Whatever time or season you go to Sounio, the scenery never fails to impress and delight. Waves may be thrashing against the rocks below or it may be a flat calm; dawn has its enthusiasts and visitors throng the site all day, but perhaps the hour that best suits the place is sunset, when the old columns take on a violet hue and a quietness settles in. Then you can just sit on rock and ruminate about the past and the future and feel the real presence of Sounion and all who've been drawn to this enchanted spot before.
The few columns that have remained starting plus those that have restored are sufficient to evoke the splendour of the 5th century B.C. Doric temple. But maybe the stark, unpainted ruin is more appropriate to the setting than the original would have been?
Since we're so close, we may as well make the short trip to Lavrion, which still has some charming neoclassical buildings. Lavrion's silver mines provided much of the mountains and coast are still riddled with shafts and other installations. If you have the desire and time to search for them, the best place to start is at Kamariza about 5km. to the west of town. The area is also full of 19th century metal processing works and has attracted some contemporary industry as well. And its port is where you catch the ferry for Kea.
The ruins of ancient Thorikos lie on the northern outskirts of Lavrion, their most striking feature the unusually shaped theatre. The remains of several temples may also be seen in the vicinity, which is marred by the presence of a big power plant.
If you continue along this road, you'll penetrate the heart of Attica, the Mesogeia plain, where the grapes that make the best retsina grow. There are several pleasant villages in and around it, favoured among Athenians for their taverns, rotisseries and good wine.
But we said we'd start with the southern and western sections of Attica. so, back we go to Sounion, to get onto the corniche than follows the coast of the Saronic Gulf all the way to Athens.
While the road is high, you pass a tantalizing series of little coves and and bays, ideal for a secluded swim... if you could scale the cliffs. As the road descends the beaches become more accessible and, of course, less secluded. Much development has taken place along this coast in the past 15 to 20 years. The first resort you come to is Anavyssos, once just a fishing hamlet surrounded by salt flats. Now posh hotels and swanky villas have taken over, and you'll see an ever - growing assortment of tourist and holiday facilities the closer you get to the city.
Lagonisi, Saronis, Varkiza all have organized beaches, lively nightlife and sports facilities; Vari, slightly inland, is known for its spit - roasted meats; Vouliagmeni, the most chic seaside resort n the Athens area, sports deluxe hotels, a yacht basin and a fresh - water lake fed by hot springs where you can bathe all winter. Nearby are Kavouri, Voula and Glyfada, also filled with possibilities for entertainment and recreation day and night.
Summer watering spots or rich Athenians till the early 60s, they have now become fashionable suburbs, lively all the year round.
By now we are within the city limits; these coastal suburbs, especially those closer to town like Kalamaki, Alimos and Palio Faliron, though once distinct entities have now merged into the urban tissue. This is not the place to talk about Athens; many of its sights are world famous: the Acropolis and the antiquities surrounding it, Plaka and Monastiraki, the Panathenian Stadium, the National Gardens, Syntagma Square, its neoclassical buildings, Byzantine churches and wonderful museums.
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