Diomedes Botanic Garden: a jewel of a garden west of Athens

Local authorities and other Greek officials often use the term “oasis of green” to describe even the smallest of public spaces, but only a handful of places really deserve the title. A, somehow little-known, botanic garden in the western suburbs of Athens is one of these places. The "Julia & Alexander N. Diomedes Botanic Garden" in the western suburb of Haidari is the product of a donation and long-term thinking by late Greek academic, politician and prime-minister Alexander N. Diomedes (1875-1950). If you like visiting urban parks and other public spaces this is something to put in your agenda, even though it will be a bit of a journey. The botanical garden and adjoining wood (186 hectares in total) are maintained and run through funding from Diomedes' trust fund, with the care of the University of Athens, as a public benefit foundation.
Diomedes Botanic Garden, Haidari (Athens suburb), Greece

The botanic garden is based on initial designs by German Professor and landscape architect Herta Hammersbacher from the 1960s but has greatly expanded ever since. It blends nicely with the surrounding forest which, if I remember well, was the site of the now infamous 'Greek wine fest' in the 1970's and 80's (a dark page in Greek wine production associated with binge drinking of low quality wines, ...but that’s another story!).

Diomedes Botanic Garden, Haidari (Athens suburb), Greece

Entering the site, you notice a playground to your right which is popular with small kids and their parents. Straight ahead from the entrance there is an area with plants from Oceania, while to your left you’ll see a wood with typical Mediterranean vegetation, leading to a landscaped area with flower gardens, large lawn areas and plenty of ponds with turtles, insects and frogs dotting this well-crafted, “natural” landscape. There are also sitting areas and a few wood benches that look just right for a pic-nic. Part of the garden hosts an “historic plants” section –not clearly marked but still there!-, with plants mentioned in the Bible as well as in ancient Greek writers and mythology (more about it in the Garden's official site, together with detailed info on other sections of the garden). Obviously there's also a good deal of research and teaching activity taking place here and if you’re interested in knowing more about the garden it is possible to have an educational visit arranged. Contact the site directly for that purpose.

Flowers and grass in Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

The Botanic Garden is located 8kms west of Athens city center but there are various buses coming here (some from city center and some from further west), described in the garden’s website. The ones that will serve you best depart from Plateia Koumoundourou in Athens city center (not a great area...) or Egaleo Metro Station (the closest one). See map below for details and advice. There is no legal parking space provided, but parking on the street (Iera Odos) by the Garden is allowed / tolerated according to my experience.

View Diomedes Botanic Garden in a larger map

Days and Hours of operation: As of the time of writing of this post, the Garden is not open during the high “tourist season” (July 15-August 31). Except for major holidays it is open everyday as follows: Mon-Fri: 08:00am-2:00pm, Sat-Sun (and holidays): 10:00am-3:00pm.

Baby watching turtle; Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Flowers; Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece
Flower bed; Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Flowers and ... busy bee in Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Landscaped section of the Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece. The nearby Mount Egaleo and the edge of the city can be seen over the tree tops.

Water lily; Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Turtle crossing a pond passage through the grass; Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Flowers and grass in Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Landscaped part of the Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece
Butterfly on a flower; Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Certainly the biggest tree flower I've ever seen; Diomedes Botanic Garden, at the Haidari suburb of Athens, Greece

Insect on a flower; Diomedes Botanic Garden, at the Haidari suburb of Athens, Greece

Water lilies pond; one of several at Diomedes Botanic Garden, at the Haidari suburb of Athens, Greece

Stone passage over a water lily pond; Diomedes Botanic Garden, at the Haidari suburb of Athens, Greece

Frog sunbathing at the Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Pic-nic tables at Diomedes Botanic Garden, west of Athens, Greece

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Oinopoleio: A small gem of a restaurant in Psirri neighbourhood

Oinopoleio cookhouse

Oinopoleion: A cook-house / tavern in Psyrri neighborhood, Athens, Greece
Located right near Plateia Iroon, the central square of the Psirri neighborhood (an Athens entertainment hub), Oinopoleio is a small restaurant / cook-house that offers great value for money. We've dined here twice in the past year and loved the food and the service both times. So, I sat down with owner Maria Markou the other day, and she explained to me the long history of this small establishment and how it manages to stay fresh and satisfy people for 85 years in a row! 

It all started in the end of the 19th century, with great-granfather Spyridon Markou cultivating vineyards (and producing wine) in the Mesogaia area, east of Athens, near the current airport. Wanting to bring his wine directly to his customers, he made use of a building in the Athens area of Psirri, in 1928, to establish a cook-house / wine-selling place (which is what Oinopoleio stands for). 

