After the election madness Americans just endured, it seems like the whole country could use a vacation. Summer is sadly over but the opportunities for culturally themed breaks, both far flung and nearby, abound. One new entrant to the cultural scene is a showstopper of a place in Athens, Greece: The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), which is open to the public for free public events including concerts and guided tours. 

With its expansive “flying carpet” roof and resolute but almost gossamer rows of tall columns, the SNFCC was designed by the famous architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop and will eventually house the National Library of Greece and Greek National Opera, as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park. In 2017, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation will hand over the SNFCC to the Greek State, but the complex is already generating buzz and should be a boon for the troubled Greek economy. Those expecting a Mediterranean villa à la Malibu’s celebrated Getty Villa should think again: Renzo Piano is all about colossal glass panels and a flood of natural light, which is usually in great abundance in the southern city of Athens. 

According to Dezeen, the SNFCC is “located in the Kallithea district in the south of the Greek capital and is tucked beneath a new 170,000-square-metre sloping park and beside a 400-meter-long rectangular lake.” For a crowded city not exactly known for its open spaces, that’s something of a revolution. 

Starchitect Renzo Piano, himself, said, “From our first observations, there emerged the idea that by raising the ground — with a slight slope and a progressive course — we could restore the ‘beautiful view’ of Kallithea ... In that way, without realizing it, visitors strolling through the park would find themselves at a height of 30 meters.”

The design of that astonishing park space was left to New York landscape designer Deborah Nevins, who favored the use of flora indigenous to Greece. 

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is definitely worth a detour and is contributing to Athens’ growing stature as a destination for all seasons. So, if you’re planning a visit, ‘tis the season to forego the fancy chain hotels with the big rooftop pools (whose upkeep trickles down to room rates) and hone in on the cool boutique hotels. My favorite is not new but it’s always timely and it happens to be called the NEW; right in the heart of the city and convenient to all public transportation, the guestrooms are plush but artistic and the breakfast (included in room rates) is widely considered to be the best in Athens.

Back to culture for a minute: Let’s not forget our own cultural treasures just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Coast Highway. If you can’t make it to Greece, there’s still time to catch the “Roman Mosaics Across the Empire” exhibit at the Getty Villa in Malibu. And, as we made the obligatory mention of the election, there’s an exhibit coming up at the Getty Center you won’t want to miss: “Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media.” It will feature “work by artists who have employed appropriation, juxtaposition, and mimicry, among other means, to create photographs and videos that effectively comment on the role of the news media in determining the meaning of images” and opens Dec. 20.  

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