Imagine an island with sun, sand and 24-hour partying, where sleep is snatched occasionally and the locals are so chilled they don’t even check your passport when you arrive. Welcome to Mykonos
Where better to stay than in Hora, the only town on Mykonos, which is a mere 10 minutes' drive from the airport. The Belvedere Hotel is the luxury choice, but it’s also the only hotel where I’ve craved a room downgrade. Having booked a sea-view suite, our expectations were running high. However, it was instantly apparent that a deluxe room (at €70 less) with its own private terrace was a much better option than our small suite with two tiny balconies. The furnishings were basic and the bathroom a cupboard.
If tranquillity is your desire, Mykonos Grace Hotel, overlooking Agios Stefanos beach, is the one for you. Situated 1.5 km out of town, this is altogether a more luxurious and sophisticated affair. Grace offers a shuttle between hotel and town but you do have to jostle with the other guests for pick-up slots.
Back at the Belvedere, tranquillity is definitely not on the agenda, as the hotel mutates into a throbbing nightclub from 7pm every evening. The metamorphosis commences around the sun stragglers who cling to every last ray. By 8pm, the thongs have gone and the poolside has become Matsuhisa Mykonos (+30 22890 25122), a franchise of Nobu, the famous Japanese diner. As a huge fan of Nobu restaurants, having dined at many, including the Beverly Hills original, I found Matsuhisa Mykonos probably my greatest dining disappointment. The raw produce was not up to the standard of other Nobu establishments, but the biggest gripe is that couples are sentenced to the ‘naughty corner’ by the kitchen whilst larger parties enjoy poolside partying.
Even if you’re staying in town, you will need your own transport to get around the island. Young tourists flock to rent bikes from as little as €20 a day. Bombing around the island is an extreme sport for many. Anyone over 18 can hire a scooter, and if you’re 23 you can have a quad bike. The lack of a driving licence is not a problem. Is age ID required? Who knows? It all gets particularly hairy late at night, as every drunken youth becomes The Stig, careering round bends on dirt track roads as they head home after a full-on day at the beach.
Are there accidents? There must be, but as one hotel manager told me, we never hear of any. It would be bad for business. There are no local newspapers on Mykonos, so who is going to report them? If you can, hire an open Jeep. It’s fun and a much safer option as you play dodgems with the kamikazes.
During the day, head for one of Mykonos’s beaches. Psarou Beach is a thin strip of sand between a line of restaurants and the sea. The beach is heaving with bodies, like maggots in a sardine can. There are little palm sunshades casting dappled light over the mass of flesh. Glancing out to sea, some very smart Rivas and luxury yachts sit in the bay.
Nammos is promoted as the hottest beach restaurant on Mykonos, but, then again, many others also claim that title. The display of fresh fish on ice is impressive but alas, something goes wrong in the kitchen, as the plates presented to diners do not exude the same appetising appeal. If you love commuting at the height of the rush hour or shopping on the first day of the sales, and dream of being in the Harry Potter cupboard, this one’s for you.
After lunch, why not head to Paradise Beach, where you really will find club life in the sun. Podium dancers and even the odd stripper entertain all afternoon in Mykonos’s version of Club Tropicana. After dark, the action moves along the beach to the Paradise Club, part of the Ministry of Sound network, which clearly is the top nightclub on Mykonos.
Slightly less frenetic is the action at Kalo Livada beach. A vast car park separates the beach from a string of restaurants. The parking area tapers at the far end, bringing together the sand and Solymar restaurant. On the occasion we visited Solymar, Veuve Clicquot had taken over the whole shebang for a promotion, which was very odd as, despite yellow-labelled bottles strewn everywhere, there wasn’t a drop to drink. The menu at Solymar is pretty much the same as all the other beach restaurants (pasta, spaghetti, seafood and lobster, steak, salads, etc), but the ambience is lively without being claustrophobic.
When partying becomes too much, you may just want to escape to arguably the best restaurant on Mykonos. Find a good map and head offroad, down a track to Agios Sostis, a tiny bay on the north of the island. Hidden behind a small blue gate is Kiki’s. Those in the know sit on the chairs outside from 12.45 pm, waiting for the gate to open at 1 pm. Kiki’s does not take reservations. Kiki’s doesn’t have electricity. Everything is cooked on the charcoal barbecue. By 1.15 pm, it’s packed. The view is stunning, the ambience calm. Stay there all afternoon until you’re ready to party once again.
Mykonos by night
The evening begins in Mykonos at sunset. Walk through the narrow white streets of Hora to Little Venice and a small bar called Caprice. Make sure you’re in your seat before the sky turns red, as Caprice fills quickly. If you’re brave, grab a chair outside and risk a soaking from the waves as they crash against the rocks.
The centre of town is a labyrinth of lanes, lit after dark by a battery of floodlights. The effect is one of perpetual daylight but the power consumption would surely collapse most national grids. A short walk from Caprice is La Maison de Katrin (+30 22890 22169), one of the most highly rated restaurants on Mykonos. Katrin (or Catherine) is an elderly matriarch who sits, almost menacingly, watching over staff and diners whilst her son runs proceedings with textbook salesmanship and ruthless efficiency. On our first visit, he recommended a good bottle of Greek wine at €45 to accompany fish soup, mozzarella and Parma ham. All was well and he suggested a return visit to experience Katrin’s bouillabaisse, which required two days' notice. A reservation was duly made for three days thence.
This time, his suggested wine was €90. A few small pieces of fish and lobster were covered by a good, but not exceptional soup. When the bill came, I dashed to the loo and recycled the whole lot. Perhaps it was the dish? There may have been a dodgy mussel. Or was it the cost - €240 for two bowls of glamorous soup? This camel is happy to assist the Mykonos locals establish their winter Caribbean holiday funds via fair trade, but Mr Katrin clearly has his eyes set on owning Mustique.
No doubt his defence would be the lack of fresh fish on Mykonos. Most seafood comes frozen from Athens, but this shortage of supply doesn’t seem to stop Sea Satin Market (+30 22890 24676) from charging much less stress-inducing prices for excellent fresh fish. The ambience is of a fish market by day, packed with tables by night. I’ve seen Sea Satin Market described as romantic – perhaps if you’re a sailor but not, I suspect, for the average fluffy floaty. Save your engagement ring for later.
Belvedere Hotel: deluxe suite with private terrace, € 695.
Grace Hotel: superior double with private terrace and plunge pool, €560.