Absolutely fabulous Mykonos

by Robin.Gauldie

To do the Greek island of Mykonos in style, you really need a private jet – flying charter is so infra dig, dahling. If money is no object, you’re on the right island

Sybaritic resorts, designer shopping and upscale boutique hotels have made Mykonos the jet-set island for the ‘it’ crowd since the 1960s - with, as a bonus, a style-conscious village replete with expensive jewellers, cigar bars and gourmet dining. The island also has a big gay scene, though it’s by no means exclusively gay.  And every day, colossal cruise ships disgorge throngs of excursionists into the labyrinthine, whitewashed lanes of the main village, known simply as Chora.
 
Ferries connect Mykonos with Rafina and Piraeus (the ports of Athens), as well as other islands of the Cyclades, Crete and eastwards to Ikaria and Samos. There are domestic flights from Athens, and scheduled flights from the UK with easyJet and Thomson Airlines, but to do Mykonos properly you really should arrive by private jet or helicopter. (Hey – nobody needs to know you took a cheap flight as far as Athens…)
 
Mykonos stays open all year (though the pace is slower in winter, when many of its bars, designer boutiques and restaurants do close). Arguably it’s at its best outside peak season. In October, it’s still delectably sunny without the searing heat of July and August, and in November the sea is actually warmer than in midsummer.
 
Despite all the hype, it remains one of the most seductive islands. Fishermen still clean and sell their catch in the morning on the waterfront, watched by a gaggle of expectant pelicans, the island’s mascots, who wait to snap up leftover fish heads. The iconic windmills still stand in a row above the harbour, though they no longer have their white sails. And whiskery retired sea-dogs still watch the outlandish foreigners placidly from rickety café chairs, while old ladies in black gossip on the doorsteps of tiny homes next to gleaming displays of costly gold and silver. 
 
There are some affordable places to stay, but island-hoppers usually stay just long enough to visit ancient Delos before moving on to more budget-friendly isles. The usual gaggle of guesthouse touts meet every boat, but vacancies are scarce from mid-June to the end of August. Even a day at the beach will leave your wallet considerably lighter. At the island’s premier sunspots – Psarou, Platys Gialos, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Super Paradise’, all on the south coast – a sun lounger with umbrella rents for €8 a day. 
 
If money is no object, however, you’ve come to the right place, because Mykonos boasts some of Greece’s finest luxury hotels. In Chora, it’s a tough call between two fabulous small(ish) places to stay, both of them in the Kalo Technion district (named for the island’s School of Fine Arts) and stylishly aloof from the hustle of central Chora.
 
Semeli Hotel is designed around a 19th-century ship-owner’s mansion, which houses the reception, restaurant and bar, all embellished with island antiques and bouquets of geraniums and bougainvillea. The rooms are in two low-rise wings with painted wooden balconies and shutters and shady patios, and are individaully decorated, with polished wood floors. They’ve found space for a fair-sized pool.
 
The Belvedere Hotel is another stylish village hideaway, with two newer wings (in Cycladic style) containing 40 doubles and six suites, either side of a 19th-century mansion that houses the reception and restaurant. Outside are swimming pools (one for adults, one for children), set among terraces and stone-flagged pathways lined with cypresses.
 
On a tighter budget, tiny, quirky Zorzis Hotel is on a narrow, car-free street in the midst of Chora’s whitewashed labyrinth of lanes. Rooms combine antique beds and handmade quilts with stereo TV, air conditioning and power showers, and there’s a shared mini-kitchen where you can mix your own sundowners to sip on the roof terrace or at one of the tiny café tables outside.
 
Next to the famous windmills, Mykonos Theoxenia breaks the design mould. Instead of the ubiquitous white plaster and blue woodwork of most island hotels, it flaunts modernist influences that were daring indeed when it was built in the 1960s, with lines that echo ancient stoas and temples. Inside the low-rise stone buildings, the public areas and rooms are a kaleidoscope of 60s pop-art colours. Andy Warhol would feel right at home.
 
