Tucked away from the tourist trail, the home of Persephone has a mythical past, making Elefsina an ideal day trip from Athens
When thinking about locations famous for their place in Greek mythology, odds are the Acropolis is first to mind, where the Ancient Greeks worshipped Athena, the goddess of wisdom, nature and fertility. But just 10 miles along the coast from Athens lies Elefsina – or Eleusis as it was known – a place of historic significance which will be celebrated as a European Capital of Culture in 2021.
According to legend, Persephone, the goddess of spring, was kidnapped by underworld ruler Hades. The grief of her distraught mother Demeter – goddess of the harvest – led to a drought which only ended when Zeus, king of the gods, commanded Hades to return Persephone to her mother. “Elefsina was one of Ancient Greece’s five holy cities,” says regular visitor Katerina Santikou from hotel group Santikos Collection. “It has a big history.”
Of course, you may be too busy to bother with history while you’re lazing by the pool at the white-walled Elefsina Hotel (rooms from £106) or enjoying grilled shrimp at Santikou’s favourite taverna, Trata, a 15-minute walk away. “Get a table on the patio for a view overlooking the Gulf of Elefsina,” she suggests.
But in Greece, history is never far away. The original shrine to Demeter, which developed into the Sanctuary of Eleusis, was built around the 6th century BC. Priests would hold the Eleusinian Mysteries every autumn, performing rites dedicated to Demeter and Persephone that were so secretive, anyone revealing them would automatically be put to death. Now a trip to the well-preserved ruins is danger-free – visit the Kallichoron Well, which is said to have once been filled with the tears of Demeter as she wept over the loss of Persephone.
It’s easy to visit Eleusis on a day trip from Athens. Stay at New Hotel (rooms from £131), a short walk from the Acropolis. “It’s a hip space in the heart of the city,” says Santikou. “Go for the daring interior design, then dine on truffle linguine at Opera Quarta. Often, I’ll then go to The Speakeasy,” she continues. “Ring the bell, head downstairs, order a cocktail and listen to live jazz.”
And if you want a souvenir with a difference? “The Benaki Museum’s shop promotes new Greek designers, such as Lommer, a minimalist accessories brand designed by two young Greek women,” says Santikou. From Demeter and Persephone to the founders of Lommer, it seems the determined spirit of Greek women is enduring through the ages.
Santikos Collection will open The Alex on the Athens Riviera this summer
Brie says: “I’m fascinated by the Eleusinian Mysteries, rituals performed in honour of Demeter and Persephone at the Eleusis shrine in ancient times, so I want to introduce you to where it took place.”