The rustic origins of the place are reflected in its traditional Greek cuisine, the semi-open kitchen, the wooden tables and plaid tablecloths and the overall decoration, even though, as Maria confided to me, "I just brought in some artist friends who did their best to suppress their modernist tendencies and we painted over the whole place, by ourselves". The photographs on the wall are of some old winery equipment, while the walls in the cellar downstairs are partly lined with bottles. Talking about the cellar, there are 4 distinct areas to sit: the small pavement outdoors (ideal for the summer and for soaking in the neighborhood's pleasant atmosphere), the main hall (also open to the street), a more peaceful back-yard and the non-smoking cellar downstairs (used in the winter) with a total of about 25-30 tables.
Oinopoleio restaurant, Psirri, Athens: "Secret Garden" in the backyard.

There's live music every Friday and Saturday, after 9:00pm during the summer, while Thursday and Friday are added in the music schedule in the winter. Thursday features traditional Greek songs ("dimotika"), Friday is the day for "rembetika" (of the more "hard-core", up to 1940, variety), Saturday features a more mainstream programme of popular-folk Greek music while Sunday is open for surprises. "I'm very proud of our music schedule and the musicians we bring in", Maria told me, and I recall the real party atmosphere on the Saturday evening we had sat here. If you are thinking of going to one of the music tavern's in Plaka for the music, I seriously suggest changing course and coming here instead.
Oinopoleio cookhouse: Interior of a really old Athens tavern, in operation since 1928 but recently renovated.

Food / Drinks: You will find various traditional Greek dishes served here, but not in the "lazy" , "touristy" way served in some other places. The menu changes often, depending on Maria's ideas and what she discovers in the local market. "I'm quite intrusive in the kitchen and my cooks can barely stand me", she jokes. Of the dishes we've had, I particularly recall "eggs purgatorio" (scrambled eggs with tomato sauce), "horta epohis" (season greens), "bouyourdi" (oven baked feta cheese w/ vegetables), feta baked w/ sesame, and grilled pleurotous mushrooms, among the appetizers. From the main dishes I mostly liked the "kleftiko" (oven-cooked lamb w/ vegetables, wrapped and served in baking paper) and I'm still drooling over the "arnaki tsigariasto" (lamb bites, slowly cooked in the pot with olive oil and some sauce).
Oinopoleio cookhouse: Interior or a really old Athens tavern. The semi-open kitchen provides transparency into the whole operation and lets you take a look at the food offered behind the glass, before you order
Wine comes from the family's own vineyards and winery (run by another sibling) and will nicely complement your dinner at an affordable price. Markou Wines offers a white made of the local Savatiano varietal w/ Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon blanc de noir among others. 
Beer is allowed in the premises and comes in the form of Fix lager, draft Kaiser pils, Paulaner weiss and Murphy's stout.

As far as service is concerned, we were impressed both times, in every respect. I only need to mention how they stuck to their non-smoking policy for the cellar, even when some smoking customers appeared and asked to be seated, essentially losing 6 clients for that evening which is a most unusual behavior for Greece. If you come in the winter and want to dine in the non-smoking cellar make sure to call in advance.
A baby chair, we noticed, was also available which is also a rarity.

Oinopoleio cookhouse: An Athens tavern, operating since 1928, in the hands of the 4th generation of the Markou family. 

Getting there shouldn't be hard: Get off the Metro at either Monastiraki or Thission Metro Stations (Line 1). From Monastiraki Station head into the narrow alleys of Psirri following Miaouli St. which leads to a small square (Plateia Iroon). Walk on past the square for another 30 meters and you'll see Oinopoleio to your right, tucked in a small restaurant row, at 12 Aischyllou St., among other food establishments. 

Address – Area: 12 Aischylou (a.k.a. Eschilou) St., [Psirri neighborhood], Athens
Tel: 213-008.1461
Last Visit(s): 2013-05-11, 2012-02-03
Cuisine: Traditional Greek, with intelligence
Working Hours: Tue-Fri: 6:00pm till late night, Sat-Sun: noon till late night, Mon:closed
Accessibility: No
E-mail: oinopoleion.cookhouse@gmail.com 
Prices: A full-course dinner for two w/ wine cost us 60€, while, on a separate occasion, a filling dinner with various courses for 6 persons (3 men-3 women), w/ wine, cost us 113€.
Payment: Mastercard, Visa, Diners, Maestro

See map of Athens restaurants at the bottom of this page. 
Why don't you follow me on twitter?