Outside town, Kivotos, nestled above its tiny semi-private beach beside Ornos Bay, is where to play Mr Big: cigar and caviar bars, a swim-up cocktail bar in the pool, a private yacht and limo transfers to the airport. The luscious, airy rooms match the rest of the hotel.
 
Mykonos Blu is a blue and white delight, blending island style with big-resort professionalism. Many of its 100-plus suites and villas have their own pools, there’s a vast infinity pool overlooking Psarou bay, and places to eat include a gourmet restaurant and poolside brasserie. But you’ll probably want to sample the fleshpots of Chora, a 10-minute taxi ride away - and after a night on the town, Mykonos Blu’s Long Hours cocktail bar will still be waiting to offer you one last nightcap….. 
 
Sadly, not many Mykonos restaurants live up to the standards set by the island’s hotels, and you pay a hefty premium for a seat in one of the waterfront cafes.  In many places the microwave reigns, and staff attitudes often verge on the snooty. You sometimes feel like pointing out in no uncertain terms that this isn’t Paris. Honourable exceptions that don’t ride on their reputation include Sea Satin Market Caprice (€40-€60) with views of the ‘little Venice’ waterfront and fine seafood. Katrine’s (€50-€70) is the most sophisticated restaurant in town, with a menu combining French dishes with Greek, and a good wine list. After dinner, chill at Veranda in one of the old mansions at Little Venice; it's the most welcoming and laidback of Mykonos’s many nightspots.
 
It’s tough to tear yourself out of your luxury cocoon, and happily there’s little need to. Mykonos isn’t a big sightseeing spot. You must, however, make time to visit Delos, the tiny, uninhabited island about 45 minutes from Mykonos, where weather-worn stone lions stand guard over the remains of one of the most sacred sites of the ancient world. It’s at its loveliest in spring, when its hillsides are splashed with scarlet poppies, yellow daisies and purple anemones. Make the effort to climb to the summit of the island’s highest point for an all-round view of Mykonos, neighbouring Tinos, and the tinier islands all around. Boats leave for Delos from Chora harbour every morning around 9am, returning around 1pm.
 
For a look at a different side of Greece, take a one-hour ferry trip to Tinos (several departures a day), an island that is much less tourist-influenced – mainly because its hotel rooms are kept busy by a steady influx of pilgrims hoping for a magical cure from the miracle-working icon that resides in the island’s grandest church. It’s a very different world from sybaritic, self-indulgent Mykonos.
 
 

Robin.Gauldie

When Robin Gauldie first visited Greece in 1973 it was love at first sight, and he spent the next four summers island-hopping, walking, swimming and picking up the occasional drachma by part-time grape-pricking. After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1976, he became a local newspaper journalist, then in 1979 joined the travel industry newspaper Travel Trade Gazette, a job which allowed him to travel all over the world at other people’s expense. He became a freelance journalist in 1989, and has written for numerous national newspapers, including the Sunday Telegraph, for which he writes the annual Insider’s Guide to Greece, and the Sunday Mirror. He also writes for National Geographic Traveller, Greece Magazine, and a number of inflight magazines including EasyJet and Ryanair. Robin now divides his time between his home in Edinburgh and a ramshackle village house near Carcassonne and spends several months each year travelling in Greece. He has written a number of guidebooks to Greece, including the new (just out) HotSpots Halkidiki and HotSpots Skiathos, Skopelos & Alonnisos guides, published by Thomas Cook; the Thomas Cook Traveler’s Guides to the Greek Islands and to Mainland Greece; Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Top 10 Crete; Charming Small Hotels & Restaurants Greece; and the Footloose Guide to Greece, as well as guides to Amsterdam, Egypt, Estonia, Goa, Ireland, Jamaica, Morocco, Peru, Scotland, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. With his partner Zoe Ross, he also runs the online image library www.sargasso-travelimages.com