hotels?
“Our project in the island of Skopelos is in the making, opening in summer 2023. Part of the House of Shila collection, she will complement her Athenian sisters, as an island residence embraced by a rural landscape, olive groves and natural beauty.”
Efithia’s favourite spots for:
Coffee on the go
“Morning Bar, in my neighbourhood in Koukaki. They make great coffee and I distract myself with their cool magazines and dwellers while waiting.”
“Philos in Kolonaki. The eggs are perfect and the mise en scene is calm and elegant. It’s set in a neoclassical house, and the owners have kept a lot of its original character. You can sense its personality and simplicity.”
Lunch with friends
“I like the Petralona area for weekends, as it resembles a village with its low-rise buildings and slower pace. I love Oikonomou, a traditional Greek taverna that’s been there since forever. Kostas, the owner and chef, is a figure with an air of old Athens. I always order ‘ladera’.”
A night cap
“Galaxy Bar, because time has stood still and it’s just so classic.”
A romantic dinner
“Somewhere in Piraeus. I find Piraeus quite romantic…”
“Andreas Melas (Martinos Art) in Monastiraki is a beautiful gallery. I love the clean interiors against the windows overlooking the local market and the crazy patchwork that Athens is. You really feel you are in the heart of the city, that the works converse with the ruins. It is a very interesting and well informed curation.”
A cinema, a theatre, a store
“Open air cinema remains one of my favourite things to do in Athens. There are many I like, with a soft spot for Cine Thiseio, Cine Zefiros and one of the oldest ones, Cine Oasis in Pagrati. For me going to these movie theatres is an experience, because it is a very old school tradition and the fact that it has stood the test of time here is touching. The last film I saw was Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund.”
“My favourite theatre is Theseum by the genius Michael Marmarinos.”
“Lexikopoleio in Pangrati. Bookstores make me happy. This one is run by passionate people and you feel it. I read many books in English and it caters for that, as well as having a large French selection.”
An island escape
“Without a second thought, Hydra. The absence of cars recalibrates, time slows down. There is surrendering and beauty at every corner. I have garnered many memories in Hydra over the years; I still find it bohemian, a place to dream. A walk to Kamini is a favourite thing to do. The sea sparkles and languid stray cats are hypnotizing. Before reaching Kamini’s petite port, one can stop for a few swim stops in between.
A day trip
“I like to go to the south and explore some secret sea coves, then head to Sounion to catch the sunset, climbing one of the most stunning monuments of Athens, the Temple of Poseidon, followed by a classic tavern by sea.”
And back to Athens, a viewpoint
“Filopappou Hill. Tell no one!”
Header image photo credit: Marco Andres
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