Athens has the Plaka, we have Eaton Mall

PERHAPS you haven't truly achieved all your travel dreams until you've visited the Plaka.

At the base of the mighty Acropolis in Athens, the Plaka is a labyrinth of old narrow streets flanked by handsome churches and graceful old homes.

The old quarters pulse with frenzy and excitement in the summer months as the cafes and tavernas try to keep up with the thousands of tourists who flock each day and night.

The sound of Zorba blasting from every taverna might be a cliché but it is what you want to hear in such a quintessential Greek hot spot.

It is impossible not to feel alive and vibrant in the Plaka... but a visit to Athens is not possible for many of us.

However, there is an alternative, and it is right here in Australia.

You'll have to expand your imagination and keep an open mind but in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh there is a mini Plaka called Eaton Mall.

The Plaka is a labyrinth of old narrow streets at the base of the mighty Acropolis in Athens.
The Plaka is a labyrinth of old narrow streets at the base of the mighty Acropolis in Athens. Thinkstock

As the name suggests it is a pedestrianised mall, and on each side of its wide space are the most authentic Greek cafes, restaurants and tavernas you'll find outside of Athens.

Tables and chairs run down the middle of the mall and on weekends they are packed with locals, visitors and homesick Melbourne Greeks who yearn for the carefree times of their much-loved country.

And what would a Greek scene be without a table full of weathered old blokes ceaselessly caressing worry beads as they gossip gently among each other?

Melbourne has long been home to Greek immigrants who have brought their culture and food to Australia since the 1950s and made our country all the better for it.

Greeks know how to celebrate, they love music, song and dance and they never do it without a copious amount of food and wine and surrounded by family and friends.

The atmosphere at Eaton Mall in Melbourne's Oakleigh is as close as you are going to get to the Plaka without an expensive airfare.

The restaurants, in particular the upmarket Vanilla Lounge, present glorious Greek offerings of moussaka, dolmades, spanakopita, spinach pies, stuffed tomatoes and eggplant, and pastries.. oh the pastries... from syrup-soaked baklava to the daintiest almond shortbreads.

Our Eaton Mall visit was brief and on a rainy Melbourne day but we were cheered by the throngs of people eating and enjoying themselves despite the grey clouds.

If you are lucky your visit could coincide with a Greek festival (surely there is one at Easter) in the adjacent park where a side of lamb is certain to be on the rotisserie.

Fashion shops are interspersed with the taverns and restaurants along Eaton Mall and it is easy to slowly wander and quietly browse, knowing there is a souvlaki and a glass of ouzo just a few metres away.

The pace might not be as frantic as it is at the Plaka, but Eaton Mall will give you a taste of the famous Greek attraction.